It is a misnomer that paella should be yellow. In fact, authentic paella will have a deep, earthy, brownish color with a thin crisp layer of rice on the bottom of the pan. As Jose says, paella is “about one ingredient and bringing the maximum amountof flavor out through the rice.”
When making authentic paella it is best to use traditional ingredients, like Bomba rice, Ñora peppers, pimenton, and olive oil found in Spanish import stores and on line. Bomba is a much harder rice that allows maximum absorption. Ñora peppers are a small, dried chili that aren’t too hot, but add a hearty, almost smoky flavor. Pimenton is a powder, similar in texture to paprika, made from smoked, ground chili peppers. These ingredients can be found at specialty markets or online at spanishtable.com and tienda.com. This recipe substitutes shrimp for langoustine as langoustine are not widely available.
Another key to paella is the pan. For this version José uses one that is 13 to 15 inches in diameter. It is important the pan be wide, open, and flat, in order to heat evenly, because the rice will not be very deep in the pan.
Paella de Camerones (Shrimp paella)
Makes 4 servings
Three to four Ñora peppers, reconstituted
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 pound large (16 to 20 size) shrimp
2 teaspoons sweet pimenton
4 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons finely ground sea salt plus more for seasoning
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, plus more for garnishing
1 cup tomato puree (about 12 ounces ripe roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and, pureed)
1 cup Bomba rice
Freshly ground black pepper
Endive or butter lettuce hearts, for garnish
Place the peppers in a small bowl. Bring enough water to cover the peppers to a boil, and pour over the peppers. Let stand until the peppers have softened, about 15 minutes. Strain. Remove the stems and seeds and chop them into a paste. Set aside.
Peel and devein the shrimp reserving the shells. Refrigerate the peeled shrimp. Dry the shells completely before they are added to the oil.
To make the broth, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until it starts to smoke. Add the shrimp shells and sauté 3 to 4 minutes or until they brighten in color but are not browned. Add the pimenton, toss with shells for few seconds, then add the water and 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt. Bring the liquid to boil. Reduce the heat keeping the liquid at a simmer for 30 minutes. Strain the stock into a clean saucepan. Discard the shells. Keep the stock warm.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in the paella pan over medium heat. Add the Ñora puree and cook in the oil, stirring, until it starts to brown, about 1 minute. Adjust the heat to low and add the saffron. Cook with the pepper paste for a few seconds, then add the tomato puree. Cook, stirring from time to time, until the ingredients are almost reduced to a paste, creating what’s called a sofrito. Add the rice and cook with the sofrito for 1 to 2 minutes.
Increase the heat to medium-high and add the stock to the pan stirring to incorporate it with the rice and sofrito. Bring to a strong boil for a few minutes. Reduce the heat keeping the mixture at an even, gentle simmer. Continue to cook until the rice has absorbed the stock and you can hear the rice start to sizzle at the bottom of the pan, about 12 to 15 minutes. Do not stir the rice or break the starchy layer that forms across the top surface.
Meanwhile, while the rice is cooking, season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet or sauté pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, carefully add the shrimp. Cook, turning once, until the shrimp are opaque and slightly firm, 12 to 15 seconds on the first side and about 8 seconds on the second.
Arrange the shrimp over the rice. Place the lettuce leaves around the shrimp. Drizzle some olive oil over the paella, top with a few threads of saffron, and serve immediately with aioli if desired.