Arroz Caldoso con Cangrejo – or Holidays, Romance and Crabs

Any of you who have followed my blog since way back when may recall a trip we made a few years back to the north of Spain. To Galicia and Asturias more precisely. An insanely beautiful part of the country, lush and green. Lush and green because, like in Scotland or the English Lake District, it rains a lot. And rain (and rain) it did. Which left us plenty of time for eating and drinking. Always look on the bright side, I say.

DSCF1371_picnik

I don’t know why it surprised us that it rained, even though it was only the tail end of summer, as holidays and special occasions are generally a complete disaster for Big Man and me.

DSCF1298

Our anniversary falls on 11th November so aside from the fact a lot of folk are quite rightly marking a very solemn memorial to all those who lost their lives in conflict, it’s a dreadful time of year for good weather in the Northern Hemisphere. Christmas and Birthdays generally involve some sort of disaster or a member of the extended family falling ill so we’ve now accepted that we’ll not get ourselves too worked up over celebrations and holidays and just enjoy the everyday joys.

There is a point to all this reminiscing. Today I bought two cooked and dressed crabs at the local fishmonger intending to boil some potatoes, make a salad and call it lunch. Big Man began to talk about an amazing meal we’d had on our trip to the north of Spain. The rain poured down, the wind howled and the first hotel we stayed in was nice but miles out of town. After a long, long drive we decided to do something we rarely do and EAT IN THE HOTEL RESTAURANT. What a good decision that was. The food was incredible and we made the most of it, ordering their speciality of Arroz Caldoso con Bogavante (which translates as brothy rice with lobster) for our last night there. Why didn’t I make “brothy” rice with crab he asked? Why not indeed, so I did, and absolutely wonderful it was too.

If you have an earthenware cazuela to make and serve this in, use it (Celia, I’m talking about you!). It really makes a difference to the flavour and is more authentic.

Ingredients (to serve 4)

  • The meat from 2 cooked crabs (white and brown) which will weigh about 260g – although you can use raw too but will need to cook them first
  • About 1.2l of fish stock made from the crab shells and any other bits of fish you can beg from your fishmonger and with a few strands of saffron added
  • 400g paella rice
  • 1 small onion finely chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 200g chopped, peeled tomatoes (if using tinned, and why wouldn’t you, make sure to drain them first)
  • A splash of brandy
  • Salt & Pepper
  • A lemon, quartered
  • Some finely chopped parsley to serve
  • Olive oil

Gently fry the onion in a little olive oil until it is softened but not browned then add the garlic and cook for a minute. Add the tomatoes and cook gently for about 10 minutes and add the splash of brandy. Next add the rice and stock.

Arroz Caldoso con Cangrejo 006

(A little reminder, if you’re making paella you’ll need 100g of rice per person approximately and for every 100g of rice you need about 210ml of liquid. For brothy rice you need the same amount of rice but 3 times the amount of liquid, so approx 300ml to every 100g of rice.)

Cook gently, half covered until the rice is almost done, add more stock if it’s drying out too much, then add the cooked crab meat, stir and taste and add seasoning if necessary at this point. Turn the heat off, cover the pan and let the rice rest for at least 5 minutes and to let the rice finish cooking. Serve with a little parsley sprinkled over and wedges of lemon to squeeze over the food.

This is a dish made with a few ingredients but which lets them shine, it tastes luxurious and decadent. Which made me think it would be good for a Valentines meal – very romantic. Unless you happen to be us and also have Valentine’s Disasters…but more of that in a few days.

If you want to see more of the North of Spain, do check out the links at the start of the post, which I hope you’ll enjoy.

Chicken Paella

Guess who loves black pepper?!

I can´t believe I´ve done so many posts without doing one on the famous Spanish Paella!  Paella traditionally comes from Valencia, up towards the north of Spain, and very good it is too.  People think of prawns and mussels when they talk of paella (which here is pronounced along the lines of pie-eh-ya) but there are meat versions and mixed meat and seafood versions, although not many vegetarian ones.

If you can buy proper paella rice, it does make all the difference.  Use long grain and it won´t be able to soak up all the flavours.  Use risotto rice and it will go creamy.  Paella rice plumps up, absorbs the flavour but the grains stay separate.

In Andalucía they tend to make more Arroz or Arroz Caldoso, which translates as Rice or Brothy Rice.  This is exactly the same as a paella, but with more stock, giving a more soupy dish. Whether you make Arroz or Paella, the technique is the same, it´s just the quantity of liquid that varies.

And now, allow me to let you into a little secret.  The beautiful colour of a Paella?  Saffron? Well, sometimes, but most housewives here use artificial colouring.  I was shocked when I found out – perhaps even more than when I realised how expensive saffron is, but I´m just letting you know.  I try not to use anything artificial in my cooking, and have been known to slip a little turmeric in, which doesn´t really affect the taste but gives a good golden colour.  You can also use paella spice sachets which contain salt, garlic, paprika, saffron and ground cloves….oh, and a little colouring too.  There´s no getting away from it.  I leave it to you…make your own mix with a few strands of saffron, or use a mix.  I won´t judge you!

So, here´s how I made this paella.  I can´t claim my version today is typically Andaluz, it was a ”what have we got in the fridge?” kind of day.  The beauty of this is that you can make it however you fancy.

  • A cup of cooked chicken
  • A quarter cup of diced jamon
  • Two cloves of crushed garlic
  • One small onion, finely chopped
  • One long thin green pepper, finely chopped
  • A stick of celery finely chopped
  • A cup of chopped tomatoes
  • About 3 cups of chicken stock
  • One and a half cups of rice
  • Seasoning
  • Olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons of hot pimentón (optional)
  • Paella spices
  • Lemons to serve

You can make this in a large frying pan if you don´t have a paella pan, or a saucepan if you want to make arroz. The paella pan in the photo is meant to serve four (!).  We ate about two thirds of it between the two of us and there was enough left over for a few tapas portions the next day.

Soften your onion, celery and pepper in olive oil and then add the crushed garlic.  When the garlic has softened, add your pimentón (or chilli powder) and spices and stir in. Now add your tomatoes and cook gently for a minute or two then put your chicken, jamon and stock in and allow to boil.  I find that for a paella I use double the quantity of liquid to rice, 3 times for arroz. 

When the liquid is boiling, add the rice and some seasoning, stir it all around and reduce the heat.  I often partly cover the dish with a large lid.  You don´t need to stir it like a risotto, some will stick on the bottom, but in my house we fight for those bits!  I can´t be more precise about quantities as a lot will depend on how much liquid your rice absorbs. Have a pot of boiling water or stock on the side and if you feel it´s cooking too quickly add a little more.

When the rice is almost cooked, but not quite there, turn it off and cover it.  Use tin foil or a lid.  These last few minutes “resting” are important.  Here they say that arroz can be “mal cocinado, pero bien reposado” which means badly cooked but well rested.  Hopefully yours will be both bien cocindao and bien reposado!

Laid back and rested rice

And that´s it, serve with plenty of lemons to squeeze over and a glass of your favourite wine.

I´ll do a seafood version soon – my two best girlfriends in the world are coming to stay tomorrow, so no doubt we´ll have plenty of cooking, eating and wine drinking sessions together that I can share with you all!