Paella

I tried my hand in doing Paella several years ago when I was still starting in the kitchen and contributing articles to Iska. It was one of those dishes I vividly recall of finishing an entire pan by myself out of hunger and excitement. I missed eating Paella. It was one of those ‘one-pan wonders’ where everything can be had using a spoon. It’s extremely luscious, contagious and to some extent, dangerously addictive with all the fat content and grease used in its creation.   The distinct Saffron taste also stood out.

After traipsing and enjoying myself in Catalonia for a couple of days, I made a decision of trying my hand again at cooking Paella. My point-of-view has shifted to the other side of the fence (as a traveling foodie and tourist scorning those suffering in the kitchen, temporarily that is) and for the last couple of years has initiated back to reading books that interest me the most-food & the martial arts.  I badly needed some motivation and inspiration (for both), and I guess they were the ready answers to my calling-whatever that maybe.  I also had the opportunity of writing about my ever wandering thoughts and ideas in a nutshell during the week through this blog; sometimes they ( the ideas) just pop out of nowhere.  It does help when I feel estranged and diminutive in society.  Those moments of sinking-in and shying away, in one way or the other, brings forth satisfaction of my skills or worth.

I am totally grateful to Iska for introducing me to blogging. My world does not revolve around to just work or Tai Chi anymore.  Moreover, I found somebody else who understands the meaning of hardwork  and life living away from home despite the distance and sometimes the difficulty of catching one another on-line. Every minute in every conversation, however short or muddled,  is cherished.

Cooking one-pot meals or one-pan meals in this case brings total comfort to that swirling imagination of mine and sometimes, apprehension or dissatisfaction to self. Moving away and being with society, mingling and socializing with them as a real human being, for at least just a short bit of time (wish it was longer) can be gratifying; knowing this willful act and intention will be repeated in the future.  I’ve discovered so much and I’m looking further on to see what’s really out there.

I used Basmati Rice when I did my first Paella.  I learned to love Basmati for its healthy connotation and easy preparation. I was taught in Culinary School how to make Rice Pilaf and Basmati Rice was the medium. It’s relative cheap and it’s as abundant as parboiled or Jasmine.  I really don’t recall what other spices I’ve inputted into that dish, but I remember giving the sauté pan to my ex-wife just to get rid of the clutter building up in my apartment. Glad I did.  It was  a very, very heavy sauté pan meant to serve a small group of about 5 or 6 and I’d lived alone for about three when I had it. This, I believe, is the much better version of the last. I used Italian Arborio as substitute and infused authentic Spanish Saffron (Azafran) and Chorizo into the dish.  I know I didn’t add those in the first.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Turkey Thigh
  • 1 Chorizo
  • Garlic, chopped
  • Spanish Onion, finely chopped
  • Parsley, finely chopped
  • Laurel (Bay leaves)
  • Chicken Stock
  • Saffron (a few strands)
  • Paella Mix (Con Azafran or Sazon)
  • Sea Salt
  • Ground Black or White Pepper
  • Lemon Juice

Start by steeping the chicken stock with the Saffron. The stock should be more than enough to cook the rice.

Cut the thighs in bite-size pieces and season with salt and pepper. Brown the thighs (skin side down) in olive oil and set aside. Cut the chorizo in a bias and pan fry on the same pan.  Add a little more oil if necessary. Set aside.

Start sautéing the onions, followed by the garlic and the rice. Continue sautéing until the rice becomes a little toasty. Slowly incorporate the stock in the pan. Season as you go. Add the bayleaves and the Paella Mix together with the thighs and gently fold the rice in.  Shove in a preheated 350’C oven for ten to fifteen minutes or cover until the rice is cooked. Stir occasionally.

Check the doneness of the rice and the thighs every now and then and add more stock along the way. When both are nearly cooked, lower the temperature of the oven to 180’C and let them all blend in nicely.  Each rice kernel should be coated with the yellow substance ( coming from the saffron).  Squeeze some lemon juice and add more seasoning before making one final stir.  Discard the bay leaves.

Top with the cooked Chorizos, sprinkle with sea salt and drizzle with olive oil before serving. Garnish with finely chopped Parsley.

This Paella is more straightforward than probably a Pinoy’s version where tomatoes and tomato paste are added in the cooking process. This is simplicity at its best where the quality and taste of the Saffron and Con Azafran, Chorizos and Olive Oil stand out.  If I had used Spanish Rice and Rabbit, this Paella would have brought an entire nation to its feet.

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Humba (Braised Pork Belly)

Today’s my first day in Barcelona. My sister told me that Barcelona is so ‘me,’ and she was definitely right about that. My day started by visiting Plaza Catalanuya, and its surrounding areas. That place was very touristy which really abhors me for some reason. I went around the area like many (too many)  checking the city of sights, extremely gorgeous Spanish women, sounds only familiar to this side of the world and discovered a bunch of Tapas Bars and Restaurants, Deli Counters, Fastfood Joints (Mcdo, BK) which were utterly overpriced and choices appropriate only for the English speaking tourist.  That was not for me. I went to one bar, tried a couple of Tapas, and was dissatisfied with the presentation and the overall taste. I expected more.

