It's Paella Transcript

The Kitchen

    My home pot rack houses quite a few cooking vessels, but this one is unique. This is a paella, all right? Now paella happens to mean "pan." Comes from the Latin, "patella," which means "plate." It's also where we get our word for kneecap. Long story. Calling it a paella pan would be like calling it "pan pan," which would make you sound either really silly or like a guy selling pizza.
    Now it's unique for several reasons. One, it's composed of high carbon steel, so it's a very speedy conductor of heat: much faster than say, stainless steel. But like cast iron, it can rust if it's not cared for properly. It is extremely light, almost flimsy in construction. Not a characteristic typically synonymous of quality cookware because it simply will not evenly heat unless it's placed over a very, very wide, even heat source.
    Its size is unusual at 15 inches across. So it's 177 inches of cooking space. And yet the sides—only 1 3/4 inches high—so whatever is going to cook in here is going to be spread very, very thinly. It has wide-looped handles, so it's hard to get in and out of an oven. And, oh, even more curious is the fact that the paella comes in 16 standard sizes, ranging from a Lilliputian 8 inches, up to 52 inches: seven inches wider than the gong John Bonham whomped on during Zeppelin's ‘77 tour. And I know, because I was there! [bangs on the large paella]
    In short, the paella, which never comes with a lid, is a culinary oddball. Which to the casual observer, might appear to be a unitasker. Me? I look at the paella and see lots of lovely ...

[Good Eats Theme]

The Kitchen

GUESTS: A Roman soldier
              A Moor
              A Christian soldier

    [AB is sitting at the counter, referring to a map] If we're going to get our collective heads around this paella concept, we would do well to consider a few thousand years of Spanish history first. Starting with the Romans  [soldier walks in, trampling the map], who conquered and ruled most of the Iberian Peninsula, between 218 and 17 B.C. Now besides advanced road-building techniques, aqueducts and the like, Rome introduced the patella [similar to a paella], which had a curved, rather than a flat bottom. Intended primarily for frying, this wok-like vessel was versatile, portable, and could even double as a shield in a pinch. [AB uses the patella as a shield over his head, as the soldier strikes] All right. Uncle. Uncle. Uncle. Whew.
    Eventually, Rome receded, only to be replaced a few centuries later by the Moors [a Moor enters the same way the Roman soldier did], a mixture of Islamic peoples from northern Africa including those of Arab and Berber descent. They brought sophisticated agricultural practices, including irrigation, and a host of new crops, like oranges, and saffron, and rice, which was planted all around Valencia, where it grows to this day. Oh, and during this time, the patella was actually adapted to be a little bit more rice-friendly. Look familiar. [this patella looks much more like a paella] I thought so.
    Well, eventually Christian armies hoping to spread the smelly medievalism of the Dark Ages over Spain's culture of science, education, art and enlightenment, ran the Moors slap out of town. But, the rice culture and the paella remained. Now, let's talk about that rice for a second.

    [at the dining table with a large model of a rice grain] Most Americans are familiar with long grain or indica rices, which are much longer than they are wide. Now if you were to unzip one of these and look inside, you'd see two different types of starch structures. You'd see this kind of clustered, star-shaped, multi-branched amylopectin molecule, and you'd see a lot more of the long and straight amylose starch structures, okay?. Because it has so much amylose, this rice will actually cook up light, fluffy, and, key word, separate. We like separate rice here in America. And when cooled, well it becomes very, very crunchy, because all of these molecules tend to realign, to crystallize, in fact. Which is why refrigerated, leftover Chinese takeout rice is like chewing on rocks until you reheat it.



    Now, the rice that the Moors planted in Spain is a medium-grained japonica rice. Obviously much shorter than long grain, and a little bit more rotund. If you were to open up one of these guys, you'd see a much higher number of the amylopectin molecules. That allows this rice to remain firm even when completely cooked. And, it also promotes stickiness. As the starch seeps out around the rice, it can grab hold of other kernels, literally adhesing. So that makes some very interesting culinary possibilities, like paella, possible.


    [back at the countertop] Thanks to the internet, American cooks can choose from a wide range of authentic European rices for their paella. Starting, of course, with Spanish rices. Now here we have the famed Arroz Bomba from Murcia: technically, a short-grained rice, but it is the boutique rice of Spain, with boutique prices to match. I typically reach for a rice labeled as Arroz de Valencia, which is not really a variety, per se, but rather a mixture of senia and bahia rices. And then here, we have my very favorite, Arroz Calasparra, which is easy to identify because it traditionally comes in a big cloth sack, like that.

