This paella dish takes its inspiration from an impromptu trip to Socarrat, a delicious paella bar in downtown Manhattan, whose namesake is the Catalan word for the rice that sticks to the bottom of the pan, the absolute best part.
Normally, I’m an intuitive custodian of my own happiness, knowing what to do when my spirits need a boost or how to take the edge off after a stressful day. But, every once in a while, it catches me by surprise that there is something for which I haven’t accounted. An outside force swoops in and quietly steals the burden of my own contentment, illuminating new levels of joy. The other night, the paella at Socarrat did just that, melting from within me the frigid temperatures of New York and transporting me back to the beaches of Valencia. Upon tasting their paella Valenciana, I could feel my demeanor changing, and to be candid, it felt a little like love.
One of the most delicious dishes of Catalunya is arròs negre, which is like a paella, but normally doesn’t contain all of the wonderful treasures that I’ve added here. That is why this dish is actually a combination dish, containing only some of the elements of a paella mixta– chicken, chorizo and shrimp– but nestled in a bed of rice made black as ink because it is bathed in the sepia toned ink of a squid. I did not want to overpower the flavor of the dish with the ink, which was competing for dominance with bright red Spanish smoked paprika, so my rice came out black-ish. I also did not use the usual roster of saffron, cumin and cinnamon found in a paella mixta so that, while not taking center stage, the ink could still bask in its share of the limelight. The result was a perfectly fused dish of two of my favorite forms of paella.
The lemons and tomatoes here complement the flavor of the seafood lending it a bit of sweet acidic freshness, the kind of tang that makes you salivate, while the chorizo and the paprika lend the a crimson color and a thread of rustic smoke. The texture of the chorizo buttresses the delicate shrimp by lending heft, while pieces of chicken breast elevate the dish to a sturdy spot in superlative territory. By the end of this paella’s residency on the stove I was already threatening its natural beauty by digging through to the bottom and scraping for the socarrat with the spoon.
- 1/2 pound chicken breast
- 1/2 cup and 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups short-grain Calaspara rice
- 2 tablespoons Spanish smoked paprika
- 2 tablespoons squid ink
- 2 1/3 cups chicken stock
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup diced red tomato
- 1/2 pound large shrimp, peeled
- 2 links dry chorizo, sliced
Make the paella on the stovetop in a large skillet or paella pan without a lid. In the pan, cook the chicken in 1/4 cup of olive oil until cooked through. Remove from pan and set aside.
In the same pan using the chicken fat and 1/4 cup of olive oil, saute 1/2 onion until soft. Add 1 tablespoon garlic. Add the rice and stir until each grain is coated with oil. Add the squid ink.
Combine the chicken stock with the paprika in a separate container to make cooking liquid. Add 3 cups of the cooking liquid to the rice and bring to a simmer. Cook for about 5 to 7 minutes. Add salt and pepper. Stir.
Saute the other 1/2 of the onion until tender. Add 1 cup of diced tomatoes and 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Simmer for about 7 minutes. Stir.
Saute shrimp and 1 teaspoon of garlic in separate pan with 2 tablespoons of oil for approximately 5 minutes (until the shrimp looks pink). Add to the tomato and spiced stock.
Add this mix to the rice. Add sliced chorizo and the cooked chicken breast. Add more liquid, if needed. Cover only if the rice needs more time.
Sprinkle with a handful of cilantro and garnish with lemons.
Note: Squid ink can be found at Spanish specialty stores. The only place I’ve seen it in New York is Despaña, to which I highly recommend a visit.