On a long hot summer evening I love to see a group of friends waiting on a huge pan of Paella, drinking rose and watching the sun go down. Especially if you have gathered some of your own shellfish and others have bought fish or meats to add to the pot.
All over Spain the hardware stores sell huge paella pans and stoves to take to outside parties. The last few years have seen a popular take up of Volleyball, and on a sunday afternoon courts are scratched out, a net is strung up and while some play, some cook, often in vast pans able to cater for 30 or more.
The meal is now pan-iberian and recipes change according to district, region and most importantly what is available. One thing is constant, the wafting rich smell of saffron, fish, rice and garlic, whether drifting over hot beach sands, or pine scented forest is a typical Spanish note, add the high voices of family and children and you are unmistakably immersed in Iberian culture.
The basic recipe is very simple: Rice, Saffron, onions, garlic, fish and shellfish, and food is added to the pot according to how long it needs to cook. The Typical Andalusian recipe involves chicken on the bone, but I have used duck, and spanish sausage and pieces of pork on occasion, whatever is to hand. In Catalonia the stock is darker and fishier and hardly ever cooked with meats.
I always like to start with browning the meat in the pan and then adding chopped onions and garlic with plenty of olive oil, and then adding the rice. Spanish Paella rice is similar to rissotto rice, and really any short grain rice will do. Although if you manage to obtain some of that wonderful nutty rice from the spanish deltas you will be well rewarded. Once this is stirred around the pot gathering up the meat browning and olive oil the stock is added, usually chicken stock in Andalusia, or fish stock in Catalonia; which has had plenty of saffron steeped in it for a few hours. when the rice is swimming in stock at 3 parts stock to one part rice, the fish is added making sure it is well covered and finally the shellfish. A few gentle stirs are needed to stop the rice sticking to the pan, but not too much or the fish will fall apart and the shellfish get stuck with rice. As the last of the stock is soaked up and the rice is plump and golden serve immediately. Everyone will be waiting and a big pan is easy to serve from. Use large chunks of white fish- sustainable pollock or ling is perfect from our shores, along with mussels, clams, squid, and prawns- shell on, fresh and large if you can get them. Herbs are generally wild thyme from the hills sprinkled liberally during cooking. The resulting dish should be a rich gold, glistening with oil and inundated with tasty bites of fish, chicken and shellfish.
We drunk a couple of bottles of Rioja Rosado Navajas, a young fruity rosado which had a brilliant heady flavour, perfect with the richness of saffron rice. It is a great slurping wine and affordable enough to buy a few bottles for a long evening with friends. The flavour is bright and intense, typically Spanish and getting popular in the beachfront restaurants and bars all over the peninsula this year.