Arroz Bomba

Arroz de Valencia

Arroz Calasparra

    Now if you don't go with a Spanish rice, you could use almost any Italian arborio risotto rice. But keep in mind, these can be very, very sticky to work with. So if you're going to go that way, try to reach for a vialone nano from the Veneto region.


Vialone Nano

    [at the stovetop] All right. Now that we have chosen the appropriate rice to cook in our paella, we need to contemplate the liquid the rice will cook in, in the paella. Three cups of rice will require nine cups of liquid, and I'm using chicken broth here. Homemade would be best, obviously, but if packaged broth is a must, just make sure it's low sodium. Now I'm going to use a kettle for this because it will be easier to dose into the paella. Just bring it to a simmer over medium high heat and we will face the hardware.

9 Cups Chicken Broth


    [AB is speaking next to his kettle grill] As previously noted, the paella—the pan that is—is thin, carbon steel, and must be positioned over a very, very even heat source if it is to properly perform. Now that's actually a difficult thing to pull off in the modern American kitchen. But, ask any reliable Spaniard and they'll tell you that paella is a dish always prepared al fresco: over a fire, in fact, built of orange tree trimmings and grape vines. And I'm out of both of those. But lump charcoal, that I've got. That's right, kids. Paella is a grilled rice dish.

    Now I always use a charcoal chimney to light my charcoal, and of course that is a fire just with some newsprint. But, I like to spritz mine down with a little vegetable oil, essentially turning it into an oil lamp that will burn for about four times longer than the paper would by itself. So that's ready. Now the charcoal. I want exactly four pounds total. And yes, I really do weigh my charcoal. It's the only way to be sure here. Our first dose will be two pounds, and that will go directly into the chimney. Be careful, you'll get a little dusty here. There. And we'll go ahead and fire that. That should be rocking hot in 10 to 15 minutes. So I'm going to go ahead and measure out another two pounds that we will add to the fire a little bit later on. There, I'll be back. 2 Pounds Natural Lump

Have a gas grill? Crank your grill to high and keep it there.
It may take a little longer, but your patience will be rewarded.

The Kitchen

    [at the refrigerator] After the rice itself and the cooking liquid, there's a third, absolutely required component for the paella to be a paella, and that is the sofrito. Which, like the Creole trinity or the French mirepoix, is actually a mixture of aromatic vegetables. In this case, both green and red bell peppers will be chopped and cooked down in the presence of some garlic and grated tomatoes—hich, of course, you would never keep in here [fridge], would you? Good.

    [at the countertop, AB brandishes a knife, as the sounds of an orchestra warming up can be heard. Then, he furiously chops the red bell pepper, the green bell pepper and the garlic] 1 Cup Red Bell Pepper,
    Chopped +
˝ Cup Green Bell Pepper,
    Chopped +
2 Cloves Garlic Minced
    Now, with that out of the way, we can turn our attention to one pound of tomatoes. That's two good-sized specimens, like this. Now this maneuver may seem unorthodox, but it will achieve two specific goals. And that will be to finely chop the tomatoes and remove the skins. So cut them in half, across the equator, there, and squeeze out as much of the seed and pulp as you can into a fine strainer. Make sure you catch the juices though, because we'll be using those. There, now break out your box grater. That's right, a plain, old box grater, and on the big hole side, hold the tomato thusly [in the flat palm of the hand, cut side facing the grater], and grate. You know, the only other way to reliably remove tomato skins is to boil, shock, and peel them, and that's a pain. Besides, look at this [shows the tomato skin]. You can make a wallet out of that. So, once you've got all your tomatoes grated, go move them into the tomato juice. We'll just get rid of the seeds and the membrane, this is the good stuff. 1 Pound Tomatoes, Seeded,
    Grated & Juice Removed

    Okay, sofrito software is ready and standing by. That leaves one last required component, spices. [at the cupboard] Two spices, to be exact. The first is pimenton, or paprika, in Spanish, which is the dried, ground remains of any of a wide range of European chilies from bell peppers to stronger members of the capsaicin family. Now, the Spanish have three styles of paprika, dolce or sweet, agrodolce, bittersweet, and picante, or hot. Now most artisanal Spanish paprikas have a distinct smokiness from the fires that are used to dry the chilies. And they can be marketed as smoked versions, if they're smoky enough. Now this one is smoked, sweet paprika, and it's my favorite one.

