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In the Kitchen with Vital Choice

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Vital Choice at Home: Pantry Paella
A scrumptious, simple approach using whatever you have on hand

Vital Choice at Home: Pantry PaellaWelcome to Vital Choice at Home!

 
This series features me, Michelle – a writer and soccer mom from the Rocky Mountains – my husband and two kids, some beautiful Vital Choice seafood and lots of regular home cooking.
 
(Click here to learn more about me, below.)
 
I want to feature the products and preparations you're curious about.
 
Have a suggestion? Question? Recipe you want me to test?
 
Email me and help to shape this series.
 

 
I recently stumbled across an article from April 2013 by Mark Bittman in The New York Times Magazine, focused on Humble Paella.
 
Mark Bittman, food editor and bestselling cookbook author of the How to Cook Everything series, is well known for his no-nonsense, empowering, and minimalist approach to cooking.
 
As easy as paella 
Leave it to Bittman to make paella, Spain's national rice dish, seem flexible, approachable and downright easy!
 
Bittman points out that, fundamentally, paella is just "rice with things,” and can be built around a few basics (rice, olive oil, some vegetables), then customized with what you have on hand.
 
After re-reading this great article (check out his visual paella wheel), I felt up to the challenge – putting together a simple paella with ingredients I had on hand. No trip to the grocery required! But, before we get to his recipe, let me just say that the results were spectacular! 
 
Let's look at his basic recipe, then I'll share how I customized this simple, one-dish dinner with some delicious Vital Choice seafood.
 
The pantry ingredients – use what you have on hand!
I started with Bittman's Master Paella Recipe, then added in the extra ingredients that I had on hand.
 
I've added my comments in brackets next to the ingredients, so you can see what I used.
 
Mark Bittman's Master Paella Recipe 
50 minutes, serves 4-6 
 
½ pound meat, like chicken thighs, chorizo, pork, etc. (optional) [I skipped this entirely, but you could use Vital Choice Heritage Chicken, and their Chorizo-style Wild Salmon Sausage]
Salt and pepper to taste
1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper [red-yellow-orange ones look and taste great], minced 
2 cups rice [I used Arborio, which worked well]
1 pinch saffron [definitely]
3½ cups liquid (chicken, lobster or vegetable stock; water; wine, etc., or a combination) [I used 1½ cups white wine + 2 cups organic chicken bone broth, plus an additional ½ cup chicken broth later]
½ pound seafood, like shrimp, mussels, squid, etc. (optional) [I used more – 1 lb. mussels, 12 oz. halibut, and one cup of pre-cooked petite wild Oregon shrimp]
½ pound vegetables, like olives, tomatoes, snow peas, mushrooms [I used frozen peas and diced, fresh tomato, about 1 cup total vegetables] 
  1. Pour 3 tablespoons olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add about 1/2 pound of meat (or a combination of meats), sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook until nicely browned. Add one chopped onion and some minced bell pepper at the same time if you like and cook until soft. (If you want a meatless paella, skip right to the onion.)
  2. Add 2 cups rice and (if you have it) a pinch of saffron and cook, stirring, until shiny. Add 3 1/2 cups of your liquid of choice, heated, and stir until just combined, then stir in seafood (or lay it on top of the rice). Again, skip the seafood if you want vegetarian paella.
  3. Cook over medium-high heat, undisturbed. If the pan is too big for your burner, move it around a little; but after that initial stirring, leave it alone. When the mixture starts to dry, begin tasting the rice; if the liquid amount seems O.K., keep going. If the rice seems quite tough, add another 1/2 cup or so of liquid. And if you can smell the bottom starting to burn, lower the heat a bit. About halfway through the cooking (about 10 minutes), add any vegetables, adjust seasonings and stir gently, just once.
  4. The rice is done when tender and still a bit moist; if the mixture has stuck to the bottom of the pan, congratulations: you have socarrat, a characteristic of good paella. This should be served in the pan, in the middle of the table, and dinner guests — up to six — should fight over it.
The appeal of the master recipe is that it easily flexes around what you happen to have in the pantry and fridge.
 
For the liquid, I used some white wine and some chicken broth – a combo that I knew I already liked from years of tinkering with risotto. 
 
Speaking of risotto, I chose Arborio rice for this recipe. Ideally, paella is made with a medium-grain Spanish rice like Bomba, but that's not always easy to find.
Any short- or medium-grain rice can be substituted. I happened to have Arborio on hand, and it worked perfectly!
 
For vegetables, I used a sad looking orange bell pepper and a few "too ripe” tomatoes, plus some frozen sweet petite peas. You can add whatever seasonal vegetables you have on hand and that need to be used ASAP.
 
The seafood – use what you love best!
For my first try, I skipped meat entirely (although I'm sure Vital Choice Heritage Chicken and their Chorizo-style Wild Salmon Sausage would be delicious) and focused instead on a few Vital Choice items I happened to have in the freezer.
 
I decided on Saturday night to try this for Sunday lunch, so before bed I pulled some seafood out of the freezer and put it in the fridge to thaw overnight.
 
As you'll see from my recipe notes above, I used more seafood than Bittman calls for, but the results were perfection.
 
You can see all of the preparation directions on the Master Recipe ... I followed them to the letter and the result was out-of-this-world!
 
In a nutshell, you simply sauté your onions and minced bell pepper for a few minutes, stir in your rice and saffron, then add your warmed liquid all at once.
 
Layer in your seafood and let it cook (without stirring) on medium-high for 10 minutes. I held the shrimp out until the 5 minutes, because it was already cooked and just needed to be warmed through.
 
Check for liquid (I added more here), add in your vegetables and cook another 10 minutes or so. Done!
 
My first try did produce a small layer of coveted socarrat – the bit of burned rice stuck to the bottom of the pan, and let me say that everyone at the table fought over the last bits!
 
Please give this incredibly simple recipe a try and let me know what unique and creative combination your pantry yields!
 
My rating: 4 out of 4 stars – one of the best things I've made recently!
 

 
A Note from Michelle
 
Like you, I have a passion for beautiful-yet-healthy food that's easy to prepare.
 
 
 
While I do love making the occasional "fancy” dinner, most of the time I'm short on time and have a house full of hungry people who want to eat NOW.
 
I'm not a professional chef – I'm just a busy mom who loves to cook and who's focused on that intersection of healthy and delicious.
 
I want this series to feature the products and preparations you're curious about.
 
 
 
 
Have a suggestion? Question? Recipe you want me to test?
 
 
 
 
Email me and help to shape this series.
 
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