I admit it was perhaps a little foolish to plan a dinner party the night before Hurricane Irene was due to arrive in these parts. Not because people wouldn’t show up, but because it meant I had to buy groceries somewhere. And once the mayor announced a state of emergency and encouraged stocking up on canned goods and water, New Yorkers went into a hoarding frenzy. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the Park Slope Food Co-op circa 3 pm yesterday.

My friend Amy and I made plans for a co-op run earlier in the week. She’d never been and I wanted to show her why I like it so much—cheap spices in bulk, cheeses for a bargain, Kombucha for under $3, breads from the best bakeries in the city. I suspected it might be crowded with folks stocking up for the weekend but was not prepared for the one-and-a-half-hour wait in the check-out line. A friendly member reminded me you can skip the line and go straight to the check-out if you have three items or less.

Amy and I consulted our long shopping list, which included the items needed for the paella we planned to make, and picked the three most important items (saffron, pimentón, peas), and got out of there fast.

A couple of hours later we were back in Williamsburg, having driven up to Costco in Long Island City, and ready to begin cooking. We had eleven adults and two toddlers coming over for dinner around 7:30 so we got to work. It was a collaborative effort: Sumathi had a bag of short-grain paella rice we picked up earlier in the day from her doorman; Yuji lent us his 18-inch paella pan that his friend bequeathed him when she moved back to Spain; and Amy and I cobbled together the remaining ingredients.

It was my first time making this Spanish rice-and-seafood dish and I think it came out well. I expected it to be a bit crustier on the bottom but the rice was thoroughly cooked through and the chorizo, pimentón, and saffron added a good kick of spice. We loosely followed a recipe for Grilled Lobster Paella from last month’s issue of Bon Appétit but took some liberties, including the substitution of mussels and shrimp for lobster and cooking the dish across two stovetop burners rather than in coals. This dish will easily serve 12 adults.

Paella Irene

3/4 c olive oil
1 yellow onion
4 cloves garlic
1 1/4 lb chorizo, sliced into 1/2″ thick rounds (chorizo can have casing but doesn’t need to)
1 1/2 tbsp pimentón (smoked paprika)
3 3/4 c short-grain rice (like Valencia or bomba)
1/2 tsp saffron threads
7-10 c hot seafood or chicken stock
Kosher salt
3-4 pounds of seafood (can be any combination of shrimp-squid-mussels-scallops-lobster)
1 bag (about 3 c) frozen peas
3/4 c chopped parsley, for garnish
lemon wedges, for garnish

1. Set your paella pan on your stove across two burners. Turn the heat on both burners to medium and heat the olive oil. Add the onion and cook for about 10 minutes until the onions are translucent, then add the garlic. After a minute add the chorizo and cook 3-4 minutes. If the chorizo is in its casing it will be neater and stay relatively intact; if not it will tend to fall apart and incorporate more into the dish, which is also good.

2. Add the pimentón and rice to the paella pan; cook, stirring, until the rice is coated, about 2 minutes. Add saffron threads to the hot stock, add the stock to the pan and season with salt; stir to distribute the ingredients. Let cook, without disturbing, until the stock simmers and rice begins to absorb liquid, about 20 minutes. Rotate the pan on the burners every 2-3 minutes to cook evenly.

3. Arrange the seafood over the rice and continue cooking and rotating the pan. The rice will swell as it absorbs the liquid. Add more stock if the liquid evaporates before the rice is tender. Continue to cook until the seafood is cooked through and the rice is tender.

4. Scatter the peas on top. Continue to cook without stirring, allowing the rice to absorb all the liquid and a crust (the socarrat) forms along the edges. Total cooking time is about one hour. Turn off the heat and cover with a tin-foil tent or a clean dish towel and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges and garnish with parsley.

We served the paella with a large green salad, fried anchovies, and bitter melon cooked with chile pepper.


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