03 June 2009

Drunken Paella

It wasn't quite a lost weekend, but definitely a hazy one. We wore ourselves out pretty nicely, but now we've almost recovered enough to get back to the business of exposing ourselves.

The mercury was pushing 30ºC in Paris and the air heavy and balmy, with plenty of sunshine. It's as though someone forgot to remind Mother Nature that the weather here is supposed to suck hard, then unexpectedly snowball you. Such weather calls for just one thing: Hot, sweaty sessions of day-drinking.

Before starting our Sunday session of boozin' in the sun, I prepped everything I could to make a proper paella mixta after coming home later. After lubing up with a beer and bloody Mary first, of course.

If you've done the necessary prep work (the bulk of which is just measuring out your ingredients and having them at hand), making paella is easy. Even hammered. Hell, even without a proper paellera (paella pan).

Take a wide, shallow pan, heat it up, and throw in a few tablespoons of olive oil. Throw in a bunch of whole prawns (or crayfish or langoustines... something with beady eyes, meaty tail, and tasty guts) and heat until nice and pink/red. Set aside.

Now throw chunks of Spanish chorizo into the pan (Mexican chorizo isn't quite the same, but you can do that if you like) and brown. Set aside.

With the pan still going, throw in a mixture of very finely chopped onion, a crushed garlic clove, and if you feel like it, a small tomato that's been beaten to a pulp. (Don't bother with the canned stuff.) Maybe a dash of sweet paprika. Once they're nicely sweaty and soft, throw in two cups of rice and sauté in the mixture until browned.

Pour in 3 cups of seafood broth. Or in my case, I had only made 2 cups of broth (basically by boiling and straining the carcasses of around 2 dozen previously cooked and eaten shrimp) and added an additional cup of water. The homemade shrimp broth is awesome and simple. If you can't swing it, use chicken or vegetable broth.

Get the heat up nice and high until the broth starts to boil, then turn it down to a medium low and let it sit for about 15 minutes. At that point, most of the water should be gone and your rice should be al dente.

Grab a healthy pinch of saffron (the real shit, not that turmeric-infused powdered orange trash) and mix it into the rice. I prefer to grind mine down with a pestel and mortar first for even distribution and to get as much scent and color out of it. Re-introduce the sausage to the pan and mix in as well. Press your filter-feeders into the rice and make it look pretty.

Crank up the heat under your pan to high, in order to form a light crust at the bottom. You'll know it's good to go when you smell a slight burning scent. It should take less than a minute.

That's it! Some people like to finish it in the oven, which I did to get a little extra "roast" on the prawns from the broiler. It gives them that just-barbecued-on-the-beach feel.

Trust me, you can easily do all of the above while completely tanked. In fact, it will come out even better when you're in a less inhibited state of mind.

Case in point: After drinking all day, I got to the step that requires a "healthy pinch" of saffron. Apparently, after numerous cocktails and beers, you don't think twice about dumping half a container of real Iranian saffron into your paella. Since it's not polite to discuss finances, let's just say that good saffron makes uncut Colombian cocaine look like a bargain.

While you may want to kick your own ass when you sober up and realize you just used up half a college tuition's worth of spice, the memory of saffron flavor exploding all over your tastebuds and olfactory senses makes it forgivable.

Hell, even if you don't follow our drunken lead, a good paella is still easy and surprisingly simple. And you can make it with just about anything - chicken, rabbit, mussels, clams... Even vegetarian if you swing that way.

Of course, there's never too much of a good thing. Keep your buzz going by enjoying your paella with a nice old-vine Garnacha from Spain. It's the hotness as wine goes right now, and dirt cheap to boot.