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My brother and I grew up eating versions of paella made by our German and Japanese parents. Though both would have upset most traditionalists, we loved and always looked forward to them. We used whatever rice we could find, mixed seafood with chicken and sausage, and cooked it mostly in the oven.
I've since made quite a few Valencian paellas, and they are stunning, but a bit challenging for a home cook without access to both the outdoors and to uncommon ingredients.
This recipe is what I came up with on a family vacation to Fire Island: we had a grill, a big skillet with a lid, exceptionally fresh squid, my usual kit of Japanese ingredients and spices, and a seafood broth from dinner the night before. I'd also just seen a particularly spectacular sunset and wanted to make something that was equally beautiful.
There is a fine line between honoring tradition and inspiring innovation, and I think this preparation straddles that division well. Take this as a starting point in your cooking adventures, and make sure to share it with your favorite people!
4 or 6 as an appetizer
6 cups of water -or- seafood stock*
1 pound cleaned squid, sliced into rings
2 Tbsp shio koji (japanese fermented rice, the sugar content aids in forming a nice browned layer on the bottom of the pan)
1 lemon, halved
3 sweet peppers, seeded and finely chopped
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 Tbsp tomato paste
1 pound (about 2.5 cups) medium grain rice (Sénia is a traditional variety, but I only had Carnaroli and it worked great)
Fresh herbs for garnish (optional, I had chives)
Bring your stock or water to a a boil in a medium pot, drop to a simmer, and add your spices. The Salvador N19 blend contains fish, shellfish, pimentón, and saffron, so you can use just that if you're starting from water. Blanch the squid in the boiling stock for 30 seconds, then remove the pieces using a skimmer to a cold bowl and add a few splashes of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice, stirring well. Set aside. Add your shio koji to the spiced broth.
In a 12" skillet heat 1/4 cup of olive oil over medium high heat and add the pepper and onion, sauté, stirring frequently, until softened and lightly browned, add the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes more, stirring well. Add the spiced broth and stir well to distribute, taste and adjust seasoning.
Add the rice in a even sprinkle all around the pan, distribute it if you have any clumps, and get your heat high. Don't stir or you'll end up with a risotto texture; the idea is for each grain to plump and absorb the liquid, but not release their starches.
Once the rice has absorbed about half of the liquid (after about 10 minutes), drop the heat to low and continue to cook until dry (about another 20 minutes). At this point turn your heat off and either start your grill on high or get the broiler going in your oven depending on which you're using.
Broil the squid briefly under the broiler, or cook on the grill in a seafood basket. Pull a piece after a minute and check the texture. You want it barely cooked or it will become tough and rubbery.
Serve the paella in the pan with the squid scattered on top, whatever fresh herbs you like, and fresh lemon to squeeze for those who like more acidity. This is most fun to eat together directly from the pan. Make sure to have wine or another refreshing beverage to drink. Also fantastic with a simple side salad and toasted bread rubbed with garlic.
• You can make the whole preparation on a large enough grill if you want, just set up a high heat zone on one side for the squid and make the paella in a half sheet pan (13" x 19") directly on the grill over high then low heat (the timing should be about the same). When it's finished cooking let it rest on the grill with the heat off while you cook the squid. And of course you are free to experiment with other seafood toppings if you're not a squid fan, try shrimp or scallops cooked the same way, clams or mussels simply poached in the stock, or a mix!
• Not a seafood fan? Try this instead - Salt and fry pieces of dark meat chicken or rabbit in olive oil until browned. Add veggies and sauté until softened (flat beans are traditional but I also like a bit of onion). Add a handful of soaked lima beans, shio koji, tomato purée (fresh or canned depending on the season), pimentón, and a few pinches of Ayala N16. Add water or low sodium chicken stock and saffron and cook until reduced by half. Add your rice and some escargot (optional), stir well, and cook as above.
• Ochazuke style - Make dashi (this can be ni-ban) and infuse with Japanese green tea. Gently poach salmon fillets in your stock until firm, then set aside and season the stock with miso and shio koji. Sauté the white parts of a bunch of scallions in butter until softened, add the stock, then add medium grain rice (the Calrose variety works very well) and cook as in the recipe above. Top with the salmon fillets (crisp the skin for an extra dimension), nori strips, chopped umeboshi or good quality sumac, and scallion greens. Serve with fresh citrus and wasabi. A bit of Japanese mayonnaise is also nice with this dish. Or try adding a whole grilled squid marinated in shoyu and ginger.
• Taking inspiration from squid cooked in its own ink, and arròs negre - start with whole squid, peel the skins and reserve the ink from the sacs, then chop into small pieces. In a skillet sauté chopped onion and cubanelle peppers in olive oil until soft, then add Cataluña N.22 and optionally tomato paste. Add the squid pieces and fish stock, bring almost to a boil then drop the heat, place a lid on the pan and simmer for 30 minutes. Add rice, white wine, and the ink, and cook, uncovered, until the liquid is absorbed. I love this topped with fresh parsley and grilled shrimp, the contrast is great with the meltingly tender squid. Unlike paella, arròs negre, arròs a banda, and fideua are traditionally served with Allioli, though with this dish I prefer the more assertive and fluffier toum (I like to add a pinch of powdered saffron and/or Cancale N11 when pulverizing the garlic).
Food images and recipe © Christian Leue
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