I was however lucky enough to be housed by Holiday Inn Express in Poblenou which was located south of the city centre. The town or stop where it’s located was celebrating a Fiesta on the weekend when I arrived, and the Tapas Bars and Restaurants, although it was still a little touristy, were alive and bustling with people from toddlers to seniors.  Marching bands played around town, circling rotondas while the Spaniards drunk the night away in celebration of the fiesta.  Spaniards were definitely in for the fun who in my surprise and delight also had the habit of peeing in corners as the acrid smell of pee whiffed in dark alley ways and surrounding, enclosed trash bins.  Beer (Estrella & San Miguel), of course played a major role.   Imagine a small town fiesta in the Philippines.  My night of Tapas fun just started; so with my drinking belly.  I checked three tapas bars along the streets and found one which served Pig’s Ears. That dish blew me away at first bite!-Pig’s Ears in the streets of Barcelona. I just had to have a bite of this succulent Spanish version of the popular Filipino delicacy. I was speechless. It was so similar to Tokwa’t Baboy without the Tokwa and theToyo & Suka.

The taste got stuck in my head thereafter.  Ingredients were not muffled by complex spices; just about three to four available in the local area.   I made Tokwa’t Baboy for Iska using the traditional approach.  This has a very similar inclination to the way the Pig’s Ears was boiled and prepared but with a strong hint of Pimiento.  I also used Pork Butt as my choice of meat.  I remember eating Braised Pork growing up and when I made some research, discovered that it was actually Humba. I double checked the ingredients on-line and looked at my ever reliable cookbooks, but didn’t follow as directed. The usual Filipino ingredients were mentioned and written down as expected with a few extra vegetables added in the cooking process.

I wanted to taste the meat and didn’t want any heavy tomato sauce to cover the spice and the olive oil.  This is a stripped down version of that dish with the purpose of recreating what I ate in Spain.  It’s perfect with bread or rice and since I haven’t eaten rice in the last couple of weeks, I steamed a cup and smothered it with the olive oil and Pimiento mixture. The texture though was different from a Pig’s Ears; that would come sooner or later

Ingredients:

  • ¼ lb. Pork Butt or Lean Pork
  • Olive Oil
  • Black Peppercorns
  • Laurel (Bay Leaves)
  • Pimenton Picante
  • Garlic
  • Sea Salt

Cut the Pork Butt into bite size pieces, and boil the Pork Butt using cold water. Throw the first boil to remove all the scum that rises during the boiling process.

Start another pot of warm water and let it boil to simmer until tender together with sea salt, Laurel and Black Peppercorns.  Strain the pot and let the pork cool down. Set aside.

Take a portion from the boiled pork and pour a generous amount olive oil and sea salt. Set the stovetop on low and warm it using a sauté pan together with some slivers of garlic.  Add some Pork Stock along the way just to keep the meat from drying up.  Transfer to a serving plate, sprinkle with sea salt and Pimenton Picante.

The Pimenton Picante is a very addictive spice.  It’s sprinkled on almost every dish in Catalunuya as I recalled, and when I went to a supermarket, discovered several other variations of the spice.  Without hesitation, I took several bottles from the shelves knowing I would use them as frequently as my other spices in my shoe box.

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Crispy Pork in Adobo Sauce (Adobong Baboy)

Cooking something very familiar  is probably the hardest to duplicate. I’ve had had the chance to rise to the challenge by friends of cooking the unfamiliar and the unknown, and making a fantastic dish out of it as against something that is as common or as popular to many: The Adobo (particularly to Pinoys). There are just various and countless ways and interpretations of presenting this dish.

I’ve also had had some gruesome stories about eating Adobo in the past, and Iska can attest to these epic adventures of mine growing up as a child.  When I decided to finally cook one, I made something that was more Mexican (Beef Adobo) than Filipino; combining and incorporating, Mexican Oregano and Spice, and Chipotle Chili Peppers into the sauce. For this blog, my original intention was to keep the Filipino ‘Adobo’ as traditional as possible.

I haven’t really eaten Adobo for so many years now, and for this basic reason, I never knew the process can be that difficult considering I grew up eating Adobo almost all my life (almost on a daily basis); and actually, avoiding it decades after.  My first condition though before even starting it was to disregard the braising and marinating steps as traditionally done by many. That was the popular way and my style really doesn’t lean toward that.  I wanted mine to be more of a starter or an appetizer. Moreover, after discovering sweet rice flour,  a crispy and crunchy Adobo like Lechon Kawali [while using the same cut as the Pork Butt (love the fat), and keeping the same,  familiar dark, and salty sauce ] would definitely make it stand out.

There must be another way to present Adobo besides those ‘turo-turo’ versions and it has been proven by many who have gone into Adobo pains; myself included.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 lb Pork Butt
  • Brown Sugar
  • Red Onions
  • Thai Chilis
  • Finger Peppers
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Adobo All Purpose  Seasoning
  • Sweet Rice Flour
  • Cinnamon Stick
  • Black Peppercorns
  • Ground Black Pepper
  • Filipino Soy Sauce
  • Light Soy Sauce
  • Beer
  • Cane Vinegar

Trim a thin layer of fat from the butt and slice into about 1/2 an inch against the grain.

Prepare a sauce pan filled with oil enough to cover the meat for poaching.  Put the stovetop to low and slowly set the slices into the oil together with the following: Garlic, Red Onions, Thai Chilis, Finger Peppers, Cinnamon Stick, and Black Peppercorns.

Strain the oil for next use. Save the Garlic, Finger Peppers, and Thai Chilis for garnish.

While the pork cooks, combine the rice flour and Adobo seasoning in a bowl for dredging. Remove the pork slices from the poaching liquid and thoroughly coat each one in a bowl.  Set aside and put in the fridge for a good half an hour.

Pan-fry or deep-fry the pork until golden, and shove it in a 325’C oven to cook further. Meanwhile, prepare the Adobo sauce.

Saute the Red Onion and Garlic with the strained oil from poaching, and start adding in the sauces, the cane vinegar, brown sugar, and the beer; adjusting the taste accordingly. Strain in a separate sauce pan thereafer.

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