Christmas Eve Paella

I contributed an article and recipe for this year's 'Home For the Holidays' magazine. The piece is all about the joy of gathering with family and friends during the holiday season. And it 's about how the foods we eat often become part of our family's DNA.

I make Paella on Christmas eve. Over the years, I've made it my own by adding some Northern California flare. An except of the article, recipe and accompanying wine selections follows.

In California, our seasons seem to blend into one another. I recall as many calm and quiet winters as I do blustery, rain-soaked ones. But visit a farm, orchard or vineyard and you’ll see firsthand winter’s embrace on our part of the world.
One of my brothers manages a vineyard, and I am fortunate enough to spend time there during winter. The year’s Pinot Noir harvest is undergoing malolactic fermentation in French oak barrels, and the Chardonnay is beginning its aging process in steel. Workers have a well-earned break from the early-morning to late-evening schedule of autumn. Among the barren vines, there is peaceful rest.
The canopy of leaves is long gone, highlighting the sky’s endless expanse, and the vines rise and sprawl out haphazardly like dreams waiting to be remembered. The first morning light makes frost on the vines glisten and sparkle. It’s months before bud break, and the plants are doing just what they ought this time of year - waiting. They are hunkering down into the sumptuous ground and sinking into their roots in anticipation of what is to come.
As I consider the importance of the vines’ rest, I can’t help but think about how their slumber reflects our own actions during winter. After all, isn’t it this time of year that we sink into our roots by partaking in the holiday customs of our cultural heritage?
The frantic pace of work, school and life slows temporarily and we settle into the celebrations of the season. We toast the successes we’ve had in the preceding months, reflect on the life we’ve lived, rejoice with our loved ones and contemplate peace. Like the vines, we are resting and preparing for new beginnings.
Christine’s Christmas Eve Paella
Cook’s note: Make the cooking a fun affair by enlisting help from your guests and serving a platter of Spanish cheeses, olives, dried figs and quince paste during prep time.


6 cups Quick Seafood Broth (recipe follows) warm
Generous pinch saffron threads
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken  thighs (preparation follows)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 Spanish chorizo sausages, thickly sliced
1 yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
Bunch flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped, set some aside for garnishing
1 (10oz-bag) frozen, cubed butternut squash, defrosted
4 cups paella rice
1 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed
1 pound jumbo shrimp, peeled (shells reserved) and de-veined
1 pound bay scallops
1 cooked and cleaned Dungeness, claws removed but body intact
1 cup frozen petite peas, thawed
3 whole roasted red peppers from jar, sliced thinly
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Lemon wedges, for serving

Special equipment: Large paella pan Preparation

One Hour Before Cooking (or earlier in the day)

Prepare chicken and clean shrimp (reserving shells to make seafood broth) and refrigerate.
Quick Seafood Broth:

6 cups of water
Reserved shrimp shells
1 onion, quartered
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1 bunch parsley
Large pinch of whole black peppercorns
  1. Place all ingredients in a large pot over medium. Bring to boil then reduce heat so broth is just simmering for 1 hour.
  2. Strain broth; discard shells, onions, garlic parsley and peppercorns.
  3. Return broth to stove, add generous pinch of saffron and salt to taste, keep warm on lowest temperature.
Prepare Chicken Thighs:

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 teaspoon sweet paprika
½ teaspoon oregano
Kosher salt to taste
  1. Cube chicken thighs into 1 inch pieces, sprinkle with paprika, oregano and kosher salt then cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
For Dinner
  1. Heat oil in a paella pan over medium-high heat. Brown the chorizo, remove and reserve.
  2. Add chicken pieces and brown on all sides, turning with tongs. Remove from pan and reserve.
  3. Add onions and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, add parsley, garlic and butternut squash and sauté for 5 minutes more or until mixture is caramelized. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.
  4. Fold in the rice and stir to coat the grains.
  5. Pour in broth and simmer for 10 minutes, using the handles, slowly rotate the pan during cooking time to ensure the broth is evenly absorbed (do not stir).
  6. Add reserved chorizo and chicken. Add the clams, scallops, and shrimp, burying each slightly into the rice. Cook for about 7-8 minutes or until shrimp is pink.
  7. Using the handles of pan, vigorously shake paella and then let it continue to simmer for roughly 15 minutes (do not stir).
  8. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, when the rice is still slightly al dente, add the peas, sliced roasted red peppers and crab, placing the claws throughout and laying the body in the center.
  9. The rice will become fluffy and moist looking and you’ll know the paella is cooked. At this point, crank the heat up to high for about 30 seconds just to toast the bottom of the rice (called socarrat the toasted rice is critical to a perfect paella)

Let rest for 5 minutes. Garnish with parsley and lemon wedges and serve in pan.
What to Drink
Paella is a down-to-earth dish, so keeping the wine simple makes sense. I like to serve Spanish wines, but California roses or syrahs would be wonderful with it too.

This year, I’m serving Martin Codax 2011 Albarino from the Rias Baixas region. Albarino is a Spanish white varietal. The crisp minerality, fresh aromatics and juicy tropical notes of the Martin Codax is just right with the seafood-laden paella.
For red, I’ll serve Las Rocas 2009 Garnacha from Calatayud. The hints of dark cherry and blackberry make this well-structured and light wine a wonderful compliment to the rustic flavors of the rice dish. Chill slightly before service.
A Cava would be fun to serve too and don’t forget some sparkling pomegranate cider for the non-drinkers.

You can read the complete article here.


Popular Posts