Dinner With The Omnivore

A pale imitation of paella

Posted on: May 31, 2012

Preview of my next life.

I have noted before that the middle of the Alps is a foolish place for a fish-lover. In my next incarnation I shall get into sailing at an early age, and spend my summers on the Med, skippering yachts for wealthy holidaymakers while eating nothing but fresh fish and trousering the sort of fortune which will allow me to spend every winter snowboarding without the inconvenience of having to work. Why don’t they tell you about these options when they’re dishing out careers advice in school? Because they want you to have the same kind of boring crappy life they do, that’s why.

Anyway, the quest for acceptable fishy food continues to be reasonably successful, with the discovery of marinaded anchovy fillets on Casino’s deli counter, actual real kippers in Leclerc, and the possibilities offered by paella. Or pseudo-paella, if I’m honest, but you have to take what you can get this far inland.

The key to competent paella, I discover, is to remember that it is not risotto. Risotto is soggy and frankly rather uninspiring, whereas paella is drier and generally tastes of something. Fish, if we get it right. Cook it the way you would rice (ie twice as much water as rice, cook until the water disappears then put a lid on, turn the gas off and waut for 10 minutes). This means it takes about 20 minutes from start to finish, so if you want it full of chicken legs and other things which take longer than that, you have to cook them first. I discovered this the hard way and ended up with a sticky sludge of overcooked rice and undercooked chicken. I think we may well have eaten takeaway pizza that evening.

Risotto. Yes, it does look like dubious porridge with bits in.

The easiest way to obtain a decent fishy vibe without access to proper fish is to make liberal use of tinned tuna and smoked salmon, but I was aiming to avoid a rice-based version of Alpine Fish Pie, and besides, one of the attractions of paella is that it’s full of seafood. Frozen seafood clearly isn’t a patch on fresh stuff, but it works reasonably well as long as you cook it with a load of other things, and isn’t nearly so taseless as frozen white fish, which is a complete waste of money if you ask me.

Having discovered early on that I needed to pre-cook the chicken legs, I ditched them as an ingredient. Well, can you be bothered cooking dinner twice? No, me neither. I also ditched the white fish idea in short order (see above) and replaced it with salmon, which makes a better fist of surviving the freezing process. This is a long way off being authentic, but at least it tastes of fish.

Finally, a handful of big fat prawns complete with heads and whiskers adds yet more fishiness as well making the whole thing look more or less like real paella. I’d add a few mussels in shells for the same effect, but nowhere round here sells mussels other than in vac-packed moules marinieres form, and they’re always disappointing so I never bother.

So here it is, the final tweaked and tested Alpine Paella recipe. Ta-daaah!

Alpine Paella

You will need: about five cm of hot chorizo sausage; an onion; some frozen peas; frozen seafood mix; salmon steak; big fat prawns; paprika; paella rice.

Slice up the chorizo and fry it along with the onion and frozen peas. Chop up the salmon into chunks and add it along with the seafood and big prawns. Season with paprika and pepper, then sauté the lot for five minutes or so before adding the rice along with twice its own volume of water. Cook until all the water has disappeared, then turn the heat off, put a lid on the pan and leave to steam for 10 minutes.

I realise there is an irritatingly Jamie Oliveresque haphazardness about these instructions, what with the glaring lack of specific quantities of anything, but really it depends on how much of the stuff you want. I find that one salmon steak is enough for two, as is a whole onion, so I add enough of everything else for two as well and then eat it two days running. It reheats well in the oven, usual caveats regarding reheating rice without killing yourself. I’m sure you’ll all manage.

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