The foundation of all Western rice-based entrees, paella is Spain’s crown dish. Regional varieties offer some with all seafood, some with surf and sky, some even with rabbit. But the three things that unite all paellas are saffron, fresh ingredients (from sources as local as possible, preferably), and an open flame. Cooking on a stove top instead of in the oven results in the desired texture of rice with just slightest bit of firmness.
48 oz. of organic chicken broth
3 cups of arborio rice
3 cups of water
3 bone-in chicken thighs (pull the skin off yourself; you want them skinless, but save the money)
1 lb. of large, cleaned, peeled, raw prawns
18 farm-raised black mussels
12 farm-raised little neck clams
1 1/2 cups of white wine
12 oz. of frozen peas
12 oz. of kielbasa
5 organic carrots
5 stalks of organic celery
1 large onion
1 large red bell pepper
6 whole garlic cloves
4 tbs. of extra virgin olive oil
1 tbs. of saffron threads in 1 cup of warm water, having soaked for at least 3 minutes
2 tsp. of kosher salt
1/2 tsp. of cracked black pepper
Roughly chop the carrots and celery. Peel and halve the onion. Cut one of the onion halves in half again, and put this with the carrots, celery, and garlic cloves in a large stock pot with 2 tbs. of olive oil over medium heat. Cook for about 8-10 minutes, until the vegetables begin to caramelize.
Deglaze the stock pot with the wine. Add the chicken stock, saffron, saffron water, and 3 cups of water, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium-low and let simmer for no more than 30 minutes; too much time can cause the vegetables to make the stock bitter. Strain the vegetables when done and discard the solids, leaving just the liquid.
In a large paella pan, heat the remaining 2 tbs. of olive oil on medium heat. Put the bone-in, skinless chicken thighs on the surface and begin to lightly brown the meat, about 5 minutes on each side. In the meantime, remove the seeds of the bell pepper, then evenly dice the pepper and the remaining onion.
Move the chicken to the side of the pan, and add the bell pepper and onion. Cook for about 7-8 minutes until the onion is translucent and the pepper softened, but you don’t want to brown these yet – if you see them starting to brown, reduce the heat.
Cut the kielbasa in 1″ chunks, and add to the paella pan. Let cook for an additional 4 minutes.
Remove the chicken from the pan so that it is easier to stir in the rice. It is essential that the rice grains all have the chance to be evenly coated by the pan oils, and ingredients need to be evenly mixed. Nestle and somewhat submerge the chicken back into the rice, evenly spaced, after the rice has been sufficiently coated.
Pour in 2 1/2 to 3 cups of the stock. Bring back to a simmer, still on medium heat, and cook for about 15 minutes, or until the rice is about three-quarters of the way cooked. Keep adding stock through those 15 minutes, with 1/2 to 1 cup at a time to maintain the rice continuously submerged.
When the rice hits the three-quarter mark, add the frozen peas. Also add the seafood, slightly nestling it similar to how you placed the chicken. Whatever stock remains, add that as well. Cover the pan with foil (it may require a few pieces to span the width). Let sit for 10 minutes more, then remove from heat and let sit for an additional 5 minutes, still with the foil cover.
Peel away the foil and serve immediately.
August used to work on the same block as Havana and had been there a couple of times before tonight, but it’s a first for Zach. Having been around for ten years, Havana is known for Cuban tapas and an extensive mojito selection, and we learned that they recently opened a cafe inside Autopia Car Wash up the street a bit. The bar here at the main restaurant was certainly popular but not boisterous or off-putting, so we enjoyed a very nice meal in a pleasant atmosphere.
Zach can’t eat whole nuts, but he had to try at least one walnut so that we could both tell you about the flavors of this surprise bar snack. Walnuts, almonds, and peanuts are lightly toasted with a well balanced combination of sweet, salty, and the tiniest hint of spiciness. These paired well with our mojitos.
We’re not kidding about fruit servings. The mojitos are both made with Cruzan rum, mint, sugar, lime juice, and a splash of soda; August’s included mango puree, and Zach’s had fresh pomegranate juice. There was good tang and tartness, a balanced lime to mint ratio, and it was mildly sweetened so it didn’t have an overpowering sugar aftertaste.
Filled with one of August’s favorite cheese, Manchego, we couldn’t pass this up. The crust was an herbed panko, crispy yet very tender and easy to bite through. The herbs added a nice subtle flavor to the exterior surrounding the Manchego, which was like a cheesy salty fusion with delicious ham morsels throughout. Try a bite with some arugula to and a mild earthy spice.
Boniato is the poetic sounding term for a not-too-sweet sweet potato. These garlic fries came paired with chimichurri aioli and guava chipotle barbeque sauce. These are definitely a Caribbean twist on your typical garlic fries. Hand-cut and crispy on the outside, the fries were mildly sweet in the middle – don’t worry, nothing like Thanksgivingtime sweet potatoes. Be prepared for some spicy garlic, and the two sauces provide contrasting flavors to be enjoyed from the same plate. The aioi was creamy but packed with a variety of fresh herbs like parsley, oregano, and cilantro. It would be great as a spread on a sandwich. The barbeque sauce was was totally atypical with the guava and chipotle, as it was sweet and very mildly spicy. The name explains itself, as guava comes before chipotle.
We have written enough about scallops in previous posts, who can identify August’s nickname for them? (bonus points to the reader who tells us in the comments.) The ones here were no different – delicious and delicate. They were placed atop mashed boniato, then drizzled with cumin crema and truffle oil. The scallops had a nice sear, were tender and juicy, and seasoned perfectly. The crema with cumin was a little tangy to go with the sweet scallops and boniato mash, which itself was creamy and buttery.
This would be a great lunch on its own some day visiting Walnut Creek in the future. With ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, tomatoes, pickles, mustard, and arugula on a toasted roll, this is a popular tapa. Both meats were tender and flavorful, the pork a little smokier. Freshly cut vegetables are always a plus, and the arugula was a great green leaf to pair with the other elements. The bread was crunch on the outside from a panini press (most likely, we weren’t watching the kitchen) but it was still soft in the middle and easy to bite through.
The paella was the only item we got that’s not a tapa, and by this time the sun had gone down and we lost our wonderful natural light, but the flash does bring out the bright saffron color of the rice and the verdant green peas. The rice was tender, the peas not overdone, and the proteins varied – clams, shrimp, chorizo, and chicken. The chicken was juicy, the chorizo added smokiness, the shrimp succulent, well cooked, and fresh tasting, and August wished there were more clams.
We really wanted to try one of their desserts but we had no room, and we didn’t even come close to finishing all that we ordered – it’s a special treat night for the dog! We highly recommend this place for fresh Cuban food and appreciate that the owner has such attention to detail.