February is transitioning into March and it is colder and snowier than it's been all winter. The best way to counteract this dreariness is with a little Spanish cuisine. Paella is a good choice because it is delicious, and prepping some of the required components will help keep the house warm and cozy and smelling delicious through the weekend.
DAY 1: LOBSTER
It's Friday night and we need lobster. This involves a trip to Ellicott City and the H-Mart at the corner of Route 40 and Rolling Road. Here we procure not only two live lobsters, but a couple of pounds of jumbo shrimp, and some beautiful shallots and red peppers. When we get home, there is the necessary steaming of the lobsters, which I leave to my counterpart.
And, after they are steamed, we pack them into the fridge for the night.
DAY 2: LIQUIDS
Three key elements of Spanish cuisine are pork, seafood, and saffron. We are going to make good use of all three for our paella.
On Saturday, we get back to our lobster. The thing about lobsters is that the manner in which they meet their demise to become part of our meal is brutal, so it is important to honor that life and that sacrifice by using the entire animal. Paella gives us the opportunity to do this.
We separate the meat from the shells and set the shells on the back burner to stock. We also peel and de-vein our shrimp and add their shells to the stock. We will strain the stock and save it for the risotto.
And, there's also saffron water. We simmer several threads of saffron in a couple of cups of water, and that makes the whole house smell good.
For dinner, we have pork bellies which we boil in seasoned water. We save the water because it is seasoned to perfection and is full of porky goodness. We will add this to the risotto also.
DAY 3: THE MAIN EVENT
Now it is Sunday, and it is sleeting outside. The temperature hasn't made it above freezing in a couple of days, which is pretty harsh for us south of the Mason-Dixon line.
We fry the risotto in a large pot with shallots and leeks and garlic until it is transluscent. Then we add our delicious liquids from last night - the lobster stock and the pork water and the saffron water.
Risotto calls for a red sauce. We accomplish this by peeling and cooking a couple of red peppers and then pureeing them. We choose the red pepper over tomatoes because it makes for a smoother sauce that is a bit easier on the tummy. Besides, tomatoes are a New World food, and Spain is in the Olde World, and so I tell myself that this is really more authentic.
When the risotto has absorbed most of the liquids, we add the red pepper puree and some fresh herbs - basil, thyme, and sage. We cover it and let it simmer.
We cook the seafood separately - the shrimp and the lobster meat - in lots of butter and a splash of champagne to deglace. Typically, the seafood is mixed in with the risotto, but my counterpart decides to serve it deconstructed. It plates up nicely like this, and we garnish it with micro greens.
This is a delicious way to serve paella, and paella is a most excellent meal on a cold and snowy day, especially when it should be spring by now.
I think this is one of our best meals. The seafood is tender and delicious. The risotto is full of flavor - pork and saffron and herbs. The red pepper is smoother than a tomato-based sauce would be. Even the garnish of micro greens adds to the overall flavor of the meal.