The largest paella in the world was made with a
21m diameter pan that fed 110,000 people.

    [at the bookshelf] As far as I'm concerned, paella the dish, is just rice in a paella, without at least 20 stigmas of the fall-flowering crocus, which the Moors called "sahafarn." That's a mash-up of their words for "thread" and "yellow," known far and wide today as "saffron," which also happens to be the most expensive food on earth. On par, in fact, gram for gram, with gold, which is why I take precautions.
    So why is this stuff so expensive?

AB: Lights! [the lights go down]

    [looking at saffron under a low-power microscope] For one thing, saffron is unique. These little stigma are essentially the bits of botanical plumbing that pollen goes down for reproductive purposes. And they contain a curious and powerful aromatic compound called "safranal," a pungent, woodsy, kind of bittersweet flavorant, called picrocrocin, and a potent pigment as well, which has been used to dye the robes of kings and high priestesses for millennia. Safranal: creates aroma

Picrocrocin: produced
    woodsy flavor

    Now consider the fact that saffron is rare, okay? The fall-flowering crocus doesn't grow in many parts of the world, and each flower only has three stigma. And it takes, roughly, 70,000 flowers to produce a finished pound of this spice. Now it's no surprise that saffron has a long history of adulteration, so it helps to know what you're looking for and at.
    Now in Spanish mancha or Iranian paschal grades, the stigma will be connected to the yellow style. That's kind of the tube that holds up the stigma there. Now although the style is flavorless, its presence in the saffron is a sign that it hasn't been dyed. okay? Now the styles have been picked away in Spanish and Kashmiri coupe grades, and in Iranian sargols, which means that they will cost more, and unfortunately, they can be faked. How do you avoid being ripped off? Well, the real stuff will always be expensive, fragrant, and ... [now at the table]
    ... it will very quickly turn water bright yellow. Behold. Now this is after only about three minutes. You can see the water is this bright yellow, and the stigmas themselves are still very distinct; they haven't dissolved at all. Now compare that with this discount saffron. Okay, you can see that the water is kind of murky and reddish. That's because there were dyes involved, and if you look close, you can see there are actual crocus stigmas in there. But look, look at all this mushy stuff. What is that? Well, it's probably safflower stigmas, not crocuses, okay? That's a rip-off. So, my advice, buy small portions, say half a gram at a time, of Spanish or Iranian saffron. Those are usually the most controlled. Buy from a reliable internet source. They're out there. And store tightly sealed in a cool, dark, secret place.

A special tribunal called the Safranschau, was formed to "deal"
with shady saffron dealers in 15th century Germany.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Puppet Bunny Rabbit

    When it comes to integrating saffron into the paella, I break with traditional applications and simple add it directly to the raw rice. I have three cups of my Calasparra here, and into that, 20 threads of saffron, no more, no less. With that, a teaspoon of the smoked paprika, and a teaspoon of kosher salt. And while we're at it, we can add a little herbal essence, a traditional herb for paella would be rosemary, and just strip the needles, or most of them off of the two sprigs. And then we'll just stir that in by hand. 3 Cups Calasparra Rice
20 Threads Saffron
1 tsp. Smoked Paprika
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
2 Sprigs Rosemary

    Now technically, the mandatory parts list for a paella is complete. But, since it's intended to be served as an entire meal, certain vegetal and animal additions are perfectly acceptable. For instance, in a classic Valencian paella, rabbit is required.

RABBIT: [pops up into view looking all cute and pitiful]

    Oh, don't, don't fall for that. Rabbits are pernicious rodents, over-breeding varmints who would just soon take over the world as ... Didn't you see Night of the Lepus? I say, eat them before they eat us! Oh, is the little bunny-wunny scared of the big cook man?

R: [turns around, growls angrily and bears some pretty nasty teeth, runs off]

    Well, paella's certainly a very versatile dish. Let's just see what's in the chill chest.
    [at the refrigerator] Well, if we are not going to go with rabbit and we still want to maintain any kind of credibility with our paella, at least with the Valencians, then we're going to have to add snails, which I think are easy to ... [looks in his snail container] You're not ready for this, are you? Fine, we'll stick with something simple.

