One of my early introductions to this classic Spanish dish, which is also very popular in France when you have a crowd to feed and want to show off your cooking chops, was in the Carrefour, that famous French hypermarché, or giant grocery store. While mulling over the produce, I was startled by a very loud, guttural cry—“pie ALE´ya!”—which emanated from the heart of the store at regular intervals. I followed the voix forte, and the lovely aroma, to find a quirky monsieur in a chef’s hat stirring a gargantuan shallow pot of steaming paella. This is the French version of take-out.
I’ve since eaten paella in Barcelona and Madrid and in France too, but I’ve never had a better one than the paella which is a speciality of our own châtelaine, Nicole (though our friend Marc makes a mean one as well). She only makes it when there’s a crowd, as there was last week when Nicole and Pierre threw a party for 60 or so, to thank the folks who have helped with the renovation of their new digs. Photo left: my friend Sandi and I, pretending to be the chefs who made this beautiful paella, instead of just the eaters.
Paella is a word that is impossible to pronounce correctly, since to my ears every person here, both French and ex-pat, has their own pronunciation of it, which they are absolutely convinced is the one and only correct one (my French dictionary offers up three pronunciations, including [paɪ'ɛlə]. Figure that one out). So say it however you like, just be sure to insist on its accuracy.
Mixed paella is a lavish dish, with a base of rice and vegetables and spices. To this one adds chicken, sausages, and shrimp. For her supersized paellas, Nicole has a special round, shallow pan which sits on its own stand, with a built-in gas burner. There are few things more enticing than a bubbling pot of paella, ready to dish up in large portions. Of course no Southern girl can resist it, rice being one of the major food groups in South Carolina. Photo right: At a previous party, Nicole preps for a paella.
“Hey Nicole,” said I, thinking of the blog, or of a nice dinner for Ron, “can you cut down that recipe for 60 into paella for two?” Pas de problème, though she has wisely retained the crowd concept and adjusted it for a dozen hungry paella fans. Just sing that name out loudly, and watch the masses gather!
RECIPE: Nicole’s Party Paella
Now, we know the French like small portions, but when Nicole cooks for a crowd, she goes all out and serves up copious quantities of food. She has cut down the recipe to feed 12, but it looks to me more like food for at least 30 famished folks. After all, there are over 20 pounds of meat/fish in this recipe. So be advised, and be hungry!
In general the meat/fish should be cut into serving-sized pieces. You will need a big shallow Paella Pan, or make it in a couple of big skillets.
- 12 chicken thighs
- 1 lb. (about .5 kg) boneless pork chops or tenderloin, cut into pieces
- 4 lb. (a/b 2 kg) of mussels
- 4 lb. (a/b 2 kg) of monkfish, cut into large pieces (reserve head & bones)
- 4 lb (a/b 2 kg) of peeled, cooked shrimp (reserve shells)
- 4 lb. (a/b 2 kg) of calamari, cut into strips
- 4 lb. (a/b 2 kg) peeled, seeded tomatoes, cut in small pieces (fresh or canned)
- 6 large bell peppers, roasted and cut into small strips
- 2 lb. (a/b 1 kg) green beans, cut into pieces
- 2 lb. (a/b 1 kg) green peas, shelled (if you use frozen, add them a bit later)
- 36 round slices of chorizo sausage
- 2 lb (a/b 1 kg) of rice
- 8 1/2 cups (about 2 liters) of good chicken stock
- 1 teaspoon each, or more to taste: salt, pepper, paprika, and saffron. (Throw in a bit of turmeric if you want your rice to be more yellow)
- 4 cups (about a liter) of fish stock (make this from the mussel cooking liquid, combined with fish heads, bones, and shrimp shells)
Steam the mussels in 1 cup of water until just open. Remove mussels from shells, set aside. Retain cooking liquid as base for stock. Make fish stock, as above.
In a very large, shallow skillet, brown the chicken thighs in vegetable oil until golden on each side, and remove from skillet. Leave oil and browned bits in skillet. Add pork, adding oil as needed to brown it, and remove to a platter. Repeat same process with fish and calamari. You are building flavors here, so do not wash skillet at any point.
Over medium high heat, add the rice to the skillet, along with the spices. Stir well. Add the tomatoes, peppers, and vegetables. Stir well and let it cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
When the rice is nearly cooked, add all the fish and meat. Cook until rice is tender, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat, cover pan with foil and let it rest for 10 minutes, then serve.
Joan, thank you for remembering to take some nice photos, while I was distracted by the wine!
NOTE: Another dish the French like to make for a crowd is a “couscous”. See the blog post on that here: "An Exotic Dish the French are Mad For".
In the COMMENTS: Pardon my French, thanks for the correction, folks. Christine, what a heart-warming story, and I wish I had 3 cats. Natalia, love your little round cabbages! Martin’s French lesson: Ouah ouah, says le toutou! Herm has a French lesson of a different kind. Iz, do come back sometime. And Michaela, I can hardly get my head around a four year drought—four months is killing us! Glad the grapes are thriving.
Favorite Reads: Our friend Peter Ingle in Charleston is a writer with two interesting projects you may want to check out. He has a website/newsletter on classical art happenings in Charleston, called Charleston Today. And, as professional writer, he has written an ebook called Think Before You Write. It's a straightforward guide to clear, organized writing that you'll want to get for all the students you know, and maybe even for yourself. It's a bargain at $3.99.
My friend Sandi has discovered a super fun book called 100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go. It's a book I can't wait to read, and one I wish I'd written!