Sunday, May 27, 2012

May: Sunny Spain

Spanish cuisine is a melding of the influences of the sea and the Mediterranean climate, the Moors, and the bounty brought back by explorers from far away lands during the Age of Discovery.  These influences come together to create a distinctive character in Spanish dishes.  I chose a few traditional Spanish recipes that highlight these influences to prepare for this month's cooking class.  Enjoy!

Paella is a very traditional dish from the Valencia region of Spain.  While every family will have their own rendition of this famous dish, every recipe will have a richly seasoned rice as the base. 

1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO), divided
1 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, fat removed and each thigh cut in half
6 oz. Spanish style chorizo (firm and already cooked, like pepperoni), cut into chunks
4-5 garlic cloves, pressed
4 oz. green beans, fresh (washed and stems removed) or frozen
1 large Roma tomato, grated
1 medium Spanish onion, grated
1 cup green peas, fresh or frozen 
1/4 tsp. saffron
4-5 cups low-sodium chicken stock or broth
1 1/2 cups medium grained rice (such as Calrose brand)
Fresh rosemary (optional)
Fresh lemons, cut into wedges

 In a large pot, heat the chicken broth with the saffron and hold at a simmer while preparing the rest of the recipe.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper.  Heat a wide, shallow skillet over medium high heat.  Add some EVOO to the pan and add the prepared chicken thighs.  Thoroughly brown the thigh meat on all sides and remove from the pan to a plate.  Set aside.  

Add a bit more EVOO to the pan.  Cut the fresh green beans, if using, in half if they are long.  Thaw the green beans if using frozen.  Add the prepared beans to the pan along with the chorizo. 

Cook over medium high heat until the beans are browned.  Add the garlic and stir briefly just to heat through.  Remove green beans and chorizo mixture from the pan to the platter with the chicken.

Add more EVOO to the pan and continue to heat over medium high heat.  Add the grated tomato and onion.  Stir the tomato/onion mixture until it bubbles.  Turn down the heat and simmer until it becomes a thick paste.  It should be well-browned.  Add some more oil to the pan with the tomato/onion mixture and stir.  Taste the mixture and adjust salt.  Add the rice and stir to coat with the tomato/onion mixture.  Cook over medium heat for a few minutes to start cooking the rice. 
Spread the rice into a layer over the bottom of the skillet.  Add the chicken, chorizo, and green beans to the pan over the top of the rice, but do not stir.  Sprinkle the peas over the top of the contents of the pan.  Ladle the hot stock/broth over the contents of the skillet and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking the rice, adding more liquid as necessary.  Do not stir the contents of the pan while it is cooking. 

One of the main goals when making paella is to have a crust of golden rice form on the bottom of the pan.  Remember that there is a fine line between a golden crust and a burnt crust, so watch the heat carefully and adjust as necessary.  If the liquid seems to be evaporating too quickly, cover the skillet with a lid.  Just before the rice is done, add a sprig of fresh rosemary to the skillet.  The paella is done when the rice is just barely cooked all the way through and is firm but not hard.

To serve the paella, dish a portion of it onto a plate.  Squeeze some fresh lemon juice over the rice, if desired, and enjoy!

Spanish Tortilla  (like a potato frittata)
When Americans hear the word tortilla, their minds picture a round, white flour or cornmeal flatbread used in Mexican cuisine.  The Spanish style tortilla is nothing like the flour or corn Mexican tortilla, but it is used in much the same way as the Mexican tortilla.   Instead of wrapping pieces of meat and other bits and pieces into the tortilla, the Spanish style tortilla is eaten alongside meats and succulent bits and pieces at the afternoon meal or for a light supper.


2 lbs. potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
salt and pepper
1 clove garlic, pressed
5 eggs, beaten

In a large microwavable bowl, stir together the potatoes and onions and season well with the salt and pepper.  Cover and microwave on high power for 5 minutes.  You want the potatoes to be tender but not cooked all the way through.  Let the mixture cool to room temperature.  Stir in the garlic and eggs.  

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat.  Spray the pan with cooking spray and pour in the egg/potato mixture.  Press the potatoes into the eggs lightly with a spatula.  Cover the skillet and cook for 5 minutes.  Check the mixture after five minutes to see if it is set on the bottom, but it will still be wet on top.  If necessary, continue to cook in 1 minute intervals until the mixture is just wet on top.

Heat the broiler in your oven.  Place the pan of potato/egg mixture into the oven with the rack placed in the oven so that the skillet is about 10 inches from the heat source.  Broil until the top of the tortilla is lightly browned, but not crispy.

Remove the pan from the oven and invert onto a platter or large round plate.  Let the tortilla cool to room temperature.  (It can be eaten hot, however it tastes best when it has cooled.)  To serve, cut into eight wedges.  Spanish tortillas are often eaten with your hands!

Caramel Flan
A velvety baked custard with a wonderful caramelized sugar syrup topping.


1/2 cup sugar
2 cups whole milk, scalded
3 eggs
1/4 cup sugar 
2 tsp. vanilla

Pour enough water into a 9" x 13" baking pan to fill it not quite half full.  Place the filled pan into a cold oven and preheat the oven to 350ยบ while you make the custard.

Heat the 1/2 cup sugar in a saucepan over medium high heat until the sugar begins to melt.  Using a silicone spatula, gently stir the melting sugar until it is all melted and turns a golden brown.  The sugar will brown quickly, so be careful that you do not scorch the sugar syrup.  

Pour the caramelized sugar into a 9" pie pan, preferably metal, and working quickly, swirl the syrup over the bottom and up the sides of the pie pan.  The syrup will harden quickly, so you need to move quickly on this step.  Set the coated pie pan aside.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs and 1/4 cup sugar together until the mixture is a creamy yellow.  Add the vanilla and beat for a few seconds.  Add the hot milk a little at a time, stirring between each addition, until all the milk is mixed with the egg/sugar mixture.  Pour the milk/egg mixture into the prepared pie pan.

Carefully open the preheated oven and place the pie pan into the 9" x 13" pan so that the pie pan straddles at least two sides of the larger pan. (The idea is to bake the custard in a hot water bath).  If you had to pull the rack out to do this, gently glide it back into the oven in order to minimize spills from the pie pan and hot water bath.

Bake the flan for 45 minutes and check.  The custard should be set like soft gelatin.  Remove the pie pan from the oven and let it sit undisturbed to set completely.  Once cooled, the flan should be soft to the touch but will not have ripples across the top when jiggled.  Place a large platter or plate over the top of the pie pan and carefully invert the pie pan onto the platter.  The once solid caramelized sugar will now be a wonderful caramelized sauce that run down and around the flan.  This is the good stuff that sets flan apart from its more subdued American cousin.  Enjoy!

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