Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Way back in high school, my friend Jeff and I used to talk about reading classic books. We'd walk through the Fiction and Literature section of Barnes & Noble, pointing out all the books we might like to read someday (we were very cool high school kids). Then Barnes & Noble took somewhat of a back seat to beer and college. Since then Jeff has read a bunch of those classics, as he has morphed from a chemical engineering major to an aspiring writer/teacher, but I felt I was finally ready to give it a go as well. So this past summer we belatedly began our book club, with a focus on classic books. The club has experienced robust growth over the past months, blossoming to include a 3rd quasi-member.

Our first book was Herman Melville's masterpiece, Moby Dick, which contained an amusing chapter dedicated to chowder. Ishamael and his new friend Queequeg find themselves in the Try Pots Inn facing the question, "Clam or Cod?" Ishamael ponders how a single, cold clam can serve as dinner for two, and is pleasantly surprised...

But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh, sweet friends! hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuit, and salted pork cut up into little flakes; the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt. -Ishamael narrating from Moby Dick

Ishamael enjoys the clam chowder so much, that he has a bowl of cod chowder as well. When it came time to have our first book club meeting, Jeff and I discussed Moby Dick in what we thought was a very fitting way - over a bowl of curried cod chowder (a recipe I'll post the next time I make it because it is really good).

We recently completed our second book, Hemingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls, which takes place in pre-WWII Spain. Like all good clubs, ours began establishing tradition right away, beginning with eating something somehow related to the book at our meetings. At one point in the For Whom The Bell Tolls, somebody traps two large rabbits which were made into stew (and later on some tasty sandwiches). I didn't think my wife would go for that, so Jeff suggested paella (the only Spanish dish he knew).

Now the only thing I knew about paella is what I learned in the classic Seinfeld episode "The Raincoats"...

Kramer: Have you ever had really good paella?
Morty: Not really.
Kramer: Oh, it’s an orgiastic feast for the senses. A festival of sights, sounds and colors.

...so I did a little research. Paella is a traditional rice and saffron dish that is usually cooked on a stove top or over an open fire in shallow pans. The recipe I settled on was a bastardized version from America's Test Kitchen that uses a dutch oven pot, and does some of the cooking in the oven. I'd had great success with Test Kitchen recipes in the past, they are always good because they are well researched and tested, and this time was no exception. I modified the recipe a bit by replacing the chorizo with a little butter and salt (my wife doesn't eat sausage in any form), and the mussels with sea scallops. The only thing I didn't like about this recipe was that the cooking instructions are in small paragraphs, which tends to confuse me and I lose my place. I re-wrote it in a more step by step fashion which I included at the bottom of this post.

This is not a quick and easy recipe. It's not hard either, but good mise en place is essential as there are quite a few steps to this recipe and not much time to prep ingredients in between. Things move in and out of the pot quite a bit, so have some clean bowls or plates on hand as you cook.

First preheat your oven to 375 degrees, prep the ingredients, season the shrimp and scallops with salt, pepper, oil, and garlic, and season the chicken with salt and pepper.

You are supposed to cook the pepper strips in a bit of oil next, but I somehow skipped this step. I didn't realize this until I put the chicken in the pot, so I ended up cooking the peppers in a separate skillet. Both the chicken and peppers are cooked until browned (or bubbly and slightly blackened in the case of the peppers) and removed from the pot. To the pot add some butter, salt, and a little more oil (to bring the total fat in the pan to about 2 tablespoons). The onions go in next for about 3 minutes, and are then joined by the garlic and cooked until fragrant.

Add the tomato to the pot and cook until the mixture thickens and darkens slightly, 1 to 2 minutes, then stir in the rice and cook for about 2 more minutes.

At this point the recipe slows down a bit. You add the broth, wine, bay leaf, saffron, and some more salt then bring the mixture to a boil stirring occasionally.

Once it boils you cover the pot and place it in the oven for 15 minutes. Take out the the pot, uncover and scatter the shrimp and scallops over the top of the rice, arrange the pepper strips in a neat pattern, and scatter the peas over everything. Cover the pot and put it back in the oven for 12 minutes. When it comes out again, uncover it and put it over medium-high heat for 2 minutes, then turn the pot 180 degrees and cook for 3 more minutes. This step develops soccarat, a tasty layer of crusty brown rice on the bottom of the pot. Take the pot off the heat, cover it, and let it sit for 5 minutes. Sprinkle some parsley over the top, spoon into bowls, and serve with lemon wedges.

