I’m not expecting a Throwdown challenge any time soon, but better safe than sorry, right? Hey Bobby Flay could show up and try to make my signature dish better than me. The biggest challenge, for the both of us, would be trying to figure out just what is my signature dish. I thought about this as I was watching The Food Network a couple of weeks ago. I enjoy cooking and have the basics down. I’m even known at work for my fresh salsa (not the dance, despite my attempts in Zumba class). But that’s not exactly a whole dish.
I’ve dabbled in ethnic cuisine, mostly trying to stick to my heritage. A few Chinese recipes, various Latin specialities, including ceviche, sancocho, and arroz con pollo. I’ve already lamented here about my inability to make an arroz con pollo that can even be compared to my Tia Aleyda’s.
Rather than try to imitate the perfection of her signature dish, I want to come up with my own. Something challenging and dinner party worthy. After scouring through my dozen or so cookbooks, hundreds of pins on Pinterest, and thousands of FN shows, I’ve come up with a dish that I think is worthy: paella.
If you’re not familiar with paella, it is a Spanish rice-based one-pan dish loaded with seafood and other meats, with a very distinctive fiery yellow color acquired with the (judicious) use of what might be the world’s most expensive spice, saffron. I consider many rice dishes a challenge because I don’t think rice is a very easy food to cook. It can turn out gummy if you have too much water, or it can dry out before it’s had a chance to cook all the way through (who likes al dente rice?). And when you think you have the ratios and timing perfected, you try to throw in extra ingredients, and you have to go back to square one. At least that’s how it feels to me.
There are many components in a paella dish that you can mix and match, but I think two of the key components are the paella pan, saffron, and the rice. I bought a paella pan and splurged on a little bit of saffron (if you don’t want to shell out the $15 for a gram, you can substitute with annatto instead). I don’t remember what kind of rice I used the first time, but it was one of the short-grain varieties recommended in my Spanish cooking book. For the last recipe I used arborio rice.
So far I’ve made three different paella dishes, with varying degrees of success.
Paella a la Marinera (Seafood Paella), The New Spanish Table by Anya von Bremzen
I have to say, this was delicious! A little labor intensive, but worth every minute spent hovering over the stove.
This recipe included fish, squid, clams, and shrimp, and was served with allioli and lemon wedges.
Toasted Pasta Paella with Shrimp, The New Spanish Table by Anya von Bremzen
While not a traditional paella, using noodles instead of rice, this was also very good. I did not get a chance to take a picture of it until my family had almost finished devouring it. This one only had shrimp in it, but I was afraid to try to repeat the paella recipe I made the first time with my family coming over. Guess I wasn’t feeling too confident yet despite the success of the first attempt, and this one was not as labor intensive.
Paella, Healthy Latin Cooking, by Steven Raichlen
Maybe it’s because this recipe attempted to cut down on the calories and cholesterol, but I didn’t think it was as good as the first attempt. This recipe called for chicken breasts, serrano ham (I used prosciutto) clams, mussels, shrimp, and squid. The technique was a little different and it didn’t seem to take as long, but the result was not as delicious this time around. It was still good, and there were no complaints from my husband and son (or leftovers) but I was a little disappointed.
For my next attempt, I think I will try to make the paella on the grill. I have picked out my recipe and pinned it on my Paella Manifesto board. Unless my grill gives me problems, I have a good feeling about this one. I’ll let you know how it works out. And the next time I invite you over for dinner, you may have the honor of sampling my latest attempt at perfecting my new signature dish (but don’t bring Bobby with you – don’t think I’m ready yet!).