Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Magical Evening with Lobster Paella!

Last week, Gerard and I were invited to dine with Domingo Zapata, a contemporary artist who was born in Spain, lives in Soho and is summering in Millbrook. Domingo prepared his Lobster Paella, which he claims is the “best in the world” and adds, “If you try it and don’t think it is the best – do not tell me about it!”  Well I tried it and have to admit that while I cannot vouch for the rest of the world, it was certainly the best I have ever eaten! Moreover, he let me come into the kitchen and watch him prepare it, so I can now relate to you – the secrets of Domingo’s paella!

First, he started with his paella pan – a large round pan with handles which is first used on top of the stove, then in the oven and finally brought to the table to serve the magnificent paella.  He placed the pan on a medium high heat to make his “sofrito” by first adding the olive oil, then chopped onion and green pepper and fried all of this for about 5 minutes. He then added the chopped tomato and continued to fry gently. Next were 3 cups of rice, which he stirred in well so that all of the rice was coated with the “Sofrito”.  On the side, he prepared a mixture of garlic, saffron, chopped parsley and a pinch of salt. He added the water and the mixture to the pan and brought the liquid to a boil. He seasoned with coarse salt and two beef bouillon cubes. Covering the pan with a lid, he turned down the heat and allowed it to simmer for 10 minutes. He then added the lobster pieces to the dish, covered and simmered for another 10 minutes. After checking that there was enough liquid (if it looks like it is getting dry, more water should be added at this point.), he placed the pan uncovered in the oven (preheated to 350F), and allowed the rice to absorb all of the liquid and flavorings while the lobster cooked through for about 40 minutes.

During this time we drank a bottle of Rose on the terrace and snacked on some guacamole! It was one of those “magical starry nights” with the air clear and comfortable. Neither muggy; nor chilly. Coyotes howling in the distance and even the mosquitoes seemed to be somewhere else.

The lobster paella was a beautiful site, but it was the aromas that accompanied that pan to the table that told me I was about to taste “the best paella in the world”!.... and I think I did!

2 lobsters in their shells cut into pieces
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 green or yellow pepper, finely chopped
½ red pepper, finely chopped
2 medium-sized tomatoes, skinned and finely chopped
3 cups of rice
a pinch of saffron strands 
a sprig of parsley, finely chopped
olive oil
6 cups of water or stock
2 beef bouillon cubes

Meat & Seafood
Many different protein products can go into a paella. Chicken, rabbit, chorizo, lobster, shrimp, mussels, clams, etc are all excellent paella ingredients, and any mixture thereof is acceptable. (I am told even snails can be added- but I have never actually seen that!) Fresh shellfish is always better, but you can use frozen lobster tails and/or frozen shrimp in which case they must be completely thawed, still in their shells and I would use Seafood Stock instead of water to increase the flavor.
The liquid in which the paella cooks should be rich and flavorful. Domingo used water with beef bouillon cubes; others use fish, seafood or chicken stock.
Use a firm and absorbent rice. Spaniards always use short-grained rice, such as” “Bomba”, “Valenciano”, Calasparra or Goya’s medium grain riceiwhich absorb the richness of the broth while each grain remains  distinct.
Use real Spanish saffron. In harder times, Spaniards substituted "colorante" a yellow artificial coloring with a turmeric base – but it is not as good.. It will not have the deep aroma and flavor. I found a decent Spanish saffron at Marona’s!

This is the occasion to discover a nice Spanish wine, Abando 2007, a striking white Rioja made from Viura grapes. Its beautiful light golden yellow and aromatic complexity highlights the nuances of tropical fruit, balsamic and mint, jointly with the aromas of vanilla and toasted oak. The palate is creamy, with superb acidity, structure and flavor, leaving a long and tasty souvenir. $19.99.  Or, a lovely pairing and a great buy from Jean Luc Colombo’s Cote Bleue Rose 2010 A light, slightly crisp rose, showing brisk cherry pit and watermelon rind notes and a dry, mineral finish. $19.99 a magnum ! Both at Cascade Wine & Spirits in Amenia.

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