Smoky Chipotle Paella – Warming Autumnal Fare

smoky chipotle paella

After a summer trip to Valencia, and a rather beautiful Paella Valenciana, I’ve been inspired to come up with my own alternative interpretation.  Paella was traditionally cooked over wood from orange trees which gave it a smoky aroma, so I’ve used smoked ‘Chipotle Meco’ chillies to try and reproduce this effect.  Chipotle Meco are Jalapeno chillies that have been smoked for long periods of time (often several days) to impart a really smoky and rich flavour that can do incredible things to a dish.  They’re quite rare, and most of them don’t get outside Mexico (the chipotle more often seen in the UK are the smaller and cheaper ‘Chipotle Morita’ variety).  Handily I have a small store that I sell them through on ebay, so I always have plenty to hand!!

The dish is medium hot, a mild version can be made by using only 1 chipotle meco chilli.  This version contains no meat, but is richly flavoured thanks to the chipotle chilli – feel free to use chicken stock and add meat if you like, I’d recommend rabbit or hare in the spirit of the original recipe (they’re also at their best in Autumn), duck is also an option.  Use seasonal greens, and add green beans or runner beans if they’re still in season.  Remember – whatever you think the authentic paella is, it probably isn’t, so experiment!

RICE

1 shallot
2 carrots
1 long red pepper
1 small chilli pepper, deseeded
olive oil
1-2 chipotle meco chillies
1 pint (568ml) vegetable stock
1 tsp tumeric
1tsp paprika
250g short grain rice (paella rice or
arborio)

GREENS

1 handful sliced kale (cavolo nero if in season)
1 handful sliced pointed cabbage or savoy cabbage
small handful frozen green peas
juice of 1 lemon

CHIPOTLE FINISHING SAUCE

1 tsp fennel seeds
9 black peppercorns
1-2 tsp sea salt crystals
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1tsp red wine vinegar
soaked reserved chipotle from
above

1. Put the chipotle meco chillies into a pan with the hot vegetable stock and turmeric and keep on a low heat.

2. Meanwhile, dice the shallots, carrots, peppers and chillies and fry in olive oil with the paprika over a medium heat for 10-15 minutes.

3. Add the rice, stir for 5 minutes until coated.

4. Remove the chipotle chillies and reserve, then add the vegetable stock to the rice mixture. Put the lid on and cook for 10 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, slice the greens and place in a bowl with frozen peas and the lemon juice. Set aside.

6. Grind the dry dressing ingredients then add the reserved chipotle chillies, olive oil and vinegar and puree.

7. Add the greens to the rice mixture and cook for a further 5 minutes.

8. Take the rice mixture off the heat, stir through the finishing sauce, serve and enjoy!

Paella Valenciana – The Original Paella, Not a Prawn in Sight…

Paella Valenciana

Paella Valenciana, L'Establiment, El Palmar nr Valencia

Most of us are familiar with the seafood or mixed paella served at tourists spots across Spain, but the original Valencia Paella is a far cry from these modern interpretations.

The paella that most of us are familiar with (and is served in tourist spots across Spain) consists either of a seafood paella or a ‘mixed paella’; bright yellow rice with pink prawns and mussel shells strewn across the surface of the rice, and perhaps the odd lemon segment mysteriously nestling amongst its fishy neighbours.  But the original Paella can be found in and around El Palmar, a village hidden among the rice fields south of Valencia, where the shellfish don’t get a look in…

Traditionaly cooked over orange wood fires that imparts a smokey flavour to the dish, the dish uses ingredients that could be found in the paddy fields and the canals that feed them – specifically rabbit, little stripy snails and duck (though chicken is an acceptable substitute, shown in the dish above), together with various types of beans.  This is the true definition of local sourcing –  measured in food metres, not miles!

The photo above shows a huge wagon wheel sized Paella (the name for the pan as well as the dish) from the L’Establiment on the north end of Paella.  The restaurant somehow manages to be stylish and yet unpretentious and welcoming, and if the weather is good (it wasn’t) you can sit outside by the canal and paddy fields that have provided your meal.  A good Paella is a real treat – intense rich flavours with buttery rice and a range of textures that can make sharing with your dining partners somewhat precarious (tradition says you should never cross over the invisible line into your neighbours section – fork rapped knuckles ensue).  Paella is only ever eaten at lunch in Spain – restaurants will serve it to you in the evening, but expect to be eating it on your own.

I would recommend phoning and ordering ahead (ours took an hour to cook), and remember that the Spanish lunch runs later than most – we arrived at 3pm, and people were still ordering food at 4 and eating at 5. If you can’t get to El Palmar, then look for restaurants that serve Paella for a minimum of two people – then you know it is being cooked fresh each time.

Given that this is a dish that has evolved and changed to become different dishes within its own country, I also think that we should all worry less about using traditional recipes when cooking it at home.  Look to the original spirit of the dish, and use what is in your immediate vicinity; think local game and seasonal vegetables if you’re inland, or native shellfish like oysters, mussels and langoustine if you’re by the coast.  Just ensure that you’re putting plenty of flavour into the dish, and maybe serve it to your diners on their own plates – then fork blows to the knuckles can be avoided…