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The Original Paella

I’ve never been overly interested in paella… restaurant versions have always been bland and overcooked, or so varied and upscale they’d be impossible to recreate at home. In fact, that’s usually why I skipped over every paella recipe before I found this one. An ingredient list 15 items long (not including pantry items) is usually an automatic out in my book.

Then I stumbled upon this recipe in Mark Bittman’s The Best Recipes in the World, a cookbook that focuses on traditional, authentic and well, cookable recipes from around the world. (Needless to say, I am a huge fan.) It calls for a handful of ingredients, the core of which are rice, shrimp and onion.

Bittman himself says he didn’t understand paella until he happened upon this recipe in Spain, a simple weekday workhorse of a meal, made like this for centuries.

Me? I love it for its humble depth of flavor, because it’s made in one pot (a cast iron skillet at that), and the fact that it’s real food at its best. I mean, you can’t get more simple than rice, onion, broth and shrimp. Yet, something magical happens, and out of the oven comes this tasty, hearty, wonderful dish that you will find yourself making over and over again.

The Original Paella
Adapted slightly from The Best Recipes in the World, by Mark Bittman

Olive oil
1 onion, minced
3.5C chicken broth
2C arborio rice
1lb shrimp, peeled, de-veined, and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
fresh parsley, for garnish

Preheat oven to 500 degrees, or as close to that as you can get. Heat olive oil in ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat, add onions, and cook until translucent (about 5 minutes). Add rice, and saute for a minute or so. Add broth, being mindful of the steam. (If broth is cold, warm it before adding.) Add shrimp and stir. Transfer to oven and cook for 25 minutes, or until broth is completely absorbed (no longer soupy on top). Garnish with parsley and serve.

Notes: Bittman includes saffron, but as a rule I don’t make things with saffron, or omit it when possible. I simply can’t justify ponying up for a spice that costs that much. Also, he instructs one to heat up the broth before adding, but since I buy my broth in a carton that is stored at room temperature, I have found that to be unnecessary as well. If you are using refrigerated broth, you definitely want to warm it first – both to avoid the steam backlash and to prevent halting the cooking process from such a drastic change in temperature.

Embarrassing admission: EJ and I polished off more than half of that pan by ourselves. We both ate it with gusto, but I will leave you to guess who had 3 helpings.