The finished dish was superb and I would encourage anybody to try it. The way the ingredients blend together, with no one flavor dominating, is amazing. The shrimp and scallops were perfectly cooked, as were the chicken and the rice. This recipe looks and tastes impressive, and I would recommend making it when you have a few friends to share in the deliciousness. I would also recommend reading some classics, both Moby Dick and For Whom The Bell Tolls are excellent choices (and a good excuse to make some cod chowder or paella).


Paella (ATK dutch oven version modified by Darron)
About 2 to 2 ½ hours to prepare and cook
Feeds 4 to 6 depending on portion


  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 9 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1 pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • ½ pound (about 8) large sea scallops
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut in half horizontally
  • 1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into ½ inch wide strips
  • 1 Tbs butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped fine (about 1 cup)
  • 1 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained, minced, and drained again
  • 2 cups Arborio Rice
  • 3 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • ½ tsp saffron threads, crumbled
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • ½ cup of frozen peas, thawed
  • 2 Tbs chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges for serving
  1. Heat oven to 375
  2. Toss shrimp with 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, 1 Tbs oil, 1 tsp of the garlic, refrigerate
  3. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper
  4. Heat 2 tsp oil in a large dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering.
  5. Cook the pepper strips, stirring occasionally, until the skin begins to blister and turn spotty black, about 3 to 4 minutes, remove peppers from pot and set aside
  6. Add 1 tsp of oil to pot and heat until shimmering
  7. Add chicken pieces in a single layer, cook without moving for 3 minutes, turn and cook for 3 more minutes until brown, remove chicken from pot and set aside
  8. Add 1 Tbs butter and 1 tsp salt to pan, melt
  9. Add enough oil so that in combination with the butter, there are about 2 tablespoons of fat in the pan (probably add about 1 Tbs)
  10. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 3 to 4 minutes
  11. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minutes
  12. Stir in the tomatoes, cook until the mixture begins to darken and thicken slightly, about 1 to 2 minutes
  13. Stir in the rice and cook until the grains are well coated with the tomato/onion mixture, 1 to 2 minutes
  14. Stir in the chicken broth, wine, saffron, baby leaf, and ½ tsp salt
  15. Return the chicken to the pot, increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil uncovered, stirring occasionally
  16. Cover the pot and put it in the oven for 15 minutes
  17. Remove the pot from the oven and uncover
  18. Scatter the shrimp and scallops over the rice
  19. Arrange the pepper strips into an attractive pattern
  20. Scatter the peas over the top of the shrimp, scallops, and peppers
  21. Cover and return to the oven for 12 minutes
  22. Remove the pot from the oven, place on a burner set to medium-high heat and uncover
  23. Cook for 2 minutes, rotate the pan 180 degrees, and cook for 3 more minutes
  24. Remove the paella from the heat and cover
  25. Allow the paella to stand for 5 minutes
  26. If you can find it, remove the bay leaf, then sprinkle with parsley and serve with lemon wedges


The Kid said...

I have only two things to say:
1) I want in on the book club, seriously.
2) I want some fucking paella right now.

I'm sorry for yelling.

Darron said...

You want in? Just pick up a copy of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead and try to read it by the beginning of March (a date that will almost certainly get pushed back). There's probably no paella in the book, but I'm sure we'll find something good.

ob said...

haha the book club sounds like a cool little club...are there any outlandish initiation requirements?

Darron said...

In order to join our club you have to memorize the complete works of Shakespeare, then recite Hamlet or Macbeth backwards (it's your choice which one)...if you fail then you get 30 wacks in the ass with Webster's Unabridged Dictionary and won't get to try again for one year. Other than that, just read the book we're reading and you're in.

MrOrph said...

I just made a pan of paella this past weekend and it turned out delicious!

Your version looks awesome!

Pete the Greek said...

The paella was great, but a certain little girl sitting in a high chair next to me complained of the amount of (or lack of) peas. So, add more peas, and make her and the high chair happy!

Also, for your book club, can one skip the Shakespeare initiation and move directly to the 30 whacks?