Flamenco dancers really are the epitome of Spain. They’re sexy, energetic, and just a little bit secretive. My time in Spain wasn’t exactly the most inspiring of my trips, but I am still enchanted by Spain. My opinion of the food is unmarred. Paella, gazpacho, and fried jalapeno olives are among the best creations on this planet if you ask me. I hope you will enjoy them as well!
Spain as an unlikely turning point
If you read the About section, then you know the terribleness of 2011 was probably why we are speaking today. I dreamed of Spain for years before actually strolling along those romantic, enchanting streets. All good stories have a low point for the heroine. Here’s mine.
The weather is absolutely gorgeous. I’ve just spent the morning touring gorgeous Seville. The people and smells of Spain are enchanting. What do I do? I plop down in a gazebo on the edge of a park and bawl my eyes out to the most depressing damn song I could find – Jason Mraz’s Details in the fabric. I was at the end of my rope. The crushing romantic heartbreak had lingered for about six months at this point. My manager carried a verbal taser and doled out praise and insults with equal intensity. I was just announced into a new role, but that job came with some highly stressful politics. The whole walk I kept thinking about how awful everything was (don’t roll your eyes, you’ve had one of these days at some point). Finally, I decided to sit down and indulge in a tear-filled pity party.
I have no idea how long I sat in that park and definitely no idea how many times Jason Mraz repeated for me to “Hold your own, know your name, and go your on way,” but eventually, I stood up. I didn’t know it, but that was my turning point. I needed that pity party to let all the brutal feelings run through my veins. That space in time gave me the clarity to that the bad times were actually past. Ending my relationship brought me a beautiful condo in the perfect location for me. My new job would ensure no more verbal taser. True love with the right person was now actually a possibility as I wasn’t tormenting myself with the wrong person.
With A LOT of hindsight, I learned that to leave the past behind, you have to be vulnerable in some really sad moments. It wasn’t until I embraced that everything was NOT ok that I was able to move forward. And now you and I are here talking about my greatest passion – food – and the travel that inspires it.
Why paella, gazpacho, and fried jalapeno olives
When I think of food in Spain, I think of paella and gazpacho. In reality, it was really challenging to find paella at a non-touristy location. Gazpacho was a surprising favorite for someone as finicky about tomatoes as I am. And the olives, well, they are quite possibly the perfect food (so long as you’re not afraid of a little frying on occasion).
An Austin paella, gazpacho and friend jalapeno experience
It’s ironic that my Austin Spanish experience was spent surrounded with lovely people when my time in Spain was so lonely. Paella was the centerpiece of two great interactions with my lovely Austin friends. First, I cooked paella and gazpacho for Kerry’s birthday party, then I whipped up a new batch for my birthday party. I am beyond blessed to have such amazing friends that are there for the highs and lows of my journey.
You absolutely must buy a paella pan to make real paella. This pan will help the rice get crispy at the bottom, which is the signature of a well cooked Paella. I also really like the skillet below for getting the paella going. The fryer is also a big help at ensuring the right temperature and even cooking of the olives.
Inspirational recipe and resources
The good people of Chow inspired my paella attempt. I made a stove and oven version, but they also offer an outdoor grill version. Ina Garten inspired the gazpacho and Good Food, Good Life inspired the fried jalapeno olives.
Tweaks and cautionary tales
- Paella is tricky from a timing perspective. I’m sure traditionalists will tell you I cooked it wrong, but I cooked everything up to just before adding the rice in a skillet. I found when I cooked it in the Paella pan, that it burned the pan. Maybe my pan was too big. I don’t know, but for my sanity, I just cooked it all in a skillet and then poured it into the paella pan right before I added the rice.
- It’s best to set up all of your cooking needs in advance so that you can move quickly.
- Whatever you do, don’t overcook the meat or seafood. And don’t rush adding the broth so that the rice doesn’t have a chance to become translucent.
- Make sure to use a low sodium chicken broth.
- If you need to reheat the paella, I recommend separating out the seafood, heating the rice with chicken and sausage, then heating the seafood for a much shorter time and in a separate dish. Then, recombine the entire thing in the paella pan.
- Spanish chorizo is difficult to find. If you can’t find it, regular andouille sausage will work.
- I added a little extra vinegar to the gazpacho just as a personal choice.
- Don’t cook the olives on too high of heat. The flavors come out best if you cook them around 350.
How to make paella, gazpacho, and fried jalapeno olives healthier
The next time I make this, I’m going to add more peppers and green beans to the paella. You could replace the chorizo with turkey sausage. Gazpacho is very healthy already. I haven’t tried it, but I would think you could bake the breaded olives for a healthier version.
- Learning Curve: medium
- Pre-work: none
- Vegetarian: could be, but I’m not sure it would still be paella really
- Healthy: Yes
- Freezes well: no
- 2 medium, ripe tomatoes
- 16 large shrimp, peeled, deveined, and free of water.
- 1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound boneless chicken
- 8 ounces Spanish chorizo, cut into ¼-inch-thick rounds (not mexican chorizo)
- 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, as needed
- 1 medium yellow onion, small dice
- 2 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 large pinch saffron threads
- 2 cups paella rice, sometimes labeled bomba or Valencia
- kosher salt
- 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 16 mussels, Manila clams, or a combination, scrubbed
- 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves (optional)
- 2 medium lemons, cut into 8 wedges each, for serving
- Heat the oven to 400°F and arrange a rack in the middle.
- Core and halve the tomatoes. Grate the flesh side of each half on the large holes of a box grater set over a medium bowl, stopping when you get to the skin. Discard the skins. You want about one cup of tomato pulp and juice; set aside.
- Place the shrimp in a medium bowl, add ½ teaspoon of the paprika, and season with salt and pepper. Toss to combine and refrigerate.
- Place the chicken in a medium bowl and season generously with salt and pepper; set aside.
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat (you can also use the paella pan if you prefer), add
- the chorizo and cook, stirring occasionally, until it has started to brown and the fat has rendered, about 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the sausage to a large bowl leaving the fat in the pan; set aside.
- Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan, then add the seasoned chicken to the pan in a single layer and sear, stirring occasionally, until both sides are golden brown, about 6 minutes total. Ttransfer the chicken to the bowl with the chorizo; set aside.
- Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, remaining ½ teaspoon paprika, and saffron, stir to combine, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Add the reserved tomato pulp and juice and cook until the mixture has thickened and is slightly darker in color. Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and 1 teaspoon salt and stir to coat in the tomato mixture.
- Pour the mixture into the paella pan if you chose to use a skillet. Increase the heat to medium high. Add the broth and stir to combine. Arrange the rice mixture in an even layer. Distribute the reserved chorizo and chicken over the rice, adding any accumulated juices from the bowl. (Do not stir the rice from this point on.)
- Bring to a lively simmer and continue to simmer, adjusting the heat as necessary and rotating the pan 90 degrees every few minutes, until the rice grains have swelled, most of the liquid has been absorbed, and the rice starts to make a crackling sound, about 12 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.
- Arrange the reserved shrimp and the shellfish (hinge-side down) in the rice, nestling them slightly. Place the pan in the oven and bake until the shellfish have opened, the shrimp are just cooked through, and the rice is tender but still al dente, about 10 to 12 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the oven and place on a wire rack. Cover with foil and let stand for 5 minutes. Before serving the paella, discard any unopened shellfish and sprinkle the dish with the parsley. Serve with the lemon wedges.