Grill-season repertoire expands with paella, rabbit

The Whole Dish podcast: Rabbit is healthful, sustainable, locally available

“Spanish saffron, paprika, quince paste and Bomba rice or other rice for paella.”

So ran my wish list of souvenirs from my husband’s recent trip to Spain. We even wondered whether he could purchase a paella pan to ship home.

Turns out, the shops were closed the morning that Will went shopping for me. No rice, spices nor pan for paella. Never mind that all are within easy reach online. It was the thought, in this case, that counts and one that I hoped would expand our repertoire this grilling season.

While Will loves the shellfish and chorizo common to many versions of paella prepared in the United States, I’m more partial to the rabbit, quail and other bony bits of meat that populate paella traditional to Valencia, the mountain town where the dish originates. And with rabbit even easier to source these days than Spanish saffron, I have plenty of reason to purchase the pan myself and put paella on our summer menu.

Healthful and among the most sustainable meats available, rabbits raised near Sutherlin are stocked in the freezer case at Medford’s Food 4 Less. The whole animals cozy up next to quail and duck also raised by Wagonhoffer Meats, along with their sausages.

The following recipe is billed by the Los Angeles Times as the quintessential paella. While fava beans and artichokes are in season, there’s no better time to prepare it. Observe these rituals from third-generation paellero Perfecto Rocher, who maintains that authentic paella never includes chorizo, nor onion, nor peas. Sorry, Will.

When you make paella, keep the fire as hot as you can get it; the rice always needs to be boiling.

Be careful with the pimenton. It scorches very quickly and becomes bitter. If you burn the pimenton, you just have to start over.

Don’t stir the paella too much once it has started cooking. Just spoon the broth over any dry spots. Touching paella too much breaks its composition.

A good paellero does not add stock twice. One time; that’s it.

Add rice only to a depth of half of your little finger. More than that, and the rice on top will be raw, the rice underneath overcooked.

Eat paella from the pan. It’s a group meal meant to be shared. In Spain, paella is put on plates only for kids.

Tribune News Service photo

Perfecto Rocher’s Paella Verda

6 cups chicken stock

1 large pinch saffron threads

1 1/2 pounds rabbit, cut in 5 or 6 pieces

3/4 pound pork baby-back or spare ribs, preferably Iberico, cut in 2-inch pieces

1/2 cup olive oil, preferably Spanish or Valencian, divided

2 cups Bomba rice, or similar medium-grain rice

1 tablespoon pimenton dulce

3/4 cup grated fresh tomato, about 1 medium tomato

Salt, as needed

1/4 pound shucked fava beans or Romano beans cut in 2-inch segments, or a mixture

2 artichoke hearts, cut in bite-sized pieces

2 stalks fresh rosemary

Bring the chicken stock to a simmer in a medium pot. Add the saffron, rabbit and pork; cook over low heat until meat is tender, for about 1 hour.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until outside surface of rice becomes translucent, for 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the pimenton and then immediately the grated tomato; cook until it thickens, for about 2 minutes. Rice will not be tender. Set aside. (Recipe may be prepared to this point up to a day in advance, ingredients tightly covered and refrigerated.)

When ready to prepare paella, start a hot fire in grill. Remove rabbit and pork from stock, reserving stock.

Set a 13- to 15-inch paella pan in center of grill and add remaining olive oil. Make sure grill sits level so oil is evenly distributed across bottom of pan.

When oil is hot, add rabbit and pork and season lightly with salt. Cook until meat has lightly browned, for about 3 minutes.

Add the fava beans and artichoke hearts; cook briefly, stirring continuously.

Add rice and tomato mixture and then reserved stock. Taste stock and add salt; it should taste fairly salty because rice is so bland. Keep fire very hot so you can maintain a boil. Do not stir rice, but spoon stock over any dry spots.

Cook until you no longer see liquid bubbling through rice and rice is making crackling, popping sounds, for 15 to 25 minutes, depending on size of pan. Don’t worry if rice appears to scorch on bottom or sides — that is desirable.

When rice is done, lay the rosemary stalks on top and cover with newspaper to keep warm. Set aside for 5 minutes before serving.

Makes 4 servings.

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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