Okay, so I had help. A lot of it. And okay, so maybe my primary contribution was to hover around my paella-knowledgeable friends taking photographs and taste-testing ingredients just to make sure nothing was poisonous, rather than actually “cooking.” But still.
The first time I ate paella was in Barcelona, which seems like the right place to have your first experience, except mine was kind of traumatic. The bowl arrived and I gave it a stir, and all of a sudden the creature from the black lagoon came launching up at me out of the depths, all claws and tentacles and such. (Spoiler: it was a crawfish. But when you do not expect to see a crawfish and are surprised by one in your food, terror is a totally acceptable reaction to have. Those are scary little fuckers.) I’ve never tried making it myself because it looks complicated, and saffron is expensive, and it seems like the kind of dish that should be made from a recipe handed down from a relative.
Enter: my friend Erin, whose mother-in-law Linda has a family recipe, and who just so happened to be in town last weekend.
–> Paella party!
We made one batch of seafood paella and one batch of chicken, and because the chicken was definitely the winner in terms of flavor (omgggg it was so good) that’s the recipe I’m going to post here, but if you scroll all the way to the bottom you’ll see a couple of notes on how seafood recipe differs from the chicken, in case that’s the one you want to make.
CHICKEN PAELLA WITH PANCETTA & BOILED EGGS
What You Need:
- 4-6 chicken thighs and 4-6 chicken drumsticks, skin on
- 6-8 hard-boiled eggs
- 3 medium yellow onions, chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 3 medium tomatoes, diced
- 6-8 slices prosciutto, chopped
- 1 2″ round of pancetta, diced
- 1 tsp saffron threads
- 2 1/2 cups Arborio rice
- 5 cups chicken stock
What You Do:
If you have a paella pan, hooray! If you don’t, any large, heavy-bottomed pan (ideally one with a large diameter and low sides) will do.
First, bring the chicken stock to a boil in a large pot. Use a mortar and pestle to grind up the saffron threads a bit, then add them to the chicken stock with a little salt. Turn down the heat and let the chicken/saffron stock simmer while you prepare the other ingredients.
Meanwhile, in your paella pan (or your substitute paella pan), heat a small amount of olive oil, then add the diced pancetta and cook, stirring constantly, 2-3 minutes, or until crispy and delicious-looking. Remove the pancetta to a paper towel-lined plate.
Now use all that lovely fat that cooked out of the pancetta to make your chicken thighs and breasts taste like heaven on toast. Pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels, season them well with salt and pepper, then add them to the pan (adding a little more olive oil if it seems dry), and cook them for about 6-8 minutes, turning occasionally, until golden brown and cooked through.
Remove the chicken pieces and set them on a paper towel-lined plate.
While the chicken cooks, have your sous-chefs (ideally I’d go for a minimum of two, if you’re busy taste-testing and such) dice up a whole bunch of onions. Three or four should do it.
Also dice up a couple of tomatoes. Season them with a little salt so they can marinate a bit.
Next, finely mince a few cloves of garlic. I like garlic a whole lot, so my feeling is the more the better here (I’d go for 8 cloves, but normal people would probably say 3-5).
Heat another tablespoon or two of olive oil in the same pan you used to cook the pancetta and chicken, and add the onions and garlic. Cook, stirring constantly, 2-3 minutes, or until golden and fragrant. Add the tomatoes and cook another 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Some people say you should toast the rice by heating up a little olive oil in a pot, adding the rice, and stirring constantly for a couple of minutes, but I feel like this is a step that I’d probably skip, because who needs more messy pots?
So toast your rice a bit if you want to. Or don’t. Either way, at this point, you can add the rice to the pan, along with the chicken/saffron stock, pancetta, and prosciutto. Bring the liquid to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer uncovered about 30 minutes, or until the liquid has mostly cooked off.
Add the chicken to the pan…
…And continue simmering (occasionally turning the chicken) about 15 minutes, until the chicken is heated through.
Last step: Take those hard-boiled eggs you pre-made, slice them up, and Turn off the heat and cover the pan with a cloth until you’re ready to eat.
P.S. If you want to make this with seafood, skip the prosciutto and pancetta (and obviously the chicken), and add the seafood at the point when you would have returned the chicken to the pot. Make sure to discard any mussels that don’t open completely.