When I first decided to start this challenge, one meal I had already planned out was Spain. I have always wanted to make paella and flan, but had never had the opportunity, so I borrowed my mom’s paella pan and got to work!
Paella is a dish originally from the Valencian region of Spain, but can be found all over the country as well as some surrounding countries. The two things that I loved about making paella are that it was a lot easier than I thought it would be and it is a truly versatile dish that can a variety of ingredient combinations. I love it when I don’t really have to follow a recipe so cooking paella was fun because I could put whatever I wanted in it! Of course, there are general kinds of paella, but for the most part, you can be creative and mix and match ingredients. Traditional Valencian paella is made with chicken, some sort of game (like rabbit or duck), beans, tomatoes, garlic, rosemary, and saffron. There is also seafood paella, which can have seafood ranging from shrimp, mussels, octopus, lobster, or even white fish. Shellfish is usually cooked with the shell on. And then there is mixed paella, which has meat and seafood. My version was probably pretty simple by paella standards, but I didn’t want to get carried away, and honestly, I took one look at my mom’s paella pan and thought, “I’ll never fit all this food in that!”
I basically saw how shallow it was and I figured food was going to be overflowing all over the place. To my surprise, it worked really well (but whom am I kidding, I should have known, since the pan is used for specifically this dish). The trick is, you cook things separately and remove them from the pan, then cook the rice and add everything back in. Also, don’t put in all your liquid at once. It made it really easy to cook the rice and I just kept adding liquid until it had the constancy I wanted and the rice was fully cooked.
So for my paella, I used chicken, chorizo, and shrimp. First you cook the chicken and chorizo. I mixed together garlic, red pepper flakes, olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano parsley and paprika and coated the chicken in the mixture.
Then I cooked the chicken and the chorizo in a skillet with some chopped onions.
Now, you can cook the meat in the paella pan and then set it aside, but I wasn’t sure how long the rice would take to cook so I used a separate pan. Next time, I will definitely use the same pan because any cooking liquid and pieces will infuse the rice. It was already so flavorful, but I think using the same pan would have just added another delicious level to it.
While the meat cooked, I started the rice. You should always use short grained rice, like Arborio rice, which is what I used. I added garlic and oil to the pan and let the garlic toast a little before adding the rice, then let the rice toast a little before adding any liquid.
Then I added some red pepper flakes, saffron threads and a little paprika before starting to add chicken.
As the rice absorbed the liquid, I kept adding more broth until the rice had fully cooked and it was about the right consistency. You can also use part chicken broth and part white wine if you happen to have some on hand.
After that, I added the shrimp to the rice. In hindsight, I probably should have cooked the shrimp first and then added cooked shrimp into the rice, but I figured the shrimp cooked so fast, that I would let them just cook in the rice.
Keep mixing to make sure the shrimp are fully cooked, and then add the chicken/chorizo mix and stir it all together.
Once everything is added, you should turn up the heat a little and let it sit so that a layer of toasted rice forms at the bottom. This is called socarrat and is essential to any paella. Then you can remove from the heat, let it rest for a few minutes and serve family style right out of the pan.
For dessert, I made flan, since it was another Spanish dish that I have always loved but have never made. I was surprised to find that flan is found in many countries cuisine aside from Spain, but they are all pretty similar with unique variations depending on which country you are in. My Spanish flan was made with evaporated milk, whole milk, eggs and vanilla all whisked together to make the custard, and then just the basic sugar glaze.
Cook the sugar in a saucepan until it caramelizes but don’t let it burn.
Once it is caramelized, pour it into the baking dish, I used a traditional 9″ glass pie dish.
Make sure that it is even before it starts to harden, since it only remains liquefied once it is baked. Then you pour the custard over the sugar and bake it in a water bath in a large roasting pan. The water should come up about halfway on the flan dish.
Bake at about 350ºF for an hour. A recipe I found said not to preheat the oven so that it cooks gradually as the oven gets hot, but I preheated the oven and it came out just fine, so I’m pretty sure the water bath takes care of making sure the flan cooks slowly.
Once it is done, let it rest for a minute. It can be served warm or chilled if you want to make it ahead of time. Run a knife along the edge of the pan so that it separates from the pan and then put a plate face down over the top. Get a good grip on the plate and pan together and flip it over so that the flan comes out onto the plate.
The liquid caramel is now on the top and will spill over the edges to completely glaze the flan.
And with that, I wrap up another country! Spain has definitely been one of my favorites so far, but there is still plenty more to come, so hang in there with me!