My mom didn't really make paella. For one thing, the rice is hard to find in Idaho where we lived in my childhood. My mom will be the first to tell you that her paella doesn't "turn out". The rice is never cooked the way she likes it and unless you have the right pan, you don't get the flavor from the rice crust that forms on the bottom of the pan, the socarrat. I have never tried to make paella before, but last Sunday I had my first go at it.
The Kroger grocery store chain is having a "Taste of Spain" promotion that has been lots of fun for me, my mom and my sister. I happened to be roaming through my local Kroger and found some cookies and magdalenas (Spanish cupcakes) and I got really excited! The next time I went to the store, I found marcona almonds, chorizo, jamon serrano, jamon Iberico, and dark chocolate with almonds among other things. One of the other things was a paella pan that included paella mix and a bag of paella rice. I had to have it.
I had some anxieties about making the paella. I am also not very good at cooking rice. It's really annoying. I have a rice cooker, but even with that tool my rice is crunchy and doesn't cook in the time it is supposed to. I know it's all in my rice to water ratio, but I just can't seem to get it right.
I decided that my first try at paella would be simple. I would add some chicken to the mix that came with the pan. The seasoning packet had a distinct seafood smell to it - there were powdered shellfish flavorings, so my mom, who bought the same pan and mix as I did, was unable to use it.
I cut up the chicken and cooked it, then put the rice in the pan along with the seasonings and 50 oz of water. I was afraid the pan wouldn't hold all the water, but it did, just barely. It only spilled when I got a little aggressive with my stirring. The good news is that the rice turned out perfectly and it was quite tasty, after I got over the seafood aroma surrounding the chicken.
Let's be clear: the paella I made in no way resembled my grandmother's paella or any decent to delicious paella I have ever eaten. But for the first time, I thought that maybe I could actually do it myself.
Here's a photo of my paella pretty far along in the cooking process:
You can see there is still a lot of liquid to be absorbed and it looks pretty boring. It really was just chicken and rice. There is a recipe for paella on the bag of rice I bought, so I will try again and add more meats and maybe a few other savory items like onions and roasted red pepper. It would please me very much to come a little closer to the taste of this paella:
This is a photo of Mercedes, my mom's cousin (she's married to my mom's cousin Ferran). I wish I had take a photo that included her head, but I was pretty focused on that enormous pan of paella. (There were six of us at lunch that day.) She made it without seafood so my mom could eat it. She has pieces of chicken, some sausage, bits of pork and bits of beef. There is some red pepper and onion in there, too. It was one of the most delicious meals I had while we were in Barcelona in September. I had seconds and would have had more but decided to try to keep a bit of my pride and not give the family something to talk about. Seriously though, that meal was crazy good.
My paella was fine for what it was, simple chicken and rice with paella seasoning, but I think I can do better. I'll let you know how the next try goes.
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