Saturday, January 31, 2009

Dynamite Ham

So Martha and I were all dressed up and ready to hit the town. We had celebrating to do. The babysitter was here. I made a quick call to one of our friends to verify the bar where we were all meeting. "Great, we'll see you tomorrow," Cora said.


Oops. Wrong night. It's been a little hectic around here lately, what with Marty learning just the other day that one of her poems published last year has been selected for the new Best American Poetry anthology. Our phone was ringing off the hook, the news spreading virally among our Facebook friends. Even cheerleaders who snubbed Marty in high school were coming out of the woodwork: "Catch me up on your life," one said. "I always knew you were the creative type." So I guess we jumped the gun on date night. We were so ready.

But here we were in a celebratin' mood. We had a bottle of Pinot Noir on hand and a bag of chanterelles defrosting in the fridge. Chanties. They're nice to have for situations like this. While I cooked the pasta Marty ran around the corner to the last chance Hollywood Video, the movie ghetto for those nights when Netflix doesn't come through. "Woody Allen?" the clerk said. "You can look it up in that computer over there." Annie Hall was my idea. It was the movie that kicked off our mutual admiration Woody Fest many years ago, when we rented pretty much the entire oeuvre one rainy weekend—and now I could imagine my Marty having her own Alvy Singer moment: "Hey, it's Marty Silano. She's on the Johnny Carson. Hey everyone, it's Marty Silano!"

The kids burst into tears because we sent home their favorite babysitter. Next we exchanged our on-the-town duds for pajamas and scuffies. But the wine tasted good and the pasta was even better.

Dynamite Ham Chanterelle Pasta

It beats a plate of mashed yeast. You don't need ham, really. Pancetta, bacon, whatever fatty pork products you've got lying around. Dice a q-p of the pig and saute in a dollop of butter until starting to crisp. Meanwhile put a pot on the boil and throw in whatever pasta you feel like. We used little radiators because they're such good fat-catchers. Next add a chopped shallot or two to soak up all that porcine goodness in the pan. Put a couple tablespoons of butter in a large oven-proof mixing bowl and top with a couple ounces of heavy cream; shove in the oven at 300 degrees. When the shallots are soft add a pound of chopped chanterelles to the saute. If the chanties are fresh, cook out the water. Slowly, over medium-low heat, add a cup of heavy cream. Add a half cup or more of frozen peas to the sauce. Toss the finished pasta in the heated bowl with the butter and cream along with a third of a cup or more of grated parm. Pour the sauce over the pasta and mix some more.

Serve with red wine to insure full French Paradox mode and then repair to food coma couches for cinema and port.

Dinner dates and flowers
Just like old times
Staying up for hours
Making dreams come true
Doing things we used to do

Seems like old times
Being here with you...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Truffles on the Brain

A year ago I began my truffle quest. (You can read initial findings here.) Truffles are ectomycorrhizal fungi that fruit underground and form symbiotic relationships with certain species of trees. In exchange for sugars from the tree roots, truffles provide the host with water and nutrients through their web-like network of subterranean mycelia.

In addition to playing an important role in forest ecosystems, truffles are a highly coveted luxury food, prized for their pungent aroma and taste, with a rich culinary and cultural history. Just a few shavings of a ripe truffle can transform an ordinary dish of pasta into something truly memorable. You might wonder why a fungus that grows out of sight underground and lives a peaceful co-existence with plants would be the owner of such a powerful flavor. Well, humans aren't the only truffle eaters. It's thought that truffles evolved their pungency to attract animals such as voles and other small rodents, which dig up