Some foods are meant for parties.
Paella — the classic Spanish rice dish typically studded with chorizo, chicken, shellfish and veggies — is one of them, arriving at the table sizzling hot from the fire and ready for sharing. Like most Spanish food, it’s best when paired with an abundance of strong cocktails and good company.
In the winter, and in fact all year round, it’s easy to find a variety of hearty paella dishes on the menu around town, as chefs follow their flavor inspirations and passion for sourcing local, seasonal ingredients.
Many of the paella dishes are traditional, such as at the new fine dining establishment Can Font in Portland’s Pearl District (the first location outside of Catalonia for this Michelin-recognized restaurant. You’ll also find paella aplenty at the time-honored establishments Ataula (in Northwest Portland), Andina (in the Pearl District) and Toro Bravo (in Northeast Portland).
Others preparations are playful variations on the classic. You can sample some of the most inspired paella dishes and other Spanish cuisine at La Ruta PDX, an annual Spanish gastronomic festival, in July.
We sat down with Jacob Harth, executive chef at the Spanish-influenced Bar Casa Vale in Southeast Portland, to ask about his new paella dish and paella’s universal appeal. With background as a master metal worker, owner Nate Tilden built the wood-fired hearth for paella making at Bar Casa Vale, which made the dish a natural fit for the menu.
How does paella fit with your culinary approach?
It’s a huge part of Spanish cuisine and our service model is about sharing the food as it’s ready. Paella is like the grand finale of the meal. It comes straight out of the wood fire, still steaming, and it’s just very sharable. Our food is very inauthentic; it’s Spanish-inspired but Mediterranean food that’s creative, with big flavors and balanced. We wanted to put our stamp on it, make it more interesting.
Paella seems very labor-intensive. Tell us about your preparation.
We do very traditional Bomba (short-grain Valencia) rice, toast it in oil and add white wine and squid ink, with a little all-purpose stock. We let it simmer, and stir it constantly. Once the rice is cooked we don’t touch it at all. It goes into the oven and sits so it gets crispy. We have sweetbreads that have been grilled. We add morcilla (Spanish blood sausage) that we make in-house. We put onions and rice in the sausage as well, and load it on the paella. We load clams and mussels on it, steamed in advance and removed from shells. We add their liquid to the rice as it’s cooking. We add the fried chicken on at the end.
What’s the secret to your secret ingredient, the fried chicken?
We take off the skin and bone and butterfly them; they get brined 24 hours and marinated in yogurt, turmeric and buttermilk for three days so it’s super acidic and tenderized. The yogurt caramelizes really well. Take that and dust it with flour and turmeric, drop it in the frier with rice bran oil. It’s the best chicken strip you’ve ever had.
Sauces aren’t typical for paella. What do the sauces add?
I used to work with guy at Quince Restaurant (in San Francisco). He made chicken, served it with a chermoula sauce. We put it in the “Vitamix” — parsley, green coriander seeds, ginger, garlic, preserved lemon and jalapeno. Add olive oil and lemon juice and it’s a bright green, thick, zesty puree — incredible with fried chicken and rice. Paella can tend to be really rich and cloying; it’s hard to eat the whole thing because it’s super decadent. This helps cut through that.
How does paella fit in with Portland appetites?
Anytime you can pull something out of the fire still bubbling and making noise, it elicits a reaction, kind of like the fajita effect. It’s such a great dish to share; it kind of just embodies the spirit of Portland food. We have very few traditional restaurants here with white-tablecloth dining. A lot of places that have been successful are shared [plates]. This is a grand finale of that all.
Can Font Seafood Paella Recipe
- 2 large onions, finely chopped
- 1 green pepper, finely chopped
- 1 red pepper, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 pounds of mantis shrimp and 1 pound of crayfish (or substitute 6 heads of lobster )
- 1 cup ground of tomatoes
- 3.5 cups rice
- 8 prawns
- 8 mussels
- 8 clams
- 2 squids
- 12 ounces monkfish steak
- 1 gallon of water
- 1.25 cups olive oil
- Salt to taste
Make the broth
- In a saucepan, pour ¾ cup oil. When it’s hot, add the lobsters and mantis shrimp (or lobster heads), cook until completely golden brown, add the tomato and let cook for about 10 minutes.
- Add water and let it boil for 45 minutes. Strain with a Chinese sieve and get 2 liters of broth.
Make the paella
- Peel the onions and chop them as thin as possible; do the same with peppers and garlic.
- In a paella pan add ¾ cups of oil, brown the chopped onions on low fire until caramelized and then add the garlic and peppers all together for 10 minutes at medium heat.
- Add the squid slices and brown for 5 minutes.
- Once this all golden brown, add the rice and the 2 liters of broth, place on low heat and stir frequently for 12 minutes.
- Add the mussels, clams, prawns and monkfish.
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees and place paella pan with everything in the oven for 7 minutes.