Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Chicken & Artichoke Paella

This past weekend I prepared a mixed seafood paella for a client. I was still thinking about it on Sunday, so on Monday evening I prepared a small paella for our dinner. A mixed seafood paella can be a bit of a production—especially for a small group and on a weeknight—so for our paella I made a streamlined chicken version using some chicken thighs that I already had on hand. I also had some lovely California artichokes in my fridge and some of the last shelling peas from the farmers' market. It all came together to make a relatively simple and easy dinner...perfect eating for late spring/early summer.

Unfortunately, I have never been to Spain—and I am not an expert on paella—so I'm not going to spend any time on this post going into the details of the method involved in making a good paella—there is actually quite a bit of good information available on the web on this subject...people who are presenting the information much more knowledgeably than I could. Instead, I am offering a relatively detailed recipe that will walk you step by step through exactly what I did. My recipe is a combination of way too many that I have seen to cite them all, but I will say I am indebted to my friend Nancy for doing the trial and error leg work involved in discovering that an All-clad braiser is the perfect sized pan for making a paella for four using 1 1/4 cups rice. (Thanks Nancy!)

Those familiar with traditional paellas will notice my slightly unusual method for preparing and adding the chicken. Typically the chicken would be browned in the pan the paella is made in—the onions and other vegetables would then be added around the chicken, followed by the rice and then the liquid. But since the rice only takes 20 to 25 minutes to cook (plus a 10 minute rest), I have partially cooked the chicken before adding it to the pan with the liquid. Twenty to twenty-five minutes is plenty of time for the chicken to be cooked to a safe temperature...but not, to my way of thinking, enough time to become as tender as chicken thighs should be. So that none of the flavor of the browned chicken is lost, remember to deglaze the pan it is cooked in, then reduce the deglazings and add them to the paella along with the chicken.

For some people, there might not be enough chicken in this recipe. To me, Paella is all about the rice. The meat/seafood is a nice garnish...but what I really want is the flavorful rice. If you are a person who wants more protein with your meal, then you might want to add more chicken thighs. The size pan I used will easily accommodate 2 to 4 more.

Finally, when I made our paella, I only used two artichokes. That was all I had in my fridge. If I were to make this again, I would use three (I love artichokes). If you don't want to turn fresh artichokes to make this dish, you may use jarred or frozen (thaw before adding) artichoke hearts. Add them with the peas. But if I can get in a plug for fresh here, I would encourage you to turn your own fresh ones—they taste so very good...and it's always a good thing to practice turning artichokes.

The leftovers (with the meat pulled off of the bone) made an excellent lunch

Chicken & Artichoke Paella

2 1/2 c. chicken stock or low-salt broth
1/8 t. saffron threads
1 large vine-ripened tomato (6 to 8 oz.)
4 chicken thighs (about 1 1/3 lb.)
salt and pepper
3 to 4 T. extra-virgin olive oil
2 to 3 artichokes, turned and cut into 8 wedges each and tossed with the juice of one lemon
1 small onion (about 5 oz.), minced
2 to 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 to 4 oz. dry Spanish chorizo, casing removed and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices (if the chorizo is especially fat, halve or quarter it lengthwise before slicing)
1 1/4 t. smoked paprika (sweet paprika is fine if you don't have smoked)
1 bay leaf
1 1/4 c. Arborio or Carnaroli rice
1 c. hot water
1/2 c. shelled peas (use frozen if fresh are not available; thaw before adding)
Minced Italian flat-leaf parsley and lemon wedges

Preheat the oven to 375°. Place the stock in a saucepan. Add the saffron and bring to a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and cover to keep hot. Halve the tomato cross-wise and coarsely grate the tomatoes into a bowl or onto a plate. Discard the skin and reserve the tomato pulp.

Season chicken with salt & pepper. (It's best if you can do this step the night before, but the dish will still be good if the chicken is seasoned just before it is cooked.) Heat some of the oil in a sauté pan set over moderately high heat. Add the chicken to the pan, skin side down and cook until the skin is rendered and golden brown. Regulate the heat as necessary to maintain an active sizzle. Turn the chicken over and transfer the pan to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the chicken to a plate. Pour off the fat from the pan. Deglaze the pan with a bit of water and reserve the deglazings with the chicken.

While the chicken is browning, heat a bit more oil in a wide braiser or paella pan (the diameter of the cooking surface should be 9 to 10 inches) set over moderate heat. Add the artichokes to the pan, leaving the lemon juice behind in the bowl.

Sauté, turning occasionally until browned in spots—about 5 minutes. Add the onion and garlic to the pan along with a generous pinch of salt. If the pan seems dry, add more oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are tender. You may need to reduce the heat a bit, but it's ok if the onions begin to turn golden around the edges. (See note on onions below.)

Add the chorizo to the pan. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the chorizo is sizzling—one or two minutes.   Add the paprika and bay and cook until fragrant—another minute or two.

Add the reserved tomato pulp to the pan and cook until reduced and thick.

Add the rice to the pan. Stir to coat in the tomato-onion-spice mixture. Continue to cook for a couple of minutes until hot through and beginning to want to stick to the bottom of the pan.

Add the hot stock to the pan. Stir, scraping the bottom of the pan to make sure the rice isn't sticking and give the pan a gentle shake to distribute the rice in an even layer. Make sure that all the rice is submerged. Taste the broth and add salt if necessary. Add the chicken thighs to the pan skin side up along with any deglazings and resting juices.

Simmer over moderate heat until the liquid is thick and the rice is partially cooked—about 10 minutes. Add the peas and stir in. Give the pan another shake to make sure the rice is in an even layer. Most of the broth should have been absorbed, but the rice will still be a bit soupy and loose in the liquid after stirring in the peas.

If it is not, add hot water until it is. Transfer the pan, uncovered, to the oven. Bake until the rice is tender, but still just slightly al dente—about 10 to 15 minutes. Taste the rice a couple of times while it is baking. If the liquid has evaporated and the rice still seems hard, dribble more hot water, a few tablespoons at a time, over the rice and continue to bake. When the rice is ready, remove the pan from the oven. Cover the pan and let it rest for 5 minutes. Uncover and let stand another 5 minutes (it really does keep getting better as it sits). If you like, garnish with a shower of minced parsley and lemon wedges. Serves 4.

Note: When I made this, I used fresh summer onions from the farmers' market. These kinds of onions have not formed a papery skin, are quite juicy and cook very quickly. If you are making this dish with storage onions, either turn the heat way down and cook them slowly so the artichokes and onions won't get too brown before the onions are tender. Or, lift the artichokes out of the pan, add more oil, and add the onions and garlic to the pan and cook them thoroughly before returning the artichokes to the pan and proceeding with the recipe.

1 comment:

A Sunflower Life said...

I've always wanted to make this dish. Thanks for the inspiration! Nice to know that by just adjusting the ingredients it can make a lovely weeknight meal.