Short Cut to Paella

Now that I'm a mom, I've been inundated with Parents, Parenting and other baby magazines.  I barely have time to look online these days.  We gave up our daily newspaper subscription and as for the New Yorker, I haven't read a complete issue in years.  I make myself through out all the NYer issues that are older than 2 months, knowing full well I won't even glance through them.  However, the baby magazines do seem to be designed with the harried mom in mind.   Easy to peruse, fun and lively so you want to come back to give the photos and articles a further looky loo.  That's how I came across a great idea for short-cut paella that's family friendly.   The original recipe (found here) is standard Sandra Lee style cooking semi-homemade using a lot of ready made and packaged foods. Not my style but inspired finished dish are the pure healthy & gourmet-made-easy kind of cooking at which I excel.  The rice is made separately from the meats/seafood/veggies.  The way the rice is made, it's sort of a version of pilaf and Spanish Rice - sautéed aromatics (garlic/onions) and I used saffron and tomato paste to add flavor and color.  A few swap outs for whole grains, less sodium and more veggies and I present to you a very good version of a short-cut paella, good enough to serve to guests and good enough for you to feel good about eating it for a healthier life-style. Short-cut Paella, it's a good thing.

Short-Cut Paella Ingredients
For Rice:

  • 1 Cup Uncooked Brown Rice - rinsed
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 Small Onion - finely diced
  • 2 Garlic Cloves - minced
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Saffron Threads (or 1 teaspoon Turmeric powder)
  • 1/4 Cup Tomato Paste
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 2 & 3/4 Cups Cold Water

For Paella

  • 2 Tablespoon Olive Oil - divided
  • 1 Red and Green Bell Peppers - julienne 
  • 1 Medium/Large Onion - Large dice
  • 4 or 5 Garlic Cloves - minced
  • 2 Tablespoons Smoked Paprika
  • 1 Pound Large Shrimp - shells intact but deveined
  • 1 Package (about 12 ounces to 1 pound) Pre-cooked Chicken Sausage (like the kind you can buy at Trader Joe's) - cut into 1/4 inch slices
  • 1 Cup Frozen Okra
  • 1 Cup Frozen Peas
  • 1 - 14.5 to 16 Ounce Can Diced Tomatoes (No Salt Added/No Seasonings)
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper to Taste
  • 1/2 Cup Cilantro or Parsley - roughly chopped for garnish

Directions:

  1. Start by making the rice first.  Rinse the rice thoroughly until the water runs clear; drain completely.  Use a 3 quart sauce pot with a tight fitting lid; heat the olive oil over medium high heat until it begins to shimmer.  
  2. Add in the onions and saute the onions until they begin to turn translucent - about 2 minutes.  Add in the minced garlic and if using, the saffron or turmeric powder and the tomato paste; saute 1 minute, while whisking the tomato paste to incorporate. 
  3. Add in the brown rice and saute for 3 minutes before adding in the 2 & 3/4 cups of cold water and the salt.  Whisk again to incorporate the tomato paste, making sure there are no lumps.  Turn heat up to high, cover pot and bring the mixture to a boil.  Once the rice starts to boil, reduce heat to a low simmer and cook, covered & undisturbed until the rice has absorbed all of the cooking water, about 45 minutes.  
  4. While the rice is cooking, start prepping and cooking the paella ingredients.  Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until the oil begins to shimmer.  Saute the julienned bell peppers until they soften and begin to take on some color, about 5-8 minutes.  
  5. Next, add in the diced onions and minced garlic; saute for 2 minutes or until the onions turn translucent.  
  6. Add in the second tablespoon of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of smoked paprika; then add in the shrimp and cook until the shrimp turn bright orange/pink - about 3 minutes.  Next add in the sliced chicken sausage.  Cook the sausage until it is warmed through.  
  7. Add in the frozen okra, peas and the can of diced tomatoes with the tomato juices.  If the mixture is too dry, add in 1 cup of cold water.  Bring the mixture to a boil and cook until the okra and peas are cooked through.  Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  8. When the rice is completely cooked, fluff it with a fork and then put some on a plate or in a bowl.  Top with scoop of the paella mixture and garnish with a sprinkle of cilantro or parsley.  If serving family style or for a large gathering, put the rice onto a platter and top with the entire paella mixture.  Serves 8.
Notes: True paella uses a special paella pan, which is shallow, very wide and usually made of hammered blue steel.  The rice you use in paella is traditionally a medium grain rice; usually it's a Spanish - Valencia-style rice called bomba.  The aromatics in the dish are called a sofritto, a mixture of onions, garlic, bell peppers and tomato paste.  Seafood, chicken and/or rabbit would be the main proteins.  Saffron, an extremely expensive, highly prized and aromatic and colorful ingredient, adds depth of flavor and that unmistakable "Spanish rice" color.  The entire dish is cooked together in the paella pan, with all the flavors melding together and into the rice.  When cooked correctly in the paella pan, the bottom layer of rice sticks to the pan, creating a crisp crunchy layer.  This is the "prize" of the paella, usually reserved for the honored guest or cook.

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