Spanish Lessons

I’ve never been to Spain.  I don’t know the first thing about the country or it’s people.  Everything I know about this far-off land has been absorbed through watching the late, great, Anthony Bourdain go there to eat food and drink wine.  It always looked cool, but I never really had much of a desire to visit.  That is until the Wifey came back from her trip through Spain and Portugal.  I heard about her trip and I was like, “Dang, I missed out.” The country of Spain sounds like the kind of place a food lover must see at some point in their life. In her case, she was there for a friend’s wedding and up until that point she had never been to Europe.  But damn man, when she went…she went in style.  She was there for a full-on month and did all kinds of cool sounding crap!  She went up in a sweet hot air balloon, partied like a roque star in Ibiza, took in a Real Madrid match and saw THE Cristiano Ronaldo live and direct, was present for a separatist vote which prevented her from being audience to a live Barcelona game (though they watched it on TV outside the stadium), ate her way through San Sebastian which is a foodie paradise and has a massive collection of Michelin Star chefs, experienced the beauty and sorrow of Fado, ate tapas, and even went to see a bull fight, which, spoiler alert, the bull loses.  

In between all that travel, she attended one of her best friend’s wedding and from the sound of it, Spanish weddings are legit.  All I heard about was the food/wine, and how it kept repeating itself throughout the day.  I was Grinch Green with envy….soccer, food, wine, sights, bulls, history, beaches, food, wine, soccer, food, wine…..Everything seemed right up my alley…well everything except for the hot air balloon part.  I’m cool with that.  Don’t tell anybody but secretly I don’t like heights, or at least the thought of falling from heights.  I am not tall.  I don’t even like getting up on ladders more than 4 rungs high.  As a kid, I never wanted to slam dunk…you have to fall after…I was good with the layup. Fundamental basketball, my triple threat scares a bear. So, the idea of paying my hard earned money to be sent up in a floating picnic basket with open flame above my head and no practical emergency exit makes me nervous…but “Phat Manny” you say…”It’s soooooo romantic to be floating freely amongst the clouds while you drift lazily like a soaring bird above the gorgeous Spanish countryside as the sun sets.”  You tell me, “It’s so peaceful up there.”  I say, “Uh-huh, that’s nice.  How about that one video I saw where all those happy people had that flame thing accidently turn upside down and crispy their butts up and then they peacefully flew into power lines?”  I probably shouldn’t watch “When Vacations Attack” anymore because it has ruined me from stuff like that.  But, come to think of it, I do have good life insurance so maybe one day I can be convinced to do it.  But first I would need to go church and get right with Jesus before I possibly meet him an hour later.    

My irrational personal fears about hot air balloons aside, the trip did sound ama-za-zing, and the Wifey did come back having taken a Paella cooking class so she had the knowledge of the traditional Valencian dish.  Upon her return I promptly asked for (and received) a Paella Pan and since she did return with a plethora of saffron for me, it was only natural that we gather all her travel companions as we got together for a fantastic Spanish inspired dinner.  And I mean Spanish with a capital S-to-the-P-to- the-A-N-ISH!  Her friends brought over apps, mains, and wines straight out of Espana!  Our contributions were Paella Valenciana and Manila Clams and Chorizo in a Saffron White Wine reduction. So let’s all learn some Spanish….cooking!!

Pa Mi? Pa Ti? No…Pa-Ella!

  • 1-1/4 lb Bomba Rice (accept no substitutes, get bomba rice)
  • 1-1/2 lb Rabbit cut into pieces
  • 1-1/2 lb Chicken bone in, skin on thighs cut into pieces
  • 3/4 lb Garrafon or Butter White Beans
  • 3/4 lb Green Beans (long, uncut)
  • 1 Tomato (grated)
  • 1-1/2 tablespoon Paprika
  • 1 branch of saffron (or 1 packet of ground saffron)
  • Rosemary
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 cup Olive Oil
  • Water

As a special guest chef, I am proud and honored to bring in my muse, the Wifey has taken over the Paella recipe as she is the artist trained to bring this favorite to life! Take it away Wifey!!

In a paella pan over medium high heat, add olive oil.  Once hot, add the rabbit and chicken and stir until completely cooked. Move the chicken and rabbit to the outside of the pan, creating a circle of meat around the outer perimeter of the pan. Add the green beans in the middle of the pan and saute for a couple of minutes, then moving those to the outer perimeter, form another small circle to add the white beans in the middle of the pan, surrounded by the green beans. Allow to cook for a couple of minutes and gently fold the beans into each other and then move the beans to the outside of the pan, forming another inside circle. In the middle of your hollow circle, add the grated tomato in the pan and begin to stir the all ingredients together. Form another circle of the mixed ingredients, leaving a brothy, oily juice in the middle of the pan, add the paprika in the juice and mix vigorously. Now, the real fun and patience starts!

Disperse the ingredients evenly throughout the pan. Add water to fill the paella pan 7/8 of the way full and add a few heavy pinches of salt. Allow the meat and beans to take in the flavor of the broth and let the water in the pan reduce for 10 minutes. Go have a glass of wine and look out the window. Now its time to taste the broth…add more salt as preferred (**hint don’t be afraid to have a heavy hand with the salt because the meat and rice will need the flavor) and add in the saffron (aka the showstopper). Mix the broth so that it will be even throughout the pan.

Next, with your bomba rice, you are going to part the sea, building a wall down the middle of the pan. Make sure all the ingredients are evenly split on both sides of the pan, kind of like a 7th grade dance!  You will know that you have enough water in the pan when the peak of your rice wall is barely surfacing the waterline. Once you have made that determination of rice to water ratio, take spoonfuls of the rice and evenly distribute it around the pan. Afterwards, place rosemary sprigs in random places within the pan.

Turn the heat up to high to allow the water to boil and rice to cook for 20 minutes, checking on the rice periodically and control the temperature to not let it burn.  If it starts to smell like it is burning, simply lower the heat to medium high. Do not mix the ingredients during this process. A master Paella chef will be able to create a crunchy crust of rice at the bottom of the pan and the rice will be cooked when the water has evaporated. This whole process should take about 16-20 minutes. 

Clamtastic

  • 1 lb Manila Clams
  • 1lb Chorizo
  • 1 2 cups dry white wine
  • 1 packet of ground saffron
  • 1/2 onion thin cut
  • 2 tbsp. crushed garlic
  • salt to taste

No joke this dish is crazy easy to make. I’m talking training wheels and curb finder easy. But man, it makes one heck of a great impression! The first thing to do with clams is to get them to expel their sand. If you skip this step then you get gritty nasty bits of beach all up in your food. Sand is fun for making castles, not in your mouth, or swim trunks. Go ahead and fill a large bowl with cold water and place the clams inside for 30 minutes to 1 hour. I suggest closer to an hour just to be safe.

Now that we have the sand removal protocol established, you can turn your attention to the rest of the fun. In a large deep skillet, or Dutch oven, place on the stove top set to medium-high heat and once heated toss in the Chorizo and cook until done. Next add the garlic and onion then allow to blend with the Chorizo for a minute or two. Now add the packet of saffron and mix it in. Lastly, add the white wine, clams and cover for about 10 minutes. The clams will be ready when they are all opened up. You will have some duds that just won’t open, but the majority will be ready for you to eat.

At the end of the evening, after the great food, wine, and hearing tales of her Iberian sabbatical, I was fully vested in the idea of making it over to see all this for myself.  Who knows, I may grow a pair big enough to float lazily among the clouds…and slap a bird in the beak, because I can sucka’!

Now, ready for more fun? You don’t need a passport for this trip. Let’s go to Spain!

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