08 October 2011

Gypsy Kitchens: Camping Paella

In Catalan, "paella" means "pan," and can refer to a wide variety of dishes. Here in Andorra, it seems that every home and restaurant has their own version, all of them delicious. On one of our first days in the principality, we were lucky enough to eat a little of the "gran paella popular" at the Fira del Roser, in Sant Julia de Loriadav.
There was a time in our lives when we made a lot of paella. Using a multitude of ingredients and a two-step, range and oven method, we complicated and elongated the process until it was much more difficult than it should have been. Then, on a canoe trip a few years back, a breakthrough: paella can be extremely simple. This is our recipe for camping paella, which calls for no fresh ingredients and can be made using one burner (or a campfire) and a very moderate amount of effort.
In a kitchen, there's no substitute for live clams and mussels, raw shrimp, market fish, parsley, fresh peas and all the rest. But outside, without refrigeration, those ingredients become problematic. Instead of fresh vegetables and shellfish, chicken and sausage, everything here is canned or semi-non-perishable. Rice is a given; onion, garlic and lemon are hardy enough; canned peas and peppers add plenty of flavor.
We used canned octopus, squid, shrimp claws (a real find), mussels and clams. None of these are necessary, and the only one that's suggested is the tinned clams, because their juice is so integral (if clams aren't your thing, consider buying a small container of clam juice). Any tinned, canned or jarred shellfish should work well - canned cod could also add something, even sardines in a pinch. Drain the fish, discarding packing oil but retaining any other liquid. Also drain the peas and peppers, discarding the liquid. Cut the peppers into small pieces.
Chop one large onion and brown in olive oil, peanut oil or butter. Add a few cloves of minced garlic and cook for a few moments, then add more oil and two cups of rice. Cook the rice, stirring occasionally, until the edges of the grains become translucent. Add three cups, combined, of the retained fish liquid (or clam juice) and water. Use no more than a cup of fish liquid. Also add a heavy pinch of saffron. Stir everything together and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook the rice (uncovered) until nearly done - about fifteen or twenty minutes. Although this is rice-cooking blasphemy, make sure to stir every now and then to prevent the bottom from sticking - the added sugars from the onion can cause the mixture to burn.
When the rice is almost done, stir in the vegetables and seafood and cook just until warmed and tender. Before removing from the heat, stop stirring, turn the heat to high and toast the bottom of the rice until fragrant (about a minute and a half). This last step creates the mythical "socarrat" char at the bottom of the pan, which any highly-regarded paella is supposed to have.
A note on pans: a wide, shallow pan - like a cast iron skillet - is ideal and traditional, but a narrower, deeper pot can work well too. We actually cooked our paella in a cast iron pot and finished it in a ceramic dish, but that's because it's cold and windy here in the mountains, and we couldn't cook the rice very well in a pan.
Normally, paella is served in one big dish, which everyone eats from with forks, spoons and fingers. Squeeze lemon over the top and eat hot, relishing the fishiness and the socarrat.

Here's the recipe:
Camping Paella
Ingredients:
2 cups rice, preferably arborio or similar
5-8 tins, cans or small jars of shellfish, cephalopods or fish (with an emphasis on clams and mussels)
1 can peas
1 tin peppers
1 large onion
3 cloves garlic
1 lemon
Olive or peanut oil, or butter, or some combination of each
Pinch saffron

Process:
- Open and drain all cans, retaining any water-based fish liquid, but discarding any oil and the vegetable packing liquid.
- Slice peppers into small pieces. Cut any larger pieces of seafood into manageable chunks.
- Chop onion, finely-mince garlic, heat about 3 tbs. oil (or butter) in pan or pot.
- Sautee the onion in the oil until lightly browned, add more oil and stir in rice. Cook rice until translucent at edges, then add 3 cups, combined, water and fish-liquid. Use no more than 1 cup fish liquid.
- Add a heavy pinch of saffron and stir, then bring water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let cook - stirring occasionally once somewhat thickened - until rice is nearly done. Add small amounts of water if liquid disappears before rice is done.
- Stir in seafood and vegetables and let warm/cook until rice is tender. Stop stirring, turn heat to high and toast the bottom of the mixture until just fragrant, about 1 or 1 1/2 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and serve with wedges of lemon.
The sign of success - socarrat.

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