Paella was a very good idea. The last time I tried it, it simply did not live up to our expectations. It is true that the restaurant (shall remain nameless) had come highly recommended but not by me. It is also true that my search on yelp.com yielded so and so results. I should have paid a lot more attention about what the social networks buzz said. Yet on the very cold mid-December Saturday night , the fan club and I still decided to make the distant trek out to Queens, New York. So today, I just needed to avenge that lackluster experience and really cook up a dish to remember.
So where's the drama in all of this ? Well , unpacking the monkfish I realized I had been monked! just monked by monkfish. The fillets were just not fresh enough. I rinsed, and re-rinsed, and took a good sniff. I was tempted to try the lemon juice trick. Nope, they failed the test. I asked the fan club for help. "Borderline fresh" they said. Nope, back in the bag and back to the store for a later refund. And by the way , I did get my money back around 5:00 PM.
I was a bit annoyed that my dish could not be completed as intended. but the show must go on and so salmon became today's prime protagonist, a solo recital and it did good, real good. Indeed, I think that the dish turned out better that way.
Barley Seafood Paella
Paella is a multi-step dish. One should not be discouraged by this. I hear it too often. There are some short cuts that can help and bring the pleasure back to it.. For me, however, two steps or five steps, or even higher than that, just do not intimidate me. It's just part of cooking.
The mise-en-place for this recipe will really help you out. Here are some tips for you.
To reduce the cooking time for the dish, pre-soak your barley in two cups of hot boiling water. Treat it as if you were preparing bulgar wheat, except use a lot more water. After soaking the water will be tossed away. Then in a wide skillet , cook the barley half way through. It must remain al dente all the way up to the final assembly of the dish.
Make sure that you do have two large, deep sided pans, identical in size. You will need them both. Pre-cut all the seafood and set aside. Pre-cut all the vegetables and set aside.
10 oz of dry pearl barley , pre cooked
1 lb fresh Salmon, cut into wide chunks (2 inches)
1/2 lb large scallops
1/2 lb large shrimp (stay away from colossals!)
1 lb monkfish, cut into wide chunks (2 inches)
1 large young potatoes, cut in large chunks
1/2 yellow bell pepper (medium size) , cut into thick 2 inch sticks
1/2 red bell pepper (medium size), cut into thick 2 inch sticks
1/2 cup of grape tomatoes
1 cup of fresh asparagus, cut into two inch sections
3 cloves of garlic , coarsely chopped (for seafood)
1 clove of garlic (for veggies) - thinly sliced
1 small shallot , coarsely chopped
1/2 cup white wine
pinch of saffron, diluted in 1/2 cup hot boiling water
2 tbs fresh oregano coarsely chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro very coarsely chopped
2 cups of cold water
Grado: When I mentioned that the remaining portions of the meal should be brought work, I got one of the horror flick, low frequency growlings: "Noooooo", the eerie voice said. The hair on my forearms bristled for a moment. Then I realized that the fan club must have really liked it. Folks, no sharing tomorrow.
There are four steps to this. Cook the barley , cook the veggies, cook the seafood, mix and cook all parts together for a few more minutes.
Pre-cooking the veggies is also simple. Toss all veggies, sliced garlic, EVOO . Do not salt, Repeat , no not salt. Cook half way through, set aside leave in pan which will be used for the final preparation. No more than 5-10 minutes here.
For seafood, preheat a large pan . Add EVOO, S/P, chopped garlic, shallots, and oregano. Cook for two or three minutes without browning on medium heat.. Add about 1/2 cup of water and white wine. Reduce for another minute or so. Add monkfish chunks. Cook one more minute Add scallops, then shrimp. Then add salmon. At this stage do not stir the seafood as the salmon will tend to disintegrate. Cook for a few minutes with a lid until the seafood is half way cooked. You can tell by the color of the salmon , and the color of the scallops. Turn off heat set aside.
So far so good. Barley , check ! Veggies , check ! , Seafood check. Now Let's assemble this Iberian masterpiece.
To veggie pan, add the barley and the saffron water plus some additional water. On low-medium heat. cook for two-three minutes. Then add the seafood using a large wide spoon. move the seafood to the pan with the veggies and barley. Add the all of the juices from the seafood pan. Add a few more tablespoons of EVOO - Don't be surprised by this, I'm Italian you know. Top with coarsely chopped cilantro, cook for another few minutes until the seafood has cooked through. Keeping the lid half way on will help keep the juices .Cook one last minute without a lid. Turn off the heat. Let the paella rest a few minute in the pan. Then gently plate on flatware, using a wide spoon. paying attention not to break up the fish chunks as they are removed from the pan.
And now let's wrap it up with some Martialis:
Vt sapiant fatuae, fabrorum prandia, betae,
o quam saepe petet vina piperque cocus!
M. VALERII MARTIALIS, Roman Epigrammatist (40 – 102/103 A.D)