I found myself in a conundrum the other night, having decided on making paella for dinner, but finding that I didn’t really have the time to wait for the rice to cook. Since I was already making “mixed” paella, a version virtually unknown in paella’s homeland of Valencia (but popular elsewhere in Spain), I decided it wouldn’t matter if I ditched the rice in favor of a quicker-cooking grain. I haven’t experimented enough with other grains to know which would offer a good texture, so I chose Israeli couscous, a more pillowy, chewy version of the small-grained pasta.
The original Valencian paella was a rice dish prepared in a large, shallow pan that included fresh butter beans, tomatoes, saffron, paprika, olive oil, and snails. Over time, additional meats such as chicken, rabbit, and duck could be added and still considered authentic. Valencians who live on the Mediterranean coast make a seafood paella, which replaces land proteins with any combination of shrimp, lobster, mussels, and cuttlefish. Spaniards living outside of Valencia mixed these two forms, and chefs in Spain and worldwide have now created paellas with any number of different vegetables and proteins. The version I threw together is below.
Mixed Paella (4-6 servings)
- 1/4 c. olive oil
- 2 onions, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/3 lb. fresh chorizo, crumbled
- 2 boneless, skinless, chicken thighs, diced
- 1 1/2 tsp. each paprika and smoked paprika, or to taste
- 1 pinch saffron
- 3-4 c. chicken broth – start with 3 cups and add additional broth if needed; I used 4 cups and it was a bit too brothy
- 1/2 lb. raw, shelled shrimp (about 4 per person)
- 1 1/2 c. Israeli couscous
- 3/4 c. frozen peas
- 3/4 c. frozen spinach
- Heat olive oil in a 12-inch saute pan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook for several minutes, or until softened. Add chorizo and break up with a wooden spatula. Cook about five minutes, or until cooked through.
- Add chicken, and cook another three minutes. Add spices, and cook a minute or two, until fragrant.
- Add chicken broth and bring up to a boil. Add shrimp, couscous, peas, and spinach. Cook 8-15 minutes or until couscous is done and broth has evaporated.
I don’t have any fancy introduction or theorizing on food for this one. We had some frozen baby shrimp and a can of San Marzano pureed tomatoes, and wanted to make shrimp creole, star entree of the four-hour dinner I once made for my parents on their anniversary. Ooookay so the dinner was only supposed to take one hour to make and as I recall, my parents weren’t totally thrilled that it took four times as long. I don’t remember how the food was, either, but I remember it was the first and only time I’d made shrimp creole, until tonight.
I’m not sure how authentic this is. My guess is, mostly, but maybe there are a few things that aren’t quite right. I don’t care because it’s yummy.
Shrimp Creole (3-4 servings)
This stuff is spicy! Not the immediate, sharp, burn your tongue kind of spicy. In fact, I may have over-spiced it because when I tasted it, it was pretty mild. However, the heat builds very quickly and we ended up needed to take a break in the middle of our bowls and make a piece of buttered toast for each of us to eat with the rest of our dish. So, even though the recipe specifies 2 tbsp. creole seasoning (and I added about another teaspoon or so at the end of the recipe), you may want to tread lightly, or just add less cayenne pepper to your spice mix, if you make your own.
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 bell pepper, chopped
- 4 stalks celery, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp. creole seasoning, divided (I got my recipe from Nola Cuisine)
- 1 tbsp. tomato paste
- 1/2 – 1 c. white wine (I didn’t actually measure this out)
- 1 14 oz. can crushed tomatoes in puree
- 8-10 medium fresh okra (or about 3/4 c. chopped)
- 1/2 lb. baby shrimp (I’d maybe double this if you love your seafood; I just used what we had)
- 2 c. cooked white rice
- Heat oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic. Cook five minutes, or until vegetables are beginning to soften.
- Stir in 1 tablespoon of the creole seasoning, and cook for several minutes, or until fragrant. Add tomato paste and cook several minutes, until beginning to brown.
- Turn heat up to medium-high, and add wine. Cook until wine has evaporated, and then add crushed tomatoes and one cup of water, along with the remaining tablespoon of creole seasoning and okra.
- Cover, and simmer about 15 minutes, or until sauce has thickened somewhat and okra is tender. Add shrimp and rice to the sauce, and simmer for about five minutes, or until heated through.