Antonis Achilleos
Active Time
50 MIN
Total Time
1 HR 10 MIN
Yield
Serves : 6

My borderline obsession with making paella began sometime in the mid-2000s. I was planning my first trip to Spain and pinned Valencia on the itinerary just to try the city’s famed dish. By that time, I had learned to stop ordering paella in most American restaurants, as I’d been served one too many soggy pots of rice with no hint of the fabled socarrat—the caramelized crust that forms on the bottom of a properly made paella—that I’d read about in Spanish cookbooks.

While roaming the streets of Valencia, I came across a family cooking an enormous paella in an alleyway. The pan was resting on the uneven rim of an old steel drum with flames from a wood fire rising up around its edges. I noted how thin the layer of rice was; it couldn’t have been more than a finger’s width deep, which I learned is the goal to increase the ratio of socarrat.

To that end, the paellera, or paella pan, needs to be as wide as possible. Most of the paella I make is for entertaining. It’s dinner theater, and a fantastic way to serve a crowd. I keep a 22-inch paellera at my parents’ home on the coast of Florida to cook it for our family (and the neighbors … and my sister’s in-laws) when I visit. There I can cook outside on a charcoal grill almost year-round, with a bounty of seafood to choose from.

But back home in rainy Oregon, I wanted to stop only associating paella with patio parties. After all, it’s the ultimate one-pan meal suitable for using whatever ingredients are on hand. So I recently bought an , which is the right size to serve just four to six and will rest comfortably over two burners on my stovetop. I will make concessions on “authenticity,” but I will not give up the precious socarrat, so I learned how to achieve that on a gas stove.

In his book, Catalan Cuisine, author Coleman Andrews ends his manifesto on making paella with this: “Remember that paella is above all a celebration of rice; everything else—seafood or otherwise—is just gravy.” Short-grained Spanish Bomba rice is essential in this paella recipe, as is seasoning it with saffron and cooking it in high-quality (preferably homemade) broth. But the “gravy” in this weeknight paella is just one protein—littleneck clams— and lots of green spring vegetables in the form of asparagus, green peas, and pea shoots. Tomatillos replace out-of-season red tomatoes (and keep with the green color theme!) and they bring a welcome acidity to the dish.

Serve this spring greens paella with albariño, a wine from Spain’s Rías Baixas region. Ask for one that’s weighty on the palate, which will match bite-for-sip with the almost excessive amount of olive oil in great paella. Its salinity mimics that briny liquor that absorbs into the rice as the clams open, with a hit of tart lemon bringing it all into check. After the paella, here’s an easy dessert: a splash of Pedro Ximénez sherry poured over a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Buen provecho.

How to Make It

Step 1    

Straddle a 14- to 18-inch paella pan over two gas burners, and heat burners to medium-high. Add oil to pan, and swirl to coat. Once smoking, add asparagus, and season with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring often, until tender-crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer asparagus to a plate; set aside.

Step 2    

Add tomatillos, leek, and garlic, and cook, stirring often, until tomatillos are completely softened and a thin layer caramelizes on bottom of pan, adjusting heat and rotating pan as needed to prevent scorching, 7 to 10 minutes.

Step 3    

Pour in stock, and sprinkle with paprika, saffron, and remaining 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-high. Sprinkle rice into the simmering broth in an even layer. Make sure the rice is completely covered with liquid, and avoid stirring for the rest of the cooking process. Dot chickpeas around pan. Adjust heat to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook, rotating pan every 2 minutes or so, until rice becomes visible, about 10 minutes. Add clams, nestling hinge sides into liquid. Continue cooking undisturbed except to rotate occasionally, until rice has absorbed all liquid and you can hear crackling on bottom of pan indicating the socarrat is forming, 5 to 10 minutes. To check for socarrat, drive a small metal spoon through rice to bottom of pan and feel for a crusty, slightly sticky bottom. (It will likely form in the center of the paella first.)

Step 4    

Once socarrat has formed in center, position pan off-center so flame is under an edge where socarrat has yet to develop. Cook until you hear the crackling and feel the crusty bottom, then rotate again. Continue cooking and rotating until a socarrat forms on bottom of entire paella, 8 to 10 minutes.

Step 5    

Remove the paella from heat, and return asparagus to pan. Sprinkle with peas, and scatter with pea tendrils. Cover with aluminum foil, and let stand at least 5 minutes and up to 20 minutes. Remove and discard any clams that do not open. Drizzle generously with oil before serving.

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