    Another traditional meat in many Spanish paellas is chicken, okay? We'll go with three pounds mixed chicken thighs and legs. That's perfectly acceptable. And we'll just go ahead and toss those with a couple of teaspoons of kosher salt. Also, beans are traditional, either lima or green beans. And I happen to have half a pound here, trimmed and snapped in two. Convenient, isn't it? 3 Pounds Chicken Thighs &
    Legs Tossed with 2 tsp.
    Kosher Salt
˝ Pound Green Beans,
    Trimmed & Snapped in

    [at the stovetop] All right, our broth is good and hot. So I'm going to move five cups of that into a thermos because we're going to be adding it to the paella later on. Now the stuff in the kettle we're about to use.


    [at the grill] Ah good. Charcoal is ready. So just dump that out, nice and gray ash. That means it's hot. Use long tongs to spread out that charcoal, and then add the two pounds of reserve on top. Place on your grill grate and your paella into which goes two tablespoons of olive oil. 2 Pounds Natural Lump

2 Tbs. Olive Oil

    When it's nice and hot, and shimmery, it is time to bring the chicken to the party. And I usually do this skin side up first. Just cook until it's golden brown and delicious.
    Now this doesn't look like a lot of fat. But trust me, as the chicken skin renders out, this amount will nearly double. So five to six minutes on this side. And when it's golden brown and delicious, flip and cook for another five to six minutes.
    Then we've got to make room for the vegetables. So just push the meat out to the very, very edge of the paella, and dump the peppers, garlic, and the green beans right into the middle, and let them fry in that fat for two to three minutes, or until they just start to soften. Then make yourself a little hole in the middle, and bring the tomatoes to the party. Stir them in, and allow them to cook for another four to five minutes.
    Okay, see how the liquid has thickened almost to a gravy consistency? Time to bring on the rice. Just dump right in the middle, and stir off and on for one minute. There.
    Now simply evenly distribute the chicken pieces across the surface of the rice, skin side up, and add the hot broth, that's the four cups. Just make sure that all the rice is completely submerged, but just barely. And set your timer for eight minutes.

True paella fans cherish the crust or socarrat
that forms on the bottom of the pan.


    Okay, eight minutes have passed. And as you can see the paella is almost dry. Time for a second dose of liquid. But I want to deliver it only where the rice looks a little on the dry side. So give it a dose right here, and here, and a little over here as well. There. Now we'll let this cook for another eight minutes, and ...
    [eight minutes later] Wow. That's some thirsty rice. All right, time to test. Looks good. Tastes good. But, just a hair underdone. So let's give it another shot or two of the reserved liquid and another two minutes of cooking. The rice looks just a little hard there and there, so let's drizzle it on. There.
    Okay, we're close. But I still see just little bubbles kind of spitting up here and there. That means it's not quite dry underneath. So let's let it go for another, say, three minutes. And don't worry about burning the bottom. Remember, as we coast to a perfect doneness here, the heat from the charcoal is actually dying down.
    Now the rice looks nice and shiny, but there's no liquid bubbling. So I think we're done here.
    [removes the paella from the grill, and covers with a towel] This is crucial, as the residual or leftover heat still has some work to do, and we want the rice to cool a bit so that the crust sets just so. And don't worry if you end up resting beyond the 15-minute mark. An half an hour or even an hour wouldn't matter, because medium grain rice won't harden up the way that long grain rice will. But this is definitely one of those "your patience will be rewarded" kind of situations. I'll be back.
    [15 minutes later] Ah, the rest period is up, time to dig in. Now, the thing I like best about paella, besides the fact that it's beautiful and delicious, is that you traditionally eat it directly out of the paella. That's right: it's a cooking vessel and a serving platter. All you need is a spoon. And although a boxwood paella spoon is traditional, a big old soup spoon will do just fine as well.
    Now the traditional approach is to simply assign yourself the wedge that's right in front of you, and begin eating from the outside rim towards the center. Hmm, delicious. In fact, it tastes like Moor. Get it, it tastes like ... Never mind.

The Kitchen

    [at the sink cleaning up] And so, America, what may have appeared at first glance to be a flimsy, antiquated uni-tasker, turns out to be a powerful arrow in our culinary quiver and well deserving of a permanent position on the pot rack.
    As for the 52-inch monster paella. Well, it may not seem very practical, but look at it this way. If Zeppelin ever does tour again, you'll be ready for that special moment in Whole Lotta Love. And you'll be able to feed all the roadies at one time. See you next time on Good Eats.

[not from the show]

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 08/29/2010