My favorite thing about Spanish food is not the paella. Nor is it the Valencia orange, omelette or great variety of delicious tapas available-- though these things are all delightful. My favorite thing about Spanish food is the olive.
This unassuming fruit, a call to peace, is plentiful in the Mediterranean region. Squat trees line roadsides for miles and the bitter little drupe almost appears as a small plum from afar: an iridescent purple as it fades into its ripe green. Harvested with a shake to the tree bough it arrives to us along the culinary path marinated, as tapenade or oil.
In Spain, as you enter almost any food or drink establishment, olive pits abound.
A few years ago, my mother and I planned a quick trip around Spain. A country both of us had always wanted to visit, but never had the opportunity. For me, it was a culinary and ceramic feast I planned around clay factories, orange groves and funky architecture. For my mother, it was a wearing down of her feet stomping through the cities and country back roads with the salvation being sangria and tapas along the way (though she too enjoyed the clay factories and architecture).
On day one, hungry from a morning of walking, we stopped for lunch at a recommended establishment: “Oh! How disgusting!” my mother gasped as we walked inside, “this floor is covered in pits!” We shuffled in, unable to understand the debris covering the floor and took a table across from the bar, ordering up a jug of sangria and a seafood paella.
We waited for our food and heard the definite “pffffmmmp” of a person triumphantly releasing a pit from mouth into air. Our noses turned up in question, we looked at each other, then scanned the restaurant for the perpetrator. There he was, tan and stocky with a perfectly edged beard looming in the shadow: “pfffmmmp” he turned and released his bleached teeth in a wide grin towards us.
A bowl of olives came to our table along with the sangria. I popped a few olives into my mouth, but finding nowhere to discard the seeds, I held them in my cheek, a squirrel at harvest. More patrons entered the establishment. Soon that pfffmmmp echoed throughout the restaurant, shooting from the trunk of men and women alike, regardless of age, no one seeming to care except for the clueless Americans. I looked at my mom and shot out five pits in bulleted repetition: pffp pffp pffp ffllmp fllp.
We soon realized it was custom in Spain. Olives abound and are ingrained in the culture. A complimentary bowl is provided at coffee shops, bars and restaurants in lieu of bread or peanuts. The more olives I stuffed into my face the more I fell in love with Spain, pfffmmping them out with the best of the locals. (My mother on the other hand, continued her dismay at the littered floors and begrudgingly returned the bare pit to a cupped hand where it delicately dropped to the floor unnoticed by anyone.)
This past July, a college friend married a Spaniard. The wedding was a great bi-lingual affair of misunderstandings and general good humor at each person’s attempt to befriend a person from another country with little to no verbal language skills. Communication fell remarkably well and eventually I got onto the subject of olive pits on the floor.
“Yes!” my new Spanish friend exclaimed, “it means how good the place is.” He went on to explain that some establishments will even go to the trouble of adding pits to the floor, be it from the mouths of their employees or the previous night’s collection. Pits on the floor is a rating of popularity-- the more pits, the more favored the premises.
Here is a recipe in memory of that first paella and the realization that it is okay to spit out your leftovers in some cultures. And as the season turns, I may even surprise you with some home-marinated olives. Until then, paella it is.
NOTE: Though I cannot remember if the paella I had in Spain was this moist, I enjoy the wet rice base. In this fashion, the rice sticks to everything, including the inside of the mussel and clam shells, forcing you to work for your food: sucking and rotating shells in your mouth to indulge in every bit. D and I found this much more enjoyable, and a more entertaining activity than simply wolfing down the dish without thought. We also felt it made you appreciate the variety of seafood present. I also enjoy eating with my hands, so take away what you will.
This paella is based on a recipe found in the Cuisines of Spain cookbook by, Teresa Barrenechea. It is essentially the same recipe with a few additions, namely peas, onion and chorizo.
This paella is fairly labor intensive, though if you make a large batch and have leftovers for the week it is worth it. We found that it is absolutely necessary to use fish stock and not chicken or vegetable. We felt the stock really enhanced the fish flavor throughout. Also, fresh seafood is essential.
