This classic saffron-scented dish from Spain is similar to risotto, but with its own distinctive flavors and traditions. It is often made outside on the grill, ideally over a wood fire. In Spain they use a special round, often copper, pan that is fairly shallow, to allow the smoke to roll over it and flavor the food as it cooks. You can do it however you like—on the stovetop or even in the oven. Paella can contain a variety of meats, including sausages, as well as fish, shellfish, and vegetables, depending on the whim and budget of the cook. The base, however, is the rice. A variety called Valencia is traditional. Any medium-grain rice, such as Arborio, can substitute nicely.
Heat the olive oil in a large, shallow pan over medium-high heat. Season the chicken well with salt and pepper, and lightly brown it in the pan on all sides, about 5 minutes. Add the onions, garlic, and chile and stir for another 2 minutes or until the vegetables just begin to color. Add the rice and stir for a minute to coat the grains.
Add the wine, stock, saffron, tomatoes, thyme, and fennel, and stir gently. Bring to a boil and nestle the clams down into the rice mixture. Cover the pan with its lid or with foil if you’re cooking outside and cook until the clams open (discard any that don’t) and the rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Nestle the shrimp into the rice mixture, cover, and cook for another minute or so, until the shrimp are pink (they will continue to cook as they sit in the mixture). Remove from the heat, stir in the beans, taste and season with salt and pepper, and serve.
© 2004 John Ash. All rights reserved.