Paella (“Pa•ā’•ya”). Let’s all say it. Now, let’s picture a lovely, warmish afternoon, the sun is shining through the olive trees, as you sip a robust Tempranillo and watch the coals turn white…it’s almost time to put the paella pan on the fire…it’s going to be a lovely afternoon, indeed. I think most people, if they haven’t had the great good fortune to enjoy a paella, have at the very least, heard of paella. Paella, the rice dish, that is so synonymous with Valencia, has evolved from a peasant dish, relying on leftovers, to the more planned-out, shopped-for versions we enjoy today. When I hear people talking about “authentic” paella, The Goddess sort of flips her crown. “Authentic” is so very subjective and what does it really mean? I think it usually means “that’s how my mother/grandmother/whomever prepared meals cooked, in this case, paella. But, I digress, yet again. You know how The Goddess mentions “flexibility” in reference to ingredients, method, etc? Well, this may be one of the most flexible dishes in the world. There are versions from vegetarian to seafood to all land-animals to game and mixed ingredient paellas. But, no matter which kind you choose to prepare, it’s all about the rice. Rice is the key to a great paella. And there are options…flexibility, right?
Spain has a long history with rice, dating back to the arrival of the Moors in the early part of the 8th century, bringing with them rice and the knowledge of irrigation systems, making rice production possible. In case you were wondering, the Spanish word for rice, “arroz” comes from the Arabic word ar-ruzz. Bomba rice (also know as Valencia rice), or Calasparra or the lesser known and available Senia and Bahia (these are both Japanese varieties) rices, are all short-grained, almost round varieties, that absorb liquid like crazy, thus making them perfect for paella. They absorb almost three times as much liquid, whereas regular rice only absorbs twice as much. So, these are the prime rices to choose for a great paella. However, they are a bit more difficult to find, though that’s getting better. You can purchase them on-line here and here, as well as at any well-stocked specialty food store. However, there is another option. The Calrose™ variety is also a short grain rice with good absorption. It’s been around since the late 1940’s and is generally easy to find in most supermarkets.
Now, about our paella. We’re not using a typical paella pan, because not everyone has that. No. We’re using a cast iron skillet. And since The Goddess doesn’t always have access to a grill, this is going to be done on top of the stove. And “Horrors!!!”, it can even be an electric stove. Because, sometimes life isn’t perfect, but you still want a nice paella. This paella isn’t the “kitchen sink-type” which is good, but can sometimes be a bit “busy”, flavor-wise. Today, our paella features chorizo and chicken thighs. But, feel free to add shrimp and mussels, in the last 5 minutes of cooking.
Cast Iron Skillet Paella Mixta
- 2 1/2-3 cups hot chicken, vegetable or seafood broth (see NOTE)
- Large pinch of saffron threads
- 1/4-1/3 cup olive oil, divided
- 1 Spanish chorizo sausage (cured), sliced into rounds (or 1/2-inch dice)
- 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
- 4-6 large mushrooms, quartered (see NOTE)
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 large tomato, grated on a medium grater (about 3/4 cup pulp)
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 (rounded) cup short grain rice (bomba rice, if possible)
- 1 1/4 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika (pimentón)
- 2-3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
- 1 small handful frozen peas (no need to thaw)
- 10-12 green beans, cut into thirds
- 1 package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed (optional)
- 8 large cooked asparagus spears (optional)
- 2 piquillo peppers, cut into 1-inch strips (or jarred, roasted peppers)
Crush saffron threads with fingers and add to the broth in a saucepan; stir. Heat the broth until hot; set aside for at least 10 minutes. Keep the broth warm/hot. Combine the grated tomato and tomato paste; set aside.
Place a 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the chorizo slices; sauté until they release some of their fat and begin to color, 2-3 minutes. Sauté until the release some of their fat and begin to color, 2-3 minutes. Remove and set aside.
Add the chicken thighs, skin-side down; fry until crisp and they begin to color, 3 minutes. Turn and brown on the underside, 2-3 minutes. Remove to a plate; the chicken will not be fully cooked. Add additional oil, if necessary (I didn’t need it); add the mushrooms and cook until browned, 2-3 minutes. Set aside.
Add 2 tablespoons of oil (if needed) to the skillet; add the rice.Stir for 2 to 3 minutes to thoroughly coat the rice with oil. Season with salt and pepper. Add the chorizo, mushrooms, the tomato mixture and sprinkle with the paprika. Slowly pour enough of the hot broth mixture into pan, until the contents are just covered by broth. Place the thighs on top, and push down in the broth; add the artichoke hearts, if using.
Lower the heat to allow the mixture to just simmer. Continue simmering, adding more broth, if necessary, until the rice is not quite fully cooked, about 15 minutes. Add the peas, gently “stirring” them into the rice evenly. Scatter the green beans on top of the rice; lay the shrimp on top of the beans. Continue to cook, adding additional broth, if needed. Taste the rice for tenderness, and cook until the rice is done. When the rice is just tender, remove from heat source, lay the asparagus spears and pepper strips decoratively over the paella. Cover with aluminum foil, and “rest” the paella for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
NOTE: I use 1/3 cup of white wine as part of the broth mixture. You may add 1 can of well-drained white kidney or garbanzo beans. If small mushrooms are what you have, leave them whole.
Cast Iron Skillet Paella Mixta Recipe©Marcia Lahens 2022. All rights reserved.