Spanish by origin, but definitely with a Filipino ‘soul’, Paella has always been part of my operational definition of a ‘celebration’. A New Year’s feast for me would always involve a plate of bright light orange sticky rice flavored with the broth of delicious seafood, filled with tasty tender meat.
I remember when I celebrated my birthday at my barangay’s (community) health center waiting for expectant mothers to pop, I brought paella along with a few other dishes to share with my dutymates and instructor, and paella was most definitely the runaway bestseller. Until now people have been raving about my Mama Eng’s paella. It’s that good. She’s that amazing as a cook.
I’ve always had this preconceived notion that making paella would be intimidating, in the same way I find my grandmother’s Arroz Valenciana complicated. Semantically speaking, Valenciana doesn’t involve coloring the sticky rice, and her version has meat and no seafood. On the other hand, it’s not paella without the orange color and the flavor of seafood. Wikipedia might give additional definitions and interpretations that may vary from what I understand, but this is how our family deals with sticky rice.
I pestered Mama Eng to teach me how to make paella for our New Year’s celebration. I didn’t want my judgement to be clouded by another recipe that might confuse me. Her version is simply ‘the one’.
If your family has your own version of paella, you might find that her methods might stray from the conventional method of using a paellera. (We only use the paellera that my mom bought from La Tienda, a delicatessen and specialty store here in Zamboanga, as the serving container, sorry. ). She cooks everything separately then combines everything together in a large wok. A really large wok.
It’s elaborate, yes, but it ensures that everything is cooked thoroughly. Nobody wants to bite into crunchy, raw rice after all.
It’s not really a weekday dish. It’s more like a “lazy weekend with the family plus with more hands to help, the better” sort of thing. Sure, paella is a dish you have to devote time and patience on, but the result is worth it.
The end product is really a thing of beauty. Really.
Mixed Paella (serves 10 – 12)
- 3 cups uncooked malagkit/sticky rice
- 3 cups uncooked white rice (whatever kind of rice you eat on a daily basis)
- 8 – 10 cups water (use warm water if you’re using dried annatto seeds; fresh seeds can “bleed” in cold tap water)
- ¼ – ½ cup annatto seeds
- Seafood: crabs, shrimps and clams (it’s up to you how much of these you want to put in)
- Enough water to cook the seafood in
- ½ kg pork belly, cut into 2-inch cubes
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 whole garlic heads, divided, minced
- 2 large onions, sliced
- 1 medium carrot, sliced
- 2 medium-sized potatoes, diced
- 10 – 15 pieces green beans, cut into 1 ½ inch pieces
- Salt and pepper, to taste
There's nothing like freshly cooked clams
COOK THE SEAFOOD:
- In large pot, add the crabs and shrimps. In a separate pot, add the clams.
- Add enough water to cover the bottom of both pans and halfway to 3/4ths up the pile of seafood.
- Sprinkle a little bit of salt into the pot. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to allow the broth to simmer and cook the seafood until pink (for the crabs and shrimp) or until the clam shells open. Discard any unopened clam shells.
- Do not allow to water to completely evaporate by adding in water from time to time. By the time you’re done you should be left with a concentrated broth.
COOK THE MEAT:
- In a wok, combine the pork with the soy sauce, 1 minced garlic bulb and fish sauce.
- Cook over medium to high heat until liquid evaporates and fat renders.
- Toast the pork in its rendered fat until crisp but not burnt.
Rambutan this isn't; it's the fresh atsuete/annatto fruit
COOK THE RICE:
- Combine annatto seeds with the water.
- Allow the annatto seeds to “bleed” in the water until a distinct dark orange color is achieved. Add more seeds if desired.
- To remove the seeds, run the water through a fine mesh strainer and into a large pot/rice cooker pot.
- Wash and clean the rice. Add the rice into the pot with the annatto water.
- If you’re using a rice cooker, turn it on and allow the rice to cook, covered. If not, cover the pot and cook the rice over medium heat. Visual here
- Minimize frequently removing the lid from time to time to ensure that the rice is cooked thoroughly. End product visual here
We used our prehistoric (traditional) stove top but a normal stove top would do
COOK THE VEGETABLES: In a pan over medium heat, fry the carrot and potatoes until cooked thoroughly. Visual here
- In a large wok (large enough to hold EVERYTHING), toast the remaining garlic and onions.
- Add the pork and green beans. Toast for a minute until green beans are coated with oil.
- Reserve a handful of clam shells.
- Add the remaining seafood into the wok together with 1 – 2 cups of its broth. Add more if desired
- Add the fried vegetables.
- Combine everything together and season with a dash or two of salt and pepper.
- Taste the broth to ensure that it is seasoned well. If not, add more of the seafood broth.
- Add the cooked rice and using two long spatulas, stir everything together and let everything cook one final time for 2 – 3 minutes.
- Remove from heat and garnish with clam shells. Serve warm and enjoy!
It’s nice to start off my 2012 posting a slightly challenging recipe. I’d like to believe it’s an indicator of things to come for me: more challenges but sweeter, tastier success (fingers crossed).