In this week's So Many Fairies story, “The Purple Crocus Fairy,” Spilky, the titular character, is in a hurry. He wants his crocus bulb to bloom before all the others. But in his haste, he makes a big mistake — a mistake that teaches him a lesson about patience and the value of slowing down.
Not only does this week's paella recipe use saffron — the precious strands of which are harvested from the center of crocuses — it also cannot be made well without another key ingredient that plays a prominent role in the story — patience.
Paella is a Spanish dish made with rice and a mixture of meats, seafood, and vegetables. There is a legend that it was originally created by servants packing up the leftovers from the royal banquets of Moorish kings, and once you've made it a few times that legend will make perfect sense. It's a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and the ingredients (particularly the meat and seafood) can easily be swapped based on what needs to be used up in your fridge.
While you can buy a special paella pan, unless you really get into making it all the time, it's probably not worth it. If you have a big skillet with high sides, it will work just fine.
The one thing that you really can't get away without buying on purpose for this dish is saffron. While it is expensive, it's also almost magical what a few saffron threads can do to a pot of rice. Some sources will tell you to be wary of cheaper saffron, but I've had good luck ordering it online. I was able to get a 1-gram tin for about $8, and — because it only takes a little — it will last for several paella nights.
The other thing you'll need? Well, as Spilky learned in the story, patience! There are several places in this recipe where you must walk away and let the rice cook on it's own. No touching, no stirring, no fiddling. It's one of the hardest lessons to learn, both in the garden and in cooking, but in this instance the reward is well worth it.
6 cups chicken stock
A large pinch of saffron
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ pound chorizo
2 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (cut into cubes)
1 onion (diced)
1 bell pepper (diced)
2 large garlic cloves (minced)
28-ounce can whole, peeled tomatoes (drained and squeezed to get rid of most of the juice)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
½ cup fresh parsley (stemmed and chopped)
10 sprigs fresh thyme (remove leaves and discard stems)
2 ½ cups arborio rice
½ pound green beans (with tops and tails trimmed)
1 pound headless shrimp (shelled)
2-3 lemons (cut into wedges, for serving)
You'll thank yourself later if you begin this recipe by getting some of the ingredients ready before you begin. If an ingredient above has parenthesis behind it, you should do whatever is in the parenthesis before you start cooking. Just go straight down the list, and get them all portioned out before you go on.
Once that's done, pour the chicken stock into a medium stock pot, add a generous pinch of saffron, and bring it to a low simmer.
While the stock warms, in the largest, high-sided skillet you have, heat the olive oil. Add the chorizo, and cook it until it's just browned; there's no need to cook it all the way through yet. Remove the chorizo from the pan.
Do the same thing with the chicken — brown it, but don't worry about cooking it through — and, likewise, set it aside.
Next, add the onion, bell pepper and garlic. Cook them together until they're softened, then add the tomatoes, breaking them up a bit as you stir them into the other veggies. Push the veggies over to one side of the pan, then scrape the tomato paste out onto the other side. Let the tomato paste caramelize a bit, spreading and scooping it with a spatula for about two minutes.
Then, add the chorizo and chicken back into the pan, along with the paprika, parsley, and thyme. Mix everything in the pan together well.
Now it's time to add the rice. Stir the rice into the vegetable/meat mixture, and keep stirring until the edges of the rice begin to go translucent. This usually takes me 3-4 minutes. Then, add enough stock to cover the rice and veggies.
Keep stirring and adding stock (as necessary to keep the mixture covered) for another 10 minutes, then quit stirring and allow the paella to cook undisturbed. You should still add stock as necessary to keep the rice covered, but otherwise resist the urge to fiddle. Paella is supposed to get a bit crispy on the bottom, and if you keep stirring that can't happen.
After about 10 more minutes, layer the green beans and shrimp on top of the paella. Let the shrimp cook for 4 minutes, or until one side is pink, then flip them to allow the other side to cook.
Once the shrimp is cooked, turn off the heat, pop on a lid, and let your paella sit undisturbed for 15 more minutes. Again, resist the urge to fiddle or take off the lid to check on it.
Once that last 15 minutes is up, it's time to eat. Because paella is so rich and hearty, I like to serve it with lemon wedges squeezed over the top and a crisp, green salad.
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About the Author
The Sparkle Kitchen Series is created by Meryl Carver-Allmond.
Meryl lives in a hundred-year-old house near the prairie with her sweet husband, two preschoolers, one puppy, one gecko, and about ten chickens. While she's been writing since she could pick up a pen, in recent years she's discovered the joy of photography, too. She feels lucky to be able to combine those skills, along with a third passion — showing people that cooking for themselves can be healthy and fun — in her Sparkle Kitchen posts.