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Monday, 16 May 2011

Seafood Paella & a Little Bit About Saffron

Serves 4

I love Paella! To me, it stands for everything good. Seafood and specifically mussels, Saffron, and of course Rice - which is ultimate comfort. The combination of flavours in Paella are heavenly, but best of all is the almost melt in your mouth experience! Love, love love...

When talking about Paella, I find, it is a must to tap a little bit into Saffron. The world's most expensive spice is not so for no reason!

Soaked Saffron
Saffron has been famous since ancient times. It has been used as medicine, food colouring, as well as for flavouring food with its distinct flavour. Saffron threads which you see and use in your kitchens are essentially the threads of the Crocus Sativus Flower, which is originally the product of Western Asia, specifically Persia. Past trade has spread Saffron trade to Europe and India, where aspiring merchants tried to cultivate it. Cultivation worked in Spain and despite many attempts, did not go so well in Germany, Italy and France... Nowadays Persia and Spain are the world's largest Saffron producers. Persia being the largest. The reason why this spice is expensive is because of its rarity, and difficulties of cultivation, as it requires specific climate and soil conditions. Even when all goes well and cultivation works, 1 acre of land filled with Crocus Sativus flowers will yield only 10 pounds of Saffron threads!!

Toasting Saffron
If you are an avid user of Saffron, then it is worth investing in buying large amounts. Yet, if you are the average home user, then it is best to buy good quality Saffron in smaller amounts. With that said, to store saffron, in order for the flavours not to diminish, it is best kept in a cool, dry and dark place, in an airtight container, ideally for up to 6 months. Under these conditions, saffron will remain good for up to three years, as in it won't go bad! Mind you, after 6 months the flavours will start diminishing, which is why, it is best to purchase small amounts if you are don't use it regularly.
Grinding Saffron
As with any spice, whole is always more powerfully flavoured than ground. It is therefore, always better used as threads, rather than powder. However, if you only have access to powdered Saffron, make sure it is good quality saffron, by tasting it, as it could be mixed with ground turmeric (Kurkum) and other threads. In application, Saffron threads are sometimes soaked in a liquid, mainly: water, rose water, or milk to prepare it for cooking. At other applications it could be toasted then ground before use in a recipe. Again, just like with all herbs and spices, if you rub Saffron between your fingers, your heat will help it release its oils, therefore make for a more aromatic outcome.

Lets get right into the making of
my favourite Seafood Paella
You Need

12 black mussels, scrubbed and beards removed
12 prawns, peeled and deveined
12 clams, scrubbed
125g scallops
200g white fish fillets, skinned and cut into chunks
Row Squid (calamari) rings
4 large Crab legs (optional)
100g Cherizo, sliced (if you do not find Cherizo or do not eat them, you can use good quality cheese filled hot dogs instead)
1 slice bacon, chopped
75g frozen peas
1 red capsicum, finely chopped
1 ripe tomato, skinned and roughly chopped
1 red onion, chopped
1/2 red onion extra, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup medium grain rice
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine, or extra chicken stock if not using wine
1/4 tsp or a pinch of good quality Saffron threads
a pinch of cayenne pepper
Finely chopped parsley for garnish

In a sauceapn, heat onions and wine or chicken stock if not using wine, once steaming add the mussels, cover and cook over high heat for 5 minutes. Shake the pot twice throughout, instead of opening the lid and stirring. Remove the pan from heat, drain, reserving liquid, and discard closed mussels.

While this is cooking, blend the saffron with warm chicken stock, set aside.

In a paella pan or a braising pan, heat the olive oil, bacon, garlic and extra 1/2 red onion, add red capsicum and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the tomatoes, chorizos and cayenne pepper. stir to coat. Season with salt & black pepper. Stir in the reserved liquid from cooking the mussels. Add the rice and spread around the pan.

Add the soaked saffron and stock and stir into the paella pan. Bring to a boil, then simmer on low heat, uncovered for 15 minutes. Do not stir at this point.

After 15 minutes are done, add peas, prawns, calamari rings, and push them in a little bit. Cover the pan and cook on low heat for 10 minutes. When 5 minutes are done, uncover and turn the rice mixture over once. Cook till the rice is tender and the seafood is cooked through, do not over cook or seafood will turn out rubbery. if the rice still has a bite, add a little extra stock and cook for 5 minutes extra.
Add the mussels and Scallops in the last 5 minutes of the cooking.

Remove from heat, and let it rest for a few minutes. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve warm...

Dig In ;)

Ah! Paella is one of those dishes that get me drooling by the mention of it!! Hope you will try this recipe, it is truly a symphony of flavours :) Let me know what you think, leave me a comment...
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