Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Michael Chiarello Spins A Spanish Spread

Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello

Vacation Celebration
Paella Italiana
Sliced Orange Salad with Sauteed Olives and Ricotta Salata
Sparkling Sangria
Serrano Ham and Manchego Cheese Plate

To get the recipes:
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Back from visiting his daughter in Spain, Michael brought back some recipes that he’s adapted to his own way of cooking.

MC starts with an Italian spin on paella, explaining that “paella is to Spain what risotto is to Italians,” and that each region puts its own spin on the dish. Today he’s using chicken, sausage and shrimp. He dices his vegetables – onions, celery, and carrots - very finely. I must say, I don’t remember EVER seeing celery or carrots in a paella, but we must remember he’s doing this Italian style.

Michael heats his Dutch oven and adds ¼ cup olive oil. Obviously, if he WERE making real paella, he would use a wide shallow pan that doesn’t have to have a particularly thick base. In fact, the crust that develops on the bottom is the most prized part of the paella. Michael DOES say not to use a nonstick pan, so you get some browning action.

He seasons his chicken breast pieces with salt and pepper. Now this IS interesting. He almost never uses boneless chicken breasts. They certainly wouldn’t in Spain, but HERE he is. Curious. He adds his chicken to the hot pan, telling us to make sure to add them in one layer, so they don’t steam. He cooks them until lightly browned and then adds the sausages briefly.

He got his fish guy to peel the shrimp for him. Michael seasons the shrimp and adds it to the pan. Then he adds oregano and some yummy smoked paprika (my favorite spice at the moment). He stirs well to flavor the food AND the oil. He takes out the chicken, sausage and shrimp and puts them on a baking sheet. His thinking here is that he doesn’t want to overcook them, so he’s going to add them toward the end of the rice’s cooking time.

Mike adds his beautifully diced vegetables to the fragrant and wonderfully flavored oil. This IS going to be good. He sweats the vegetables on a medium low heat until they’re soft, but not brown.

Luckily, we have a split second worth of macho food professionals bonding, as he buys cheese and tastes Serrano ham.

MC moves on to the heart of the paella, which is the rice. He’s using Arborio. As long as you use a short-grain rice, you’re ok. He adds it to the pan, cooking it for 30 to 40 seconds to pick up all the flavors on the bottom of the pan. (The recipe says one minute. In Spain, it could be as long as 5 minutes or as short as just coating the rice with oil. One to two minutes is a good compromise.)

He adds his stock all at once, plus a can of tomatoes. He seasons liberally saying “We're going to want to season this, 'cause we have only one chance to get salt inside the rice.” He adds saffron, discussing its rare provenance. The mixture gets brought to the boil, covered and placed in a 350 deg F. oven for 15 to 20 minutes.

Our host goes on to an easily arranged appetizer of Serrano ham, “the Spanish version of prosciutto.” He tells us that the difference between the two is that the Spaniards "use a different pig than the Italians. They use a white pig (which) is only fed on acorns" and is aged for 9 months. Then he tells us that the Italians porkers are also fed acorns, so the point is...? He says that the Serrano ham tastes much sweeter. (Actually, I understood that only the most luxurious of the Serrano hams comes from acorn-fed pigs and in Italy, the big guys are fed all kinds of different things, depending on the region.)

The Serrano ham gets arranged on the plate, followed by Manchego cheese, made for sheep's milk from the La Mancha region of Spain. (You may substitute a pecorino from Italy). He scatters the manchego over the prosciutto. Before serving, he’ll drizzle over a bit of extra virgin olive oil.

He’s outside gathering fresh oranges and dill.

Michael takes out the rice and adds the chicken, sausage and shrimp on top with all their juices. Covers and puts the pan back in the oven for another 10 to 15 minutes.

I do have something to say about this dish and I’m saying it directly to the chef. Michael, baby, those of us who follow you are up for a bit of a challenge. We could have handled learning how to make a real paella. (I’m not bragging, but I do make quite a good one.) You could have put your Italian Stallion mark on it, and still cooked it in the traditional way. This dish, while quite tasty (I made it 2 days ago… sorry…sans photos) is basically a creamy pilaf. The rice in a paella should have a bit of a bite, because of the cooking technique of bringing it to the boil initially, and then finishing it, UNCOVERED, in the oven.

Let’s move on to Michael’s colorful accompaniment - an orange and olive salad. He starts by removing the peel from 2 oranges in strips. (Don’t get any of the white bitter pith in there.) He juliennes them VERY finely. I would (in fact I DID) use HALF the amount of orange zest. He pits the cured olives in an interesting way, by smashing each one with his thumb and squeezing out the pit. They get cut in half. He chops rosemary…not as finely as the recipe suggests…and cooks it in hot oil until it begins to crisp, less than 30 seconds. He adds the olives and orange peel and seems to cook it a bit longer than the few seconds called for in the recipe. He does his fancy tossing action and sets the pan aside.

He juices a pair of oranges and adds salt to the juice, so it will dissolve before the oil goes in. MC eyeballs the fresh orange juice and adds twice the amount of olive oil.

To get nice orange slices, he cuts both ends of the oranges off and then removes the peel in strips by running his knife down the sides of the orange. He halves the peeled fruit lengthwise and slices them thinly. Those go into a bowl with the spinach. The olive mixture from the frying pan goes in with the dressing. He tosses and plates the salad. Then he GRATES (that’s different) ricotta salata over the top. He loves “the tangy citrus with salty olives and sweet spinach.” I made this salad and I LOVED the olive component. The dressing was blah, however, so I added a touch of balsamic vinegar, which did perk it up. Next time I think I’ll just use my regular vinaigrette. Or maybe I would add a bit of those wonderful new oils, an orange flavored oil would be divine.

Michael moves on to the cocktail, which is inspired by the Spanish Sangria. I like how he’s doing this. He's mixing the base of the drink in a large clear glass bowl, from which he'll serve. He stirs together ¼ cup sugar with 1 cup brandy. “The brandy is hiding behind the sugar, no one can really taste it.” He adds ½ cup orange liqueur and a sliced lime, lemon and orange. A container of raspberries goes on top. Then he pours in 2 bottles of Cava. He serves it over ice in wine glasses with a bit of fruit in each glass. How fabulous it that?!

The friends snack on the prosciutto. Did he think we wouldn't recognize Koerner Rombauer??? Of course, we did. (He wanted us to, too).* They all love the paella. Michael toasts Koerner “Salute! 100 years!” For you, too, my chef.

*Okay, so I replayed it over and over again, until I could read his shirt that said Rombauer Vineyards...and how many Koerners could there be?

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