Monday, September 10, 2012

Farewell San Antonio Paella Party

 So yesterday I was invited to a Sunday dinner amongst friends and was totally surprised to find out that it was actually a surprise going away party for my upcoming departure.  Yes, I'm leaving San Antonio once again and returning back to Colorado in the next few days.  Leslie Horne (who is the maker of Aurelia's Chorizo.. Amazing by the way) and Troy Knapp (Executive Chef of the Hyatt Hill Country Resort) got together and invited an all star cast of local foodies to send me off in style.  The biggest surprise of my arrival was that I had been given the task of cooking the main course for everyone which was to be a traditional paella...Now for those who don't know, this is the signature dish at our restaurant downtown "Las Ramblas" located in the Hotel Contessa and we serve over 250 of these a month (much smaller portions of course).  Leslie and I met at a local paella challenge a few months back and I enjoyed her Spanish chorizo so much that we started serving it in the restaurant.  I've known Troy for a few years and can always expect him to host a great party or bust out a flamenco guitar at any moment which of course he eventually did.  

As I was ushered into the kitchen and handed a clean apron, they began to show me all the ingredients provided for my paella challenge.  Opening the refrigerator I found smoked pork belly, chicken thighs, black mussels, littleneck clams, head on shrimp, spanish chorizo, calamari, and of course 2 bags of calasparra rice sitting on the counter.  After securing some onions, peppers, garlic, tomatoes, paprika, and saffron I enlisted my sous chef who was happily drinking in the crowd.  Once he was given an apron as well (Yeah, I totally made him help) we went into the back yard and fired up the propane tank with an enormous paella pan waiting for our arrival.  After some quick knife work and stock preparation we started to build the flavors one ingredient at a time.  The smoked pork belly was rendered in hot fat and then set aside.  Next the chicken thighs were caramelized in the pork fat and removed.  The head on shrimp got a quick dance in the pan before we started to make the sofrito.  Red peppers, onions, garlic, tomatoes, paprika, saffron were all cooked together before we added the calasparra rice.

The rice was toasted before adding the first baptism of stock which was fortified with the chicken bones, lobster shells, shrimp shells, and vegetable scraps.  Now the hard part began which required socializing, enjoy a few glasses of wine, snacking on some great tapas, and monitoring the temperature to ensure the rice was cooking evenly.  Once the rice started to swell, we would add a few more ladles of stock and slowly simmer again and again for about 20 minutes.  Towards the end of the cooking process, we started to garnish the paella rice with all of our reserved proteins.  At the very end of the dish, I cranked the heat up to finish reducing the liquid and begin building the famed soccarat, a crispy almost burnt caramelization that occurs on the bottom of the pan ... After a final nod of approval between my sous chef and myself we started serving up plates and enjoying the fruits of our labor.  I felt truly honored to cook for this amazing group and also throw down with my sous chef Joseph Carrejo one last time.  This was a great way to close this chapter on my career and begin moving on to the next.  As a chef, I truly love cooking for others but even more so when it's people who share my passion. - Brother Luck

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