Friday, August 14, 2009
Not Paella - But the Pan Works
Olga from Las Cosas de Olga chose the August Daring Cooks Challenge. This dish, rice with mushrooms, cuttlefish and artichokes, is a Jose' Andres recipe. Andres is a Spanish chef who lives in Washington, D.C. and owns several restaurants there. I've seen him on TV - quite a character!
Since I make paella regularly, the basic approach to this dish was familiar. A critical part of the dish is the sofregit, a sauce of olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, onion and mushrooms. The condiment is an allioli, which is a Spanish version of aioli - a garlic and olive oil emulsion.
The sofregit cooks for a long time, until the tomatoes are broken down and everything is soft. It is added to the cooked cuttlefish (I used calamari), artichokes and mushrooms, which are sauteed in olive oil. White wine is added and then the rice, water, and saffron. It cooks until the rice is done and is served with the allioli.
This dish was okay, but I have to say I prefer my paella. I think using water (I could have used fish stock, but didn't have any) meant a loss of a layer of flavor. And while the calamari were fine and were something I could conceivably use in paella, I didn't think they added enough to flavors - compared to prawns, clams, chicken and chorizo. I also struggled with the allioli. The directions were a little vague - 4 garlic cloves, salt, some drops of lemon juice and then olive oil "until you have the consistency of thick mayonnaise." This was all done by hand, with the mortar and pestle the primary tool for smashing the garlic to paste and incorporating the olive oil "drop by drop." While some people on the Daring Cooks forum reported great success with this labor-intensive approach, some of us had less luck. I should have used the food processor. As it was, I referred to Michael Ruhlman's "Ratio" to get an approximation of how much olive oil I would need since the recipe was not at all specific.
While it is interesting to explore other Spanish foods, I'm going to stick to my standard paella, which I think is more flavorful and more versatile. With family and friends with various eating taboos (no seafood, prawns but not clams, no meat, nothing spicy), a good paella with prawns, chicken, chorizo, clams, lots of veggies has options for everyone - and the rice is especially appealing.