Close behind is rice, a surprise big hitter, thanks apparently to a widespread love affair with risotto. It is certainly a staple of restaurant menus while also being that rare creature, a dish which can be replicated equally as successfully at home – sometimes better – as in a restaurant.
Yet paellla, one of the greatest rice dishes of the world, rarely gets a look in on restaurant menus. When it does, it is often a victim of tourist traps churning out mediocre efforts at best. Has this earned paella a stodgy and undignified reputation compared to its more glamorous, popular Italian cousin? Happily, this is a dish which most definitely benefits from the patient care of the home cook, not the rushed, snatched attentions of a tourist-trap-restaurant chef, making this a dish well worth discovering. Above all, it wants to be cooked then consumed at once, not left hanging around for guests to arrive.
The greatest conundrum is seafood. As holiday makers, we have come to accept that prawns, mussels, calamari and fish have their place in the dish but I'm not convinced, even though I like it myself, that (Spanish) purists would concur. Rabbit, chicken, pork and chorizo are the more usual inclusions; golden, fragrant saffron, tomato and peppers probably essential too for an authentic richness. Then, stock, rice and (trust me) not stirring are all you need.
Traditional saffron paella with rabbit and chorizo
Recipes serve four
4 boneless rabbit legs, or boneless chicken legs if you prefer, cut into strips
40-50g of chorizo, cut into rounds or dice
4-6 large plum tomatoes, cut into quarters then sliced
1 red pepper
A pinch of smoked paprika
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
300g long grain rice
1 large onion finely diced
1 lt chicken or vegetable stock
1 tsp chopped rosemary leaves
1 tsp chopped thyme leaves
1 g saffron stems
230ml white wine
2 lemons, 1 cut into wedges for garnishing and 1 cut in half to squeeze the juice
Olive oil for cooking
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
1. Heat a wide frying pan and add a generous film of olive oil. Add the rabbit or chicken and brown briefly over a high heat then transfer to a plate. Add the chorizo to the pan and fry in the oil then transfer to the same plate as the chicken.
2. Now add the onion and garlic to the pan, together with a small top up of olive oil if needed, and sweat very slowly without colouring, stirring regularly. Meanwhile, cut the pepper into quarters and cut out the seeds and core, then cut the flesh into 1cm dice. Once the onion is soft, add the peppers to the pan and the chopped tomato pulp. Fry for one minute stirring once or twice. Return the meats to the pan.
3. Add the saffron, thyme, rosemary, rice and wine, season with salt and pepper then stir together well to combine. Once the wine has come to boil, add the stock then stir once or twice as it comes to a boil. Adjust the heat so it is cooking at a gentle simmer, add the lemon juice, then, after this point, do not stir. This is important, as it allows to slight cooking on the base of the stock and some of the caramelized meat juices which form the crust of the dish. Cook just until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes then remove from the heat.
4. Garnish with the lemon wedges, you can scatter over some fresh herbs too if you wish then serve at once. Spoon a nice mix of all the ingredients on serving plates, making sure that the meats are evenly shared and that some of the base is scraped up from the bottom of the pan for each guest as well.
My other favourite rice dish: creamed vanilla rice pudding
200g Carnaroli risotto rice (not traditional pudding rice)
300 ml cream
Vanilla essence to taste
A dessertspoon of crème fraiche
Grated nutmeg pinch, to taste
1. Melt the butter in a suitable-sized saucepan and add the rice, stirring well to coat. After one minute, add the sugar, milk and cream then gently warm through to simmer, stirring once or twice. Once it is at simmering point stir regularly, making sure that the rice is moving regularly and not sticking to the pan.
2. As the liquid simmers and is absorbed, taste a grain or two of rice to test the cooking, it should be firm, not mushy, but not chalky in the middle either of course. If the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is still a touch underdone, add a small dash of milk and continue simmering to finish the cooking.
3. You now have three options: this rice pudding can be finished now and served immediately, hot; or finished and allowed to chill so it can be served cold; or chilled now and carefully reheated later. To finish and serve hot at once, add the crème fraiche and vanilla essence, taste for sweetness, adjust as required then serve in warm bowls. When served hot like this, I enjoy it best with ice cream. To serve chilled, add the crème fraiche and taste then spread on a tray or plate to cool. Once cold, transfer to a suitable storage tub then serve with sliced fruit or a fruit compote. Strawberries or rhubarb are wonderful, or in winter mulled fruits work well too. To reheat it and serve hot at a later time, warm through thoroughly then add the crème fraiche near the end and serve when tasted and adjusted.