Back in September, the flower-sender celebrated his birthday. Like me, he is a fairly keen cook and one of his signature dishes is paella. Until earlier this year, I had never enjoyed a paella. I can't eat shellfish and as all paellas seemed to involve mussels or prawns or clams, I assumed it was a treat I'd ever enjoy. How wrong I was. On an early date, the flower-sender wowed me with a special shellfish-free paella made with monkfish, chorizo and a variety of vegetables. This delicious dish now makes a fairly regular appearance in our household. His only complaint was that he didn't really have the right equipment to make an 'authentic' paella. So, for his birthday, I decided to invest in a proper paella pan. I chose a kit including special 'La Bomba' paella rice, saffron, pimento and other bits for making the perfect paella. I also invested in a book all about the famous Spanish dish.
The book is actually really rather interesting - much of it talks of the techniques and tools required to make a good paella and the other half is full of great recipes. What interested me most was the number of these which did not contain shellfish, or even fish for that matter. I was allowed to choose the first recipe cooked in the new pan and selected an interesting sounding rabbit and artichoke paella.
This really worked very well - it was delicious. The rabbit was moist and tender and the rice perfectly textured and flavoursome. The only problem we had was the instruction that we shouldn't stir the paella. This was not really a goer as the food soon started to burn on the bottom of the pan. We eventually added more stock but unfortunately a few burnt bits did make their way into the finished dish (...as you'll see from the photos).
We asked the butcher to joint the rabbit for us and halved the recipe. We also used chargrilled artichoke hearts rather than preparing our own fresh artichokes, so I've adapted the recipe to take this into account. Make sure you hang onto the rabbit's liver - pounded together with almonds, it makes a delicious addition to the paella (although it was so delicious I almost ate it all before we got to the stage of pounding it in the pestle and mortar).
Paella de conejo y alchachofas
(Paella with rabbit and artichokes)
From 'La Paella' by Jeff Koehler
1 whole rabbit, cut into 12 pieces, keep the liver
6 tbsp olive oil
6 artichoke hearts (we used ready cooked hearts and washed off as much preserving oil as possible)
1 red bell pepper, cored and chopped into 1-inch square pieces
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 medium ripe tomatoes
1 tsp sweet pimenton
8 cups chicken stock
2 pinches saffron threads
3 cups short-grain rice (buy special paella rice or look for a brand such as La Bomba)
handful of tomatoes
handful of chopped parsley
1. Toast the saffron to release extra flavour. Do this in a dry saucepan until the saffron starts to change colour and then crumble onto a piece of paper (or pound with a pestle and mortar).
2. Season the rabbit with plenty of salt and pepper. In a large paella pan (or large wide saucepan), heat the oil and brown the rabbit for around 5 minutes, along with the rabbit liver. Set aside.
3. Pound the rabbit liver with a handful of almonds in a pestle and mortar and set to one side.
3. Grate the tomatoes. To do this, cut the tomatoes in half, remove seeds with your finger and grate on the widest setting on a stand-up grater. Discard the remaining skin.
4. Cook the pepper in the pan over a medium heat for 5 mins. Add the garlic and tomatoes and a couple of pinches of salt and cook until the tomato starts to darken (about 5 minutes). Return the rabbit to the pan along with any juices and cook for another 5 minutes. This base is called the 'sofrito'. According to the author, it should look 'pasty' at this stage (...though I'm not sure how pieces of rabbit can look pasty!).
5. Sprinkle in the pimenton and stir to combine. The add the chicken stock, bring to a simmer and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the artichoke hearts.
6. Sprinkle in the saffron. Taste and add seasoning if required. Increase heat to high and bring liquid to a boil. Sprinkle in the rice and with a wooden spoon, push rice to ensure it is evenly distributed.
7. Do not stir again but cook, uncovered for 10 minutes over a high heat. After 10 minutes, reduce the heat to low and cook for an additional 8 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is 'al punto' (with a slight bite to it).
8. Remove paella from heat, sprinkle over the ground rabbit liver/almond mixture, cover with paper towels and leave to rest for five minutes.
9. Before serving, sprinkle with chopped parsley.