© St. Petersburg Times, published March 19, 2003
A weekly serving of food news and views
explanations from the inside out
Paella is a saffron rice, seafood and chicken dish associated with Valencia, Spain, but its roots stretch back to the Muslim Moors' reign in Spain more than 1,000 years ago. The Moors introduced rice and saffron to Spain's Mediterranean coast.
The word paella comes from the Arab word baqiyah, which means leftovers. Poor fishermen and other Spaniards would sometimes reap the spoils of big Moorish celebrations by salvaging rice, fish, vegetables and sometimes poultry. All these ingredients would be mixed together for easy transport. Hard to imagine that this special-occasion and somewhat pricey dish began as humble peasant food.
Paella varies from region to region, country to country. Some old country recipes might include snails and rabbit; newer ones call for sausage. There are even vegetarian versions that might include mushrooms, green beans and nuts.
The most widely eaten variety of paella is a melange of yellow rice, red peppers, peas, chicken and seafood, usually shrimp and clams, along with spices. The liquid that cooks the rice is usually a combination of white wine, chicken or vegetable stock and the juice from canned tomatoes.
Paella is cooked in a shallow, wide pan on the stove top. The ingredients that need the longest cooking time are added first, followed by the quick-cook ingredients such as seafood and peas.
To maximize the amount of juice that can be squeezed by hand from citrus fruit, cut the fruit into quarters or eighths, rather than in half.
Civilian chefs with a sense of adventure get a taste of military life while exercising with the Navy. They hop aboard the galleys for a week or so, share their expertise and come away with lasting memories. You can read their stories and browse the photos taken aboard ships including the USS Vernon, Shiloh, Decatur, Constellation, Houston, Frederick and Bataan. In essence, military mess hall personnel run hotels at sea, sometimes under the worst of conditions.
"An onion can make people cry, but there has never been a vegetable invented to make them laugh."
-- Humorist Will Rogers (1879-1935)
When a recipe calls for shrimp to be deveined, it means to remove the dark, sometimes gritty, intestinal vein that runs lengthwise along the arched side of the sea critter. To do this, make a shallow slit along the vein with a paring knife and pull it out. Some people like to use running water to flush out the vein, but this can waterlog the shrimp. Once the shrimp is cooked, the vein is harmless and tasteless, so its removal is a matter of aesthetics.
Surely, the memory of holiday entertaining is dim enough that it's time to throw another bash. Remember, a big party doesn't have to be fussy. Here are some tips from Hillshire Farms:
Stick to lighter fare, such as appetizers, so you can spend more time with your guests.
Serve hot and cold appetizers, and place the food throughout the party space.
Figure on eight to 10 appetizers for each person.
Do as much preparation ahead of time as possible, and plan on offering a variety of cheese, meat, vegetable, poultry and fish dishes.
Matt Barber of Lakeland debuted his chunky Hot Wachula's salsas at a food show in St. Petersburg in 2000. The night before the show, he said, he was still pasting labels on jars in his living room. The next year his cranberry apricot salsa was an award winner, and now his salsas are being sold at Publix for $3.39 for a 16-ounce bottle. We like the fruity heat of the cranberry apricot and peach salsas, and we love the name, a variation of the city of Wauchula. Look for hot sauces and barbecue sauces next.
Ever wonder what fellow foodies are searching for on sites such as www.epicurious.com? Epicurious, which catalogs recipes from Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazines, offers a peephole into our collective appetites with its search spy feature. Click on it and find out the last 10 items searched for. One recent day the 10 were key lime, spinach, banana bread, onion, chili, chicken soup, marinara sauce, orange roughy, elderberry and bread machine. The list updates every 15 seconds.