Behind every recipe there is a story and this is no exception. Paella is a Spanish dish, perhaps the Spanish dish, and we would not be surprised to learn that the story behind this recipe is fiery, tempestuous and romantic - a modern love story. And since it is Paella de Manhattan, it will be a love story with a big-city setting.
The story, incidentally, is a true one; it comes from the young man who first gave me the recipe. It seems that our hero had been living in a Manhattan apartment for several years, during which time he realized that the young woman in the next apartment was more than moderately attractive.
For several more years they shared corridors and elevators until finally the young woman knocked on his door, asked to borrow a cup of Cointreau and, in the process, introduced herself. Several more years passed and the woman asked her neighbor if he would like to stop by one evening for supper.
He agreed. That night the woman served paella, the very same paella that we'll be making today. Hereafter, our story picks up speed. The young man took a single mouthful and gasped out his pleasure. Halfway through dinner he tendered a serious proposal of marriage. Over coffee and brandy, they set the date just weeks hence.
Well, the paella was consumed and the marriage was consummated and they lived happily ever after for about a year and a half (remember, this is a modern New York love story), at which time there were fights, tears, a costly divorce, a bitter custody fight and the usual alimony and child-support payments.
The moral: Never make the mistake of confusing one dish with another.
The Staples: Make sure these are all on hand: salt, pepper, garlic, saffron (a must!), tarragon, flour, olive oil, bay leaves, 1 chicken bouillon cube.
The Shopping List: (Brace yourself!) As much of the following as you can locate: 1 chicken (3 to 4 pounds, cut into finger pieces); sausage (1/2 pound Spanish chorizo or hot peperoni); clams (1 pound) and/or mussels (1 pound); mushrooms (1 pound); large shrimp (1 pound); onions (1 pound); 3 sweet red peppers; frozen peas (1 box); pimentoes (1 small jar); green olives (1 dozen, without pits); parsley; white rice; 2 cans chicken bouillon; white wine.
Since so many different things have to be cooked so many different ways, a schedule would be hopelessly optimistic. Allow between 2 and 3 hours and at least one practice session.
We'll be taking the coward's way out tonight. The true Spaniard would cook the rice and the rest of this in a single pot. And occasionally the true Spaniard would come up a glutinous mess. We'll be cooking the ingredients separately and joining them together at the last moment.
We'll begin by preparing everything we're going to need. The clams and mussels must be scrubbed with a heavy brush, then scrubbed again; the one ingredient that doesn't got well in a paella is sand.
Then peel the onions and chop them fine. Chop the olives and pimentoes. Separate the mushrooms stems and caps. Chop the red pepers. Peel and clean the shrimp. Allow the peas to thaw.
Using a heavy large skillet over medium heat, warm up a generous splash of olive oil and add the onions and peppers. And 2 cloves of garlic, minced. As the onions begin to turn translucent, add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes more. Put all these ingredients in one bowl.
Add another splash of oil to the skillet and while it is heating up, coat the chicken pieces with flour. Put 1 cup of flour in a brown paper bag, along with a generous amount of salt and pepper, then add the chicken pieces and shake vigorously. Fry the chicken pices until they're cooked through, then put them in another bowl.
Meanwhile, back at the skillet, another splash of olive oil and another garlic clove, minced. Then add the sliced sausage and the peeled shrimp. Cook until sausage is well browned and place this in still another bowl.
Back to the skillet. Anothersplash of olive oil. And here we'll add a cup of white wine, 2 bay leaves, a bouillon cube, a handful of minced parsley, a pinch of tarragon.Add the clams and/or mussels, both of which have been scrubbed clean. Cover pot and steam just until clams and mussels open up. If they don't open, discard them. Set shell-fish to one side and add peas to broth for just 2 or 3 minutes.Remove peas and hold them aside.
Cook 2 cups of dry rice according to the directions on the box. Instead of water, use a mixture of the clam-mussel broth and canned chicken bouillon, along with a teaspoon of saffron. When rice is done, mix in the chopped olives, the pimentoes and the peas.
From now on, it's a matter of achieving the proper visual effect. Put the rice in a heavy casserole and add everything except the shellfish. Mix very lightly with the fork, trying not to unfluff the rice. Finally scatter the clams and mussels over the top of the paella and add a dusting of minced parsley.
Put the casserole in a 325-degree oven and serve hot, in about 15 minutes.