You might just wonder what would possibly bring the classic Spanish dish Paella together with Minnesota. Well, fact is, Minnesota is the largest U.S. Exporter of freshwater crayfish, bar none, and paella just begs for nice juicy crayfish, so there ya go. On top of that, we’ve got dear friends up there, so this ones for y’all.
Paella is made just about everywhere these days, but it originated in the Valencia region on Spain’s east coast. Like barbecue or chili over here, there are easily are as many versions of paella as there are cooks. While you’ve got all kinds of leeway as to what you put in a paella, there are some hard and fast rules if you want an authentic dish; we’ll cover those bases shortly.
It’s generally agreed that the roots of paella stem from the 1700s, when field workers would make rice dishes in a flat pan over a fire. They mixed in whatever they could find – such as snails and vegetables, crawfish, and maybe rabbit or chicken for special occasions. I’ve seen and eaten a lot of paella, good and bad. Essentially, paella is a rice dish and it should always be that; putting so much stuff into it that the essence of the rice dish is lost just ain’t right. Our version below is lovely stuff, and pays homage to the dishes roots along with a nod to midwest delights like fresh game sausage and crawfish. Once you’ve made paella, your mind will already be turning to what you’ll do differently next time; it’s one of those kinda dishes.
As mentioned, there are a few hard and fast rules you must abide by when making paella, and here they are.
Paella Rule#1: You must cook paella over a fire. Whether you use a charcoal grill, gas grill or fire pit is up to you, put it’s gotta be done. The reason for this is rooted in Paella Rule #2; if you’re gonna use that big, wide pan, you gotta be able to put even heat under all of it, and there’s no stove in our houses that’ll do the deed. If you really catch the bug, there are dedicated gas paella cookers with 2 or 3 rings, adjustable flame, and a nice, sturdy tripod base.
Paella Rule #2: you gotta use a Paella Pan. A traditional paella pan is a large, flat, open round steel pan with handles. Nothing else will get the rice to do the right thing, and if it don’t, it ain’t paella. La Tienda sells them, and you can find them on Amazon as well. Granted, if you only make paella once, it’s not worth the purchase of a pan; once you’ve tried it, I’ll bet you’re hooked, and you’ll want one for sure.
Paella Rule #3: you gotta use genuine Bomba rice. This medium grained, almost round rice from the Levante, (the eastern coast of Spain), absorbs a lot of liquid, which makes it particularly suitable for paella. You can order bomba rice from many online Spanish food retailers, including La Tienda, which is where we get ours. This stuff is a delight and well worth buying.
Paella Rule #4: you gotta use real saffron. It is, you’re about to discover, the most expensive spice on the planet. Don’t buy a lot, and don’t buy the cheap stuff. Get the best grade you can afford. When the recipe says a ‘pinch’, I mean a few strands, maybe 6 or so. It’s that expensive, but also that potent. Too much leaves a nasty metallic taste that’ll ruin a paella; we’re after the lovely yellow-gold color it imparts as much as taste, so go easy.
OK, so on to the recipe. This is my take on the roots of authentic paella, with a nod to Minnesota in the sausage and crawfish components.
1 Pound smoked Pheasant Sausage, (Any homemade game or chicken sausage works fine)
1 Pound freshwater Crayfish
12 Ounces Bomba Rice (Medium Grain will do in a pinch)
4-5 Cups Chicken Stock (or broth)
1 Cup White Wine
1 sweet Onion
1 yellow or orange Bell Pepper
1/2 Cup Peas
1/4 Cup Italian flat leaf Parsley
1 sprig fresh Thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dry)
1 pinch Saffron
2-3 cloves Garlic
1/2. Teaspoon smoked, sweet Paprika
4 Tablespoons extra virgin Olive Oil
Sea Salt and fresh ground Pepper to taste
Rinse, core, seed and dice the onion, pepper, and tomatoes.
Chiffonade the parsley, peel and mince the garlic.
Cut lemon into equal slices and set aside for garnish.
Cut sausage into roughly 2″ chunks.
In your paella pan over medium heat, add olive oil and heat through.
Toss in the onion, garlic and pepper; sauté until the onion starts to go translucent. Remove the veggies to a bowl and set aside.
Add sausage and cook until evenly browned. Toss it into the bowl with the veggies and set aside again.
Add the rice to the pan and sauté dry for 2 to 3 minutes.
Stir in 3 cups of chicken stock, the wine, the thyme, paprika, and the saffron. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Increase heat to medium high and bring everything to a boil, then reduce heat until you’ve got a nice, even simmer going; cook for 15 minutes; stirring occasionally.
Taste the rice, and check to see if it’s pretty much done; it should be a bit too al dente at this point. If it’s not close yet, add another 1/2 cup of chicken stock stock and continue cooking, stirring occasionally. Add additional stock as needed, up to 5 cups total. Continue to simmer until the rice is done.
Toss in the sausage and veggie mix, as well as the tomatoes and peas. Simmer for another 5 minutes.
Add the crawfish on top of the dish, cover with foil, and simmer for 5 minutes.
Remove the foil, sprinkle parsley evenly over the dish.
Serve hot in bowls, dished right from the paella pan, and garnished with the lemon wedges. Make sure you’ve got lots of fresh, crusty bread, and a nice white wine, (I’ll suggest the Wollersheim Dry Reisling as the perfect accompaniment.)