Paella is one of those dishes that has been percolating in the back of my mind for years now to get into. It seems like lunacy, as a man of old Japanese customs, to even think of cooking rice without a lid, or to do it outside over a wood fire, as it is often done in sunny Valencia. Rice to my mind is about precision and control—I agonize over milliliters of water, and hewing to the superstitions, never touch the lid to peek if the water has started to boil. And then there’s this bearded Valencian gentleman, on his third glass of wine, jiggling a pan and throwing a few twigs on the fire…
It is precisely this coolness that makes paella so attractive to me, and yet rice never really lets you off the hook. As I continued my research, I noticed a familiar anxiety about doing it properly. Reading a listicle of the 13 biggest paella “aberraciones,” I took a strange comfort in the fact that there are many rules and regulations to making the dish: that you must never mix meat and seafood, nor should you add chorizo, even though it is Spanish, or onions.
I wondered if using Japanese rice would be considered an aberración, as I am sitting on twenty pound bags of it, and have grown very accustomed to the stuff. My understanding of arroz bomba, the traditional choice, is that it is a short grain variety, and looks to my eye to be nearly identical to the Japanese. It would also mean not having to leave the house. I uncorked the wine and poured myself a precautionary glass.
We had been dealt an early summer that day and I sat outside in the sun, working over a portable cartridge stove instead of a wood fire, another nod to being Japanese. Our new spun iron pans from Netherton had just come in which were the perfect size and shape, wide and shallow like a true paellera.
Over a good medium heat I browned the chicken, sautéed the aromatics, added the water and rice, and ignoring the urge to cover the pan, poured myself another glass. It reminded me of a low fire version of Chinese wok cooking, everything thrown into the same pan in stages. Before long, the mixture began to simmer and the top grains of rice started peeking through. Reducing the heat to low, I suffered through those last few minutes of anticipation for the rice to soak up that last bit of stock.
At last I was left with the finished article, with plenty of what the Valencians call socarrat and the Japanese call okoge, that crispy layer of rice at the bottom of the pan. Phew, I thought to myself, and lunch was served.
1 lb bone-in skin-on chicken, wings or drumsticks, salted
1 tbsp olive oil
2 handfuls snap peas
3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tsp paprika
1/4 cup tomato puree
3 1/2 cups water (4 1/2 Japanese go)
3 sprigs rosemary
1 1/2 cup short grain rice (2 Japanese go)
1 tsp salt
Salt your chicken pieces well on all sides. In a wide shallow pan (our iron Prospector Pan is perfect), warm about a tablespoon of oil over medium heat and add the chicken. Brown on all sides. Then move the chicken to the outside of the pan, creating a center to add the next ingredients.
Add in the snap peas and quickly saute. Add the garlic and paprika and quickly saute as well. Then add the tomato puree, water, and rosemary, mix everything in the pan together, then add the rice and the salt and stir to combine. Continue to cook for about 20-25 minutes over medium heat, uncovered and untouched, until the rice has absorbed all the liquid.