9.27.12 Garden Party
This charming farmhouse in Callicoon, NY, represents the fabulously quirky style of my friend, the talented creative director Michael Ian Kaye. (Note the glamorous fountain in the foreground.)
We tucked sprigs of different herbs into simple jute twine that was tied around my set of colorful mismatched linen napkins. The smell of basil, sage and fennel immediately scented diners’ fingers and set the stage for the meal to come.
I kept it simple for the cocktail hour, serving little glasses of ice-cold sherry and a pomada of gin and lemon blended with loads of fresh basil (from the garden, of course). Nibbles included my favorite Spanish olives in anchovy brine, roasted Marcona almonds and homemade Manchego cheese biscuits with quince paste. (Let me know if you want the recipe for the biscuits.)
Paella may seem daunting but it’s the ultimate one-dish meal—simple to make and easily cooked over virtually any heat source. I cobbled together a few different recipes to create this wonderfully savory combination of lobster and chicken with a rich, smoky depth. You make the salmorra (aromatic sauce) ahead, and partially cook the lobster and chicken before guests arrive.
After the paella came a salad of all the herbs and flowers the garden had to offer: parsley, celery leaves, borage flowers, squash blossoms, wild purslane, calendula petals, nasturtiums, basil, thyme, sage, lavender, mint, lemon verbena and shiso. It was tossed with a garlicky sherry vinaigrette and accompanied by hunks of good bread grilled with plenty of olive oil. Conversation was lively, the crickets sang, laughter floated up into the trees.
The paella was a hit, and almost everyone came back for seconds. With it, we poured a lightly chilled red wine.
Lobster & Chicken Paella
- — Salmorra:
- — 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- — 12 cloves garlic, peeled
- — 3 ñora chiles, stems and seeds removed (or substitute a couple of dried sweet chile like Ancho or California)
- — 16 ounces canned plum tomatoes, drained
- — 1 teaspoon sugar
- — 1/4 teaspoon pimentón
- — Paella:
- — 8-10 tablespoons Spanish olive oil (or any good olive oil)
- — 2 1/2 pounds chicken thighs, cut into 2" pieces
- — 6 cups shiitake mushrooms, stalks discarded and thinly slices
- — 1 generous cup salmorra
- — 4 1/2 cups short-grain Spanish rice (preferably Bomba or Calasparra)
- — tails & claws from 6 lobsters
- — 15 cups good quality fish stock
- — 3 large pinches saffron
- — sea salt, to taste
- — fresh basil and parsley, finely chopped, for garnish
special equipment: 22" paella pan
First, make the salmorra:
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.
While the salmorra cooks, prep the lobster. Slice the tail horizontally into 3 or 4 pieces. Separate the claws from the knuckles and cut the knuckles into 2 pieces. Crack the claws so they will be easy to pull apart once they are cooked (a hammer works well for this). Refrigerate lobster while you prep the remaining ingredients.
A couple of hours before your guests are scheduled to arrive, precook the lobster, chicken, mushrooms and salmorra. I did this over a couple of burners on my stovetop. Have a couple of baking sheets lined with parchment paper or foil at the ready.
Over high heat, warm 4 tablespoons of the olive oil in the paella pan until just smoking. Add the lobster pieces and sauté, about 1 minute on each side. Transfer the lobster to a baking sheet and cover with foil. Pour 4 more tablespoons of the olive oil into the pan, add the chicken pieces and sauté a little more oil to the pan, then add the mushrooms and sauté for another couple of minutes. Stir in the salmorra and cook for a few minutes. Turn off the heat and cover the pan with foil until you're ready to get going.
About an hour before you are ready to serve the paella, assemble all your ingredients near your cooktop. Set the paella pan with the mushroom-salmorra mix over a high flame and pour in 13 cups of the stock. As it heats up, add three pinches of saffron and stir until well combined. Once the stock begins to bubble strongly (this will take a while), stir in the rice. Stir the rice well to combine with all the ingredients, and keep giving it an occasional stir.
After about 20 minutes, stop stirring entirely. Do not touch the rice again, except to sneak a tiny bite to test for doneness. Watch the rice and listen to it. If it begins to make a crackling sound like it is frying, add a little more stock. It's OK if it begins to stick and scorch a bit as this forms a thin crust on the bottom of the paella known as the socarrat. It's considered a delicacy.
Once the rice has absorbed most of the stock (about another 20 minutes), spread the chicken pieces over the surface and then add the lobster pieces, shell-side down, ringing the claws around the edge and the tail pieces in the middle. Test the rice and add a little more stock if you think it needs it. Cook for about 10-15 minutes more, until the rice has absorbed all of the liquid and the lobster and chicken are cooked through.
Remove the paella from the grill, cover with clean kitchen towels (or foil if you can't bear that) and let the paella rest for 5-10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with sea salt and scatter generously with chopped basil and parsley. Pass more salt at the table.