09 May 2009

Recipe - cheat’s paella or cheating at rice dishes

Recipe - cheat’s paella or cheating at rice dishes

During the week, we have a constant battle at the end of each day to make something nutritious for the family in the 45 minutes after picking up the kids from school and tea time.  The meal needs to be made at the same time as we’re trying to persuade the kids to look at their homework and contemplate doing their music practice.


Finding things that are interesting to eat, and are quick and simple, are a real challenge.  This type of cooking is sadly neglected by TV chefs and most cookery writers who assume limitless time & money and an unrestricted storecupboard, which is sadly very depleted by Thursday night.


The cheat’s paella is something that fills the gap.  It assumes only that you have got some rice, some onions, some garlic and some paprika in the house. 


I am also going to explain it a bit differently from the way most recipes are shown; one of my issues with much of cookery done on TV and in books is that it is done as if we are in a chemistry lesson, i.e. here’s a list of things you need and a load of steps to follow.  I don’t think this is how cooking should be explained or shown as most cooking is based around a few processes or steps that can then be built on infinitely to make a whole range of different flavours but based around the same starting concept.  Paella is similar, or at least a cheat’s paella is similar.


The core process


Stage 1 – making the rice


225g     Rice (theoretically it should be paella/risotto rice but we actually prefer a long-grained rice like basmati, plus basmati is more versatile in our house)

450ml   Water

6          Threads of saffron (optional)


Cook the rice how you would normally cook it until it is still a bit crunchy.  This should take about 10 minutes.  If you want to use the saffron, put the saffron in a mug or measuring jug, boil some water in a kettle and pour about 200ml of hot water onto the saffron.  Leave it to infuse for about 10 minutes, then strain this liquid into the rice and use it to cook the rice, replacing 200ml of the 450ml of water from the above recipe.  Actually, there is no need to be this precise - we assume a cupped hand of rice per person and then just cover the rice with water and cook, topping up as you need it.  With rice practice makes you better (rarely perfect). 


Stage 2 – making the base flavour


3          Cloves garlic

1          Medium-sized onion

2tbsp    Olive oil

2tsp      Paprika

Pinch    Salt


Chop up garlic and onion finely.  I actually put these in a food processor as our children are at that stage where (if they can see them) garlic and onions are the devil’s food, but if you chop them up really finely they don’t even notice that they are eating it.  Add the olive oil to a heavy-bottomed pan and over a medium heat cook the garlic-onions until they are just beginning to brown at the edges.  Add the paprika and salt and stir together.


Personalising the dish


Stage 3 – being creative


This is the stage at which you personalise the rice dish.  Basically you need some vegetables (traditionally this would be 2 rice tomatoes and 1 red pepper but we often add broccoli as the kids love eating this) and some protein (traditionally wild rabbit, crayfish, prawns or snails, none of which are very easy to come by, so we use ham, pre-cooked prawns and any left-over meat in the fridge).  Down below is how we did it the other day:


1          Breast of chicken, chopped into bite sized cubes

10        Scallops

16        Slices of chorizo

10        Pre-cooked prawns


These things are cooked together with the garlic-onion in the order needed to ensure that they are all cooked through.  Raw chicken is added a few minutes before starting to the cook the garlic-onions and will take about the same length of time as the onions.  The scallops take about 3 minutes so are added towards the end of cooking the onions, i.e. after about 5-6 minutes, then the chorizo and prawns are added in the last 2 minutes just to cook them through.  Add the drained rice to the vegetables and meat and mix thoroughly.


Serve with a green salad.


It is useful to have the oven on at 125oC at the same time, so if you get your timing wrong, you can either put the rice of the meat mix into the oven to keep warm, or if your kids are playing up and don’t come to tea straight away you can keep the whole lot warm in the oven without it spoiling.


Variations on a theme


You can make this into any style of cuisine by changing the flavour in Stage 2, so if you replace the paprika with curry powder, it can become a kedgeree style meal.  Here are some simple ideas:


1tsp Madras curry powder, plus replace chorizo with fish = cheat’s kedgeree rice


1tsp Nasi goreng, plus change chorizo for cooked ham, and add some salted peanuts (coarsely chopped) and 1 tablespoon light soy sauce = cheat’s Indonesian nasi goreng