It is not an uncommon practice for restaurants to make up misleading names to sell menu items. For example, I recently went out for dinner with some friends and noticed the dining establishment was offering Mexican Paella. Let me just state that I have never seen a dish in Mexico with such a title, but Mexico is a big country and such a dish could exist. The paella I have eaten in Mexico was a typical interpretation that I have become familiar with over the years. In fact, I once had an excellent seafood paella while visiting Vera Cruz, Mexico. The restaurant warned patrons that it took 30 minutes to prepare, it was the real deal.
One of my friends ordered the Mexican Paella and I was intrigued to say the least as to what would arrive at the table. What did arrive at the table was pretty good in terms of taste. As far as being a nice spin on a paella it failed. The Mexican flavor was there, no doubt about that. The rice on the other hand was completely soupy floating in a tomato sauce, nothing like a good paella rice. I know that Mexican paella sounds sexy and so did the person who prepared the menu. Chefs do this sort of play on words all the time in order to up sales. The restaurant business is a business after all. Nonetheless, the dish was not a paella by any countries’ standards and the name was deceiving.
All this Mexican Paella talk got me thinking about how I would make it better. First off, you have to kill off that soupy rice. The foundation of a good paella is the rice, it is a rice dish after all. I would simply fix that by using a proper amount of liquid to rice. Secondly, as we all know saffron is commonly found in different variations of paellas. Saffron creates a beautiful color and flavor that nothing else compares to. My Mexican Paella would be absent of saffron altogether. Instead I would use achiote, the spice that the New World has been using for years in place of saffron. Achiote, also known as annato seeds, will turn foods yellow and that is all it has in common with saffron. Instead of just grinding the achiote up and adding it to a pot of stock to simmer before ladling it into the paella (like I would with a bit of saffron in a normal paella), I figured why not work it into paste like they do in Mexico and marinate some pork ribs with it?
After marinating the ribs in my fridge overnight, I braised them in some chicken stock until tender, but not fall-off-the-bone tender. Once the ribs are finished braising for a few hours, they can be added to the paella along with a good amount of pork flavored liquid spiked with the color and aroma of achiote. Ideal ingredients to create the Mexican Paella. Seeing how Mexico was a Spanish colonial holding for more than a few years, I figured that it would not hurt to use some Spanish-style chorizo in my recipe. Not to stray too far from Mexico, I decided to use Aurelia’s Chorizo made in Texas. To top things off in the protein category, some clams and shrimp were added.
As far as the rest of the seasoning goes for my dish, I went with the typical onion, garlic, a bit of hot smokey pimentón by El Rey, and one not so typical ingredient: jalapeños. I figured the hot pimentón would be similar to using chipotle, just less overpowering in flavor. Even though the weather is warming up, tomato season is still not up to full-speed yet. With that said, I used a bit of sofrito by Matiz to round things out. As much as I love using piquillo peppers in a paella, I opted for a more Mexican twist, roasted strips of poblanos. Instead of garnishing the plate with parsley and lemons, of course I used cilantro and limes. Now I just might be telling stories out of school, but that sounds more like a Mexican Paella to me. The most important aspect of the dish is nailing the all important liquid to rice ratio. I used some Bomba rice in the dish and followed The Spanish Table’s high altitude recommended three parts liquid to one part rice in order to achieve a proper paella consistency. Now with all that effort I am certain this is a paella Mexico would not mind being associated with.
In order to truly enjoy my effort towards Mexican Paella, I figured a good beverage made with tequila was needed to compliment the dish. In my blender went a handful of seedless watermelon slices, a good amount of lime juice, some sugar, a shot of Cointreau and of course plenty of 100% agave silver tequila. Rim the glass with a bit of lime salt from The Spanish Table and pour over ice, garnish with a lime slice.
If you want something to serve while your guests are waiting for the Mexican paella to finish cooking, try a nice The Spanish Table spin on queso fundido. Swap out your queso asadero for some young Manchego. For me, I love my queso fundido topped with some roasted poblanos and a bit of Mexican chorizo. In this recipe, exchange the Mexican chorizo for some spreadable Sobrasada chorizo by Doña Juana. After that, switch out your poblanos for some strips of green or red piquillo peppers. Warm your Manchego in a small cazuela, hopefully on your outdoor grill next to the paella. Top the melted cheese with sobrasada and green piquillos. Then serve with slices of crusty bread.
Recipes for: Braised Ribs, Mexican Paella, Tequila Cocktail, and Queso Fundido follow.
8 pork baby back ribs
2 cups chicken stock
Rub paste all over ribs and marinate overnight. Add ribs and stock to a lidded cazuela or dutch oven and braise in oven at 300 degrees until the meat is tender, not fall off the bone.
Mexican Paella- serves 4
1 1/3 cup Bomba rice
4 tablespoons or more of olive oil
4 cups of liquid- Use a combination of claim juice and the reserved liquid from ribs
2 of the braised achiote ribs per person
½ piece of Aurelia’s chorizo per person
½ teaspoon hot pimentón(paprika) per person
3 cloves of minced garlic
1/4 cup minced onion
1/3 cup sofrito
2 shrimps or prawns per person
2 large clams per person
1 whole roasted poblano cut into strips
1 whole sliced jalapeño, optional
1/3 cup cooked chick peas
lime wedges and cilantro for garnish
salt to taste
Heat all of your liquid in a separate pot. Heat paella over pan medium heat, add olive oil and crisp up the ribs for a couple of minutes. Next add garlic, jalapeño, and onions and saute until onions are translucent. Add chorizo and cook until heated. Add the rice, stirring until well coated with oil. Add pimentón and sofrito. Stir while cooking for a few minutes. Add liquid portion gradually. Bring to a boil while scraping the bottom of pan. Now the rice should be level and you will not need to stir from this point on. Adjust heat to maintain a nice simmer. When the rice has absorbed a good amount of liquid but still has a soupy appearance, add the clams. Once the rice is cooked, add shrimp or prawns tucking them down in into the hot rice (watch your fingers). Then add the chick peas and the roasted poblano chiles. During this time, the rice should be caramelizing on the bottom of the pan or creating what is called the socarrat. It will make a faint crackling sound and smell toasty sweet but not burnt. Set aside to “rest” for 5-10 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro, garnish with lime wedges.
Watermelon Tequila cocktail – serves 4
Fill blender almost to the top with seedless watermelon, then add:
4 one count pours of 100% agave silver tequila to blender
½ cup of fresh squeezed lime juice
1 teaspoon of raw sugar or more to taste
1 two count pour of Cointreau
Blend all ingredients until smooth. Rub four glasses around outer rim with a slice of lime. Turn glasses over onto a lightly salted plate of lime sea salt. Twist gently to pick up the salt onto the rim of the glasses. Fill each glass with ice and then pour mixture from blender in. Garnish with a slice of lime per cup.
Queso fundido TST style
1/2 pound diced of young Manchego
1/3 cup diced Sobrasada chorizo
slices of green or red piquillo peppers
Warm a cazuela up on the stove or grill over medium heat. Place Manchego in cazuela and warm until almost completely melted. Immediately add chorizo and peppers on top of cheese. Remove from heat when the cheese has completely melted. I love cooking this dish on a charcoal grill alongside my paella. Cooking on the grill imparts a wonderful smokey flavor. Serve with slices of good crusty bread.