PAELLA DE PESCADOS Y MARISCOS CON CHORIZO (FISH & SHELLFISH PAELLA w/ CHORIZO)
Serving Size= 8 persons. Active time= about 1 hour. Inactive time= 12 mintues.
* 1 dozen littleneck clams
* 2 Tbl coarse salt
* 6 large cloves garlic, unpeeled
* 9 cups fish stock (recipe below)
* 2 pinches saffron threads
* 2 pound mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
* 2 cups water
* ½ cup olive oil
* 1 large red pepper, seeded and cut lengthwise into narrow strips
* 1 medium Spanish onion
* 8 ounces, about 4 links, chorizo, cut in half
* 1 pound monkfish (or grouper), cut into 2 inch chunks
* 1 pound large shrimp
* 1 pound small squid, whole and rings
* 1-½ tsp salt
* 4 cups Spanish (short grain) rice
* juice of 1 lemon plus extra for garnish
1) Preheat oven to 500F.
2) Clean clams under cold water. Discard any open clams, or those that do not close when touched. Place clams in a large bowl with the coarse salt and let stand for 30 minutes or up to 2 hours. Clams will release sand trapped in shells.
3) Place garlic in a small heat-resistant bowl or baking dish and roast in oven for 10-15 minutes; until skins are browned. (Alternatively, you can throw a whole garlic head in, chopping the top off for easy removal, and use the extra as a spread mixture with olive oil.)
3) In a small saucepan, bring stock to a boil. Add saffron and decrease the heat retain simmer.
4) When garlic is ready, remove from oven (leave oven on). When cool enough to handle, peel cloves and place in blender with ½ cup simmering stock. Process until blended.
5) In a medium saucepot, place mussels (discarding any that fail to close when touched) with 2 cups of water on high heat. Bring to a boil and cook 5 minutes, until shells open. Using a slotted spoon, lift the mussels and set aside (add mussel broth to stock or freeze for later use).
6) In a large paella pan or stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add bell pepper, onion and chorizo, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes, or until chorizo has cooked through and the aromas are strong. Add monkfish, squid and salt, increase heat to medium high. Sauté 5-10 minutes, until monkfish turn opaque.
7) Add rice and stir to blend, allowing rice grains to incorporate into the oils present. Add hot stock, increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Add garlic mixture, stir gently to incorporate and boil for 5 minutes without stirring.
8) Drain the clams. Add shrimp to pot, stir gently to incorporate. Add mussels and clams around the top of the pot. Place in oven (uncovered) for 12 minutes; rice will be absorbed and clams and shrimp will cook.
9) Remove from oven and discard any clams that do not open. Sprinkle lemon juice over top. Cover with lid or towel and let sit for 7 minutes. Serve with lemon as garnish
Serving Size= 2 Quarts. Active time= 10 minutes. Inactive time= 20 mintues.
Note: White fish is ideal to use: snapper, cod, hake or bass. Avoid fatty fish, such as tuna, sardines and salmon, among others.
* 2 pounds fish frames and heads
* 1 cup shrimp shells (can clean your shrimp from above and use)
* 1-½ cups mussel broth (see above)
* 1 large Spanish onion, coarsely chopped
* 2 carrots, coarsely chopped
* 1 bunch flat leaf parsley
* 3 Tbl olive oil
* 2 quarts water
* salt/ pepper to taste
1) In a stockpot on medium-high heat warm olive oil. Add fish frames, shrimp shells, onion, carrots, parsley, salt and pepper. Stir until shrimp shells turn pink. Add water and bring to a light boil.
2) Using a slotted spoon, discard any foam that forms on the surface.
3) Decrease to medium-low heat and simmer, partially uncovered, for 30 minutes, skimming foam off as needed. (Do not overcook or stock will turn bitter)
4) Strain the stock and season with salt as necessary.
Head on over to Sweetnick's for today's delicious ARF roundup!
Tags: paella, seafood, chorizo, comfort food, ARF.