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Associate Recipe of the Month: Oven-Baked Paella!

Image of paella
By Dennis Linden

Here’s a delicious paella recipe that is made without the use of the usual special kitchen equipment. John Dunham, Melissa’s Procurement Category Manager, provides his own version of this iconic rice dish of Spain that he prepares using an ordinary casserole dish in the oven instead of the traditional dimpled flat pan on an open fire. While the long and varied ingredient list may seem intimidating at first glance, the prep time should take no more than two hours of culinary fun. This recipe builds the dish in several stages that will go quicker after the first attempt and what a pleasant thing to practice! John suggests pairing this process with a bottle of good Cabernet Sauvignon.

Paella (pronounced pa-eh-yah) is Spain’s national dish. Though there are as many ingredient combinations in paella as there are Spaniards in Spain, saffron-flavored rice is always a part of any recipe. Foodie historians agree that the dish originated in the city of Valencia, which is still considered the home of the best paella in the country. Makes sense, since Valencia has been the major rice-producing area in Spain ever since the grain was introduced to the region by the conquering Moors in the 8th Century. In fact, the first paellas were the midday meal of choice by field workers who cooked rice over an open flame in a shallow pan so the meal could be whipped up quickly under high heat. To the rice base those early field cooks added anything that was handy in the way of vegetables, assorted meats and fish to the mix. Today, the dish looks about the same – a hodgepodge of ingredients and competing flavors that simply work together deliciously.

The secret to a good paella is the rice. Though John prepares each component separately before layering his casserole dish, the key is still in the saffron rice ratio. Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world; the good news is that a little goes a very long way. I could not find saffron powder as called for in John’s recipe, however saffron strands are the most common form and found in most spice sections of any good grocery store. The strands take just a little pre-planning and extra handling. Meaning, use twice as much strands as the half-teaspoon of powder called for in John’s instructions and soak them in about 3 teaspoons of hot water for two hours before combining with the rice.
Image of saffron
Also add the soaking liquid along with the saffron into the chicken broth used to make the rice. Note: do not use a wooden spoon with saffron, it will absorb both the flavor and color as well as ruin the spoon!

John’s heart-friendly recipe uses Melissa’s Soyrizo product rather than the more traditional, cholesterol-packed, chorizo sausage. I first broke up the soyrizo into small bits with a fork in a small bowl so it would blend more evenly with the Heirloom Tomatoes and shrimp mixture. Do not cook the soyrizo first; it will heat up perfectly during the final baking of this dish. With soyrizo one gets all the wonderful seasonings that are in chorizo without the fat content; your palate will not know the difference, but your arteries will!

This recipe is really very straightforward and should be approached one component at a time. Once all the fun of slicing, dicing, cutting, shelling, deveining, sautéing and mixing is completed, it’s just a matter layering the casserole dish in the order prescribed in John’s recipe for the final bake. Be aware that the chicken might have to be sautéed in either two batches or spread between two pans, as four pounds is a lot to fit into one fry pan.

Needless to say, paella would not be appropriate as an intimate romantic dinner for two; it’s a group experience, prepared in large amounts and best presented family style with several spoons to satisfy the inevitable demand for second helpings. So enjoy the solace of a few hours of focused preparation in the kitchen, but invite a tableful of friends to share in the results. In Spain the dish is usually served with a chilled dry rose, light rioja red wine or a cold Spanish beer.
Image of John Dunham
John Dunham is a fresh produce professional, who has worked in the wholesale sector of the Southern California produce industry his entire career. He has been a member of the Melissa’s team for 18 years. When he is not managing the challenges of the ever-changing seasonal availability of perishable fruits and vegetables, John likes to relax by power walking and kayaking as well as cooking with his favorite Cabernet -- in a glass always and sometimes even in the dish! John and wife Janet have three daughters, all in their mid-twenties. Great recipe, John! Come to think of it, with three daughters, this dish could be a real money-saver for those self-catered wedding receptions that are on the horizon, dad!

Oven-Baked Paella
By John Dunham
Serves 10
Image of ingredients for paella

½ cup Olive
4 pounds Skinless Chicken Breasts, cut into bit-sized pieces
½ cup All Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon Salt
¼ teaspoon Fresh Pepper
½ cup Water
2 Tablespoons Fresh Oregano leaves, stems removed
2 cups Maui Onions, chopped
2 cloves Garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons Butter
2 cups Uncooked Long Grain White Rice
½ teaspoon Powder Saffron (Option: 1 teaspoon Strands, soaked)
4½ cups Chicken Stock (reserve ½ cup for Final Baking Process)
½ pound Melissa’s Soyrizo
2 – 8 ounces packages Frozen Artichoke Hearts, thawed
3 - 6 ounces packages Melissa’s Shelled Edamame
2 pounds Heirloom Tomatoes, chopped
1 pound Raw Shrimp or Prawns, shelled & deveined
2 jars (4 ounces) sliced Pimientos
24 Cherrystone Clams


Blend salt, and pepper with flour, then dust chicken pieces.
Image of browning chicken
Heat olive oil in a large skillet and brown the chicken.

Add the water and oregano, cover and cook for 30 minutes over low heat, then set aside.
Image of onion sauté
Sauté the onion and garlic in the same chicken skillet at medium heat for 5 minutes, set aside.

In a large saucepan, combine the rice, saffron and 4 cups chicken stock, then cook for 15-20 minutes.
Image of rice for paella
In a large bowl blend the cooked rice with the onions mixture.

Add in the artichoke hearts and edamame to the rice bowl. Set aside.

In a second large bowl lightly toss together tomatoes, soyrizo and shrimp. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350°.

In a 4-qt shallow casserole pan layer the components in the following order:
Image of paella in a 4-qt shallow casserole pan
Rice mixture.
image of tomato/shrimp mixture over paella
Tomato/shrimp mixture.
Image of arranged chicken pieces on top of paella
Arrange chicken pieces on top and garnish with pimiento.

Pour the last ½ cup chicken stock over the mixture to provide moisture during the bake.

Bake uncovered for 30 minutes total.

During this bake, steam the clams in a separate saucepan.

Pull casserole from oven twenty-five minutes into the bake, top with the steamed clams.
Image of baked paella
Pop back into the oven for the last 5 minutes of baking time.

Chef John note: If there is any Cabernet left in the bottle, drain and set aside!
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