Latin cooks have made an art of creating sophisticated, flavorful one-pot meals from humble ingredients. In Mexico, pinto beans stewed with fragrant white onion – frijoles de olla – are eaten alongside tortillas for a filling meal; in the Dominican Republic, the ubiquitous platano – grown everywhere thanks to the island’s steamy temperatures – is boiled and mashed with garlic for creamy mangu. There are countless other examples of unassuming ingredients – in most cases, simple staples – transformed into stand-alone dishes throughout Latin cuisine. Chief among them is paella, one of Spain’s most celebrated contributions to the culinary world.
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National Paella Day – celebrated every year on March 27 – commemorates a dish that’s seemingly simple and absolutely delicious. Paella originated in the Valencia region in eastern Spain, made from rice grown by farmers in the region. And while traditional Valencian paella features the addition of local, coastal ingredients including beans, chicken, rabbit, snails and artichokes, to coincide with Holy Week – when many Catholics abstain from eating meat – we’re featuring José Andrés’s riff on paella de marisco (paella with seafood). The Spanish chef’s paella with lobster is a signature dish at his Jaleo restaurant at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas and just in time for National Paella Day, you can try it for yourself at home.
José Andrés’s paella de bogavante y cantarelas a banda (Lobster and chanterelle paella)
Chef’s note: If you don’t have a paella pan, use a large sauté pan instead. If you can’t find Spanish rice, use Arborio instead.
For the stock:
1 ripe tomato, halved
½ head garlic, papery skin removed and halved
½ red bell pepper
½ green bell pepper
½ carrot, roughly chopped
1 ñora chili pepper (or any other dried sweet chili pepper), seeded
4 fresh flat leaf parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 1½-pound lobster
1 tablespoon Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
3 blue crabs, fresh or frozen
For the rice:
5 tablespoons Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
8 ounces fresh chanterelles
1 cup Spanish bomba rice
2 tablespoons salmorra (recipe below)
Allioli (recipe below)
Makes 2 cups
1 tablespoon Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
12 whole garlic cloves, peeled
3 ñora chili peppers (or any other dried sweet chile pepper), seeded
16 ounces canned plum tomatoes, drained
1 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon sweet pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika)
Heat the oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the chili peppers and toast, stirring, for about 3 minutes, then add the tomatoes and sugar. Cook for 15 minutes or until the tomato liquid evaporates. Stir in the pimentón. Transfer the mixture to a blender and purée. Pour into a bowl, and season to taste with salt.
Garlic and oil sauce
Makes about 1 cup
4 garlic cloves, peeled
Pinch sea salt
½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice (from about 1/4 lemon)
1½ cups Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
Using a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic and salt together until you have a smooth paste. Turn the mortar while you mash, scrapping down the garlic from the sides with the pestle. Add the lemon juice, then add the olive oil, drop by drop, as you continue to crush the paste with the pestle. Keep turning the pestle with a slow, continuous circular motion around the mortar as you drip the oil in slowly and steadily, making sure the paste absorbs the olive oil. Keep adding the oil until the sauce has the consistency of a very thick mayonnaise. If your allioli becomes too dense, add ½ teaspoon of water to thin it out. This process takes time—around 20 minutes of slow, circular motions around the mortar—to create a dense, rich sauce.
For the stock: Combine the tomato, garlic, peppers, carrots, chili pepper, parsley, bay leaf and peppercorns in a large stock pot and cover with 2 quarts of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to a simmer.
Using a sharp knife, separate the lobster head from the claws and body. Refrigerate the body until ready to use in the paella. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, add the lobster head, claws and the crabs and cook until they turn red. Add the lobster head and crabs to the stockpot and continue to simmer the stock for 1 hour.
Remove the stock from the heat. Transfer the lobster head, the crabs and 2 cups of the stock to a blender and puree. Set a fine mesh strainer over the stockpot and pour the puree through the strainer back into the pot and stir until well combined. Then strain all of the stock through another fine mesh strainer or a cheesecloth-lined colander. Set the stock aside and discard the solids.
Prepare the rice: Using a sharp knife, cut up the reserved lobster. Separate the claws from the knuckles and slice the tail into 4 pieces. Crack the claws with the knife so they will be easy to pull apart once they are cooked. Cut the knuckles into 2 pieces.
In a 13-inch paella pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat for 2 minutes until just smoking. Add the lobster pieces and sauté about 1 minute on each side. Transfer the lobster to a plate. Pour 2 more tablespoons of the olive oil into the paella pan, then add the chanterelles and sauté for 2 minutes. Stir in the rice and salmorra and cook for 1 minute. Pour in 4 cups of the strained stock and stir until well combined, about 30 seconds. Increase the heat to high and cook for 6 minutes. Do not stir the rice again, as it may cause the rice to cook unevenly.
Add the saffron and season to taste with salt. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 11 minutes. After about 6 minutes, add the lobster pieces to the paella to continue to cook for the final 5 minutes. The rice should have absorbed all of the liquid. Remove the paella from the heat, cover with a clean kitchen towel and let the paella rest for 5 minutes before serving. Serve with spoonfuls of allioli. Serves four.