Although there are plenty of delicious steaks, pork chops and sausages routinely on offer at Clancey’s Meats & Fish, it’s the more exotic offerings that keep me going back. For example: the time I got my goat. More recently, I was greeted by the sight of fresh – not frozen – rabbits, curled up in their individual plastic bags asking me to take them home. Having recently been daydreaming through my various Spanish cookbooks, rabbit had me thinking one thing: paella. It doesn’t hurt that Clancey’s also sells a kick-ass fresh chorizo.
I usually think of paella as a summer dish (perhaps because I’ve only been to Spain in the summer) but it is a great meal for the fall as well. You can’t get fresh peas or red peppers, but carrots and parsnips can lend a moderate, earthy sweetness to the dish, and brussels sprouts can provide the necessary green. Fall is also the time when a hunter can easily come home with a brace of fresh rabbits.
While the vegetables used in paella can be flexible – indeed, they should be modified to match the season, what makes the paella a paella for me is the flavors of saffron and paprika (Valencians and anyone else are free to dispute this). These spices combine to give the dish deep, floral warmth, complemented nicely by generous squeezes of lemon juice. It can be a challenge to extract a lot of flavor out of saffron, which is all the more of a shame given how expensive it is. For this paella, I tested a technique I saw practiced by an old master of paella on the infuriating yet strangely captivating PBS series Spain: On the Road Again: rather than soaking crumbled strands of saffron before adding them to the broth, I ground them together with salt. This gave the rice a noticeable saffron flavor and brilliant yellow color.
Paella for Fall
- 2 cups small brussels sprouts
- Olive oil
- 1 rabbit, cut into pieces and seasoned with salt and pepper
- 1/2# fresh chorizo, cut into chunks
- 2 carrots, diced
- 2 parsnips, diced
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 cups short-grain rice
- pinch of saffron
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 2 tsp sweet paprika
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 quarts chicken stock or water or a combination
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add brussels sprouts. Boil 5 minutes and then transfer sprouts to ice water. Drain and set aside. (You could also cook the brussels sprouts in the broth with the rice and the rest of the ingredients but overcooked brussels sprouts are bad news so do so at your own risk).
Place sea salt and saffron in a spice grinder and grind until pulverized.
Bring the stock/water to a bare simmer in a pot.
Cover the bottom of a paella pan or other large pan in a layer of olive oil and heat over medium high heat. Add rabbit pieces and fry until golden on all sides. Remove from pan and set aside. Brown chorizo pieces and set aside.
Working over medium heat, add diced vegetables. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and starting to brown. Add the rice and stir to coat grains with oil. Clear an area in the center of the pan and add olive oil. Add the salt-saffron mixture, the paprika and the garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir everything in the pan together. Add most of the simmering stock and the reserved meats and bring to boil. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until stock is absorbed. Try the rice; if it still feels underdone, add more stock and keep stirring.
As the last of the stock is absorbed, toasty aromas will start to emanate from the bottom of the pan. Don’t be alarmed! If you’ve kept your heat moderate enough, the rice isn’t burning; it’s reaching a crispy dark brown. This layer of cooked rice on the bottom – the socarrat – is the best part of the paella; it’s really worth turning off your burning rice radar in order to allow it to develop.
When you’ve got as much socarrat as you think you can stand, turn off the heat and stir in the reserved brussels sprouts. Jam the sprig of rosemary in the center of the rice and cover. Let stand ten minutes.
You can serve the paella by placing it in the middle of the table, handing everyone a spoon and telling everyone to dig in, but side plates and forks and knives can be helpful for managing those intransigent pieces of rabbit. How ever you serve it, make sure to squeeze plenty of fresh lemon juice over top.