So the first cooking challenge that I accepted was a sort of Paella. The actual recipe called for Spanish rice, artichokes and cuttlefish. I couldn't find Spanish rice, and instead used the only short grain rice I could find, which was Mahatma Valencia. And I chucked the artichokes, as I've tried artichokes several times now and have never cared for them. So I replaced the artichokes with peas.
As to the cuttlefish, I was very hesitant to eat cuttlefish. It just didn't sound appetizing. So I decided to do some research as to just what a cuttlefish was, and I watched some video.
I watched a cuttlefish interact with the photographer, and realized that it was in the octopi family, and thought, "Uh uh." I will never eat octopus or related animal again after learning of their intelligence (they can figure out how to open a jar to get to food, will squirt water at workers who get too close to their tank, and will escape their tanks and walk across the floor to another aquarium full of fish to eat and then return to their own tank before the workers know what has happened.)
Check out this octopus as it encounters a jar for the first time, and figures out how to open it.
So the end result was I made the decision to not use cuttlefish. So I had to decide whether to use fish or chicken in place of it. I was thinking about using fish, but the decision was made for me when I couldn't get assistance at the seafood counter at the store. So chicken it was!
Here's what I did:
I made the Sofregit first. Mine didn't look like the Sofregit of the challenger-- mine was chunkier. Perhaps that is because I added peppers and didn't chop my pieces as small? This can be made ahead of time.
Cooking time is approximately 1 hour.
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2 1/2 big red ripe tomatoes, chopped
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 green pepper, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 cup of button or Portobello mushrooms, chopped (optional)
- 1 bay leaf
- Touch of ground cumin
- Touch of dried oregano
- Put all of the ingredients together in a frying pan and saute slowly until all vegetables are soft.
- Taste and salt if necessary
- When the sofregit is ready, just set it aside until needed.
Rice with Mushrooms, Peas and Chicken
- 1/4-1/2 bag of frozen peas or 2 artichokes (you can use jarred or frozen if fresh aren't available
- 6 mushrooms (button or Portobello)
- 1 Bay Leaf (optional but highly recommended)
- 1/2 glass of white wine (about 1/6 cup)
- 1 chicken breast or fish fillet
- "Sofregit" (see recipe above)
- 1 cup short grain rice (Spanish types like Calasparra or Montsant are preferred, but you can choose any other short grain. This kind of rice absorbs the flavor very well.)
- Water or fish stock (use 1 1/2 cup of liquid per 1/2 cup of rice) (Note: I used 1 can of chicken broth (2 cups), since I was using chicken in my dish. Then I used 1 cup of water to start with, but had to add more later.)
- Saffron threads (if you can't find it or afford it, you can substitute turmeric or yellow coloring powder)
- Allioli (olive oil and garlic sauce, similar to mayonnaise sauce. See recipe below.)- optional
- Cut the chicken or fish into little strips (Note: My chicken pieces were too large. I should have cut them into thinner strips.)
- Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and put the fish or chicken in the pan.
- If you use fresh artichokes, clean them and cut them in eights (you are only using he hearts).
- Clean the mushrooms and cut them in fourths.
- Add a bay leaf to the fish/chicken and add also the artichokes or peas, and the mushrooms.
- Saute until we get a golden color in the artichokes.
- Put a touch of white wine in the pan, so all the solids in the bottom of the pan get mixed in, making for a more flavorful dish.
- Add a couple of tablespoons of sofregit, and mix to make sure everything gets impregnated with the sofregit.
- Add all the liquid and bring it to boil.
- Add all the rice. Let boil for about 5 minutes in heavy heat.
- Add some saffron thread to enrich the dish with its flavor and color. Stir a little bit so the rice and ingredients get the entire flavor. If you're using turmeric or yellow coloring, use only 1/4 teaspoon.
- Turn to low heat and boil for another 8 minutes (or until the rice is a little softer than "al dente") (Note: I had a devil of a time getting the rice to cook. I had to add probably 1-2 cups extra water to my dish. I don't know why. Perhaps I had more meat that absorbed more of the water, or maybe it was the type of rice that I used.)
- Put the pan away from the heat, and let the rice stand for a couple of minutes.
Now was the really tricky part-- the allioli, which is like a garlic mayonnaise, and which I made while the rice mixture cooked. I failed miserably at making the allioli. The video I watched showed a chef with a heaping bowl of allioli, and it really looked like a heaping creamy dish of yellow mayonnaise. Mine was a tablespoon or two of liquidy yellow garlic puree. However here is the recipe...
Allioli (traditional recipe)
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled
- Pinch of salt
- Fresh lemon juice (some drops)
- Extra-virgin olive oil (Spanish preferred, but not essential)
If you don't know how to peel garlic, the best way I know is to crush the clove under a knife or something heavy, and then peel off the paper skin.
- Place the garlic in a mortar along with the salt.
- Using a pestle, smash the garlic cloves to a smooth paste. (The salt stops the garlic from slipping at the bottom of the mortar as you pound it down.)
- Add the lemon juice to the garlic.
- Drop by drop, pour the olive oil into the mortar slowly as you continue to crush the paste with your pestle.
- Keep turning your pestle in a slow, continuous circular motion in the mortar. The drip needs to be slow and steady. Make sure the paste soaks up the oil as you go.
- Keep adding the oil, drop by drop, until you have the consistency of a very thick mayonnaise. If your allioli gets too dense, add water to thin it out. This takes time-- around 20 minutes of slow motion around the mortar-- to create a dense, rich sauce.
As you can see, my Allioli was not "dense" in the least! And the flavor was way too powerful, so we tried it in our dish, but decided that it was better without it. At least, it was better without MY allioli. Perhaps if I had made it right, it would have been delicious!
This was my finished dish, with a little sofregit spooned on top.
So was it good? Yes. Was it worth the three hours that it took to make it? Probably not. I don't know that I would do it again. If I do, I will try it with fish or vegetarian instead of chicken, and I will skip the allioli and perhaps go for just a little garlic in the dish itself. And I will cut down on the cooking time by preparing the ingredients for the rice dish while the Sofregit is cooking (and skipping the 30 minutes I wasted on the allioli!) But I enjoyed the challenge, and I look forward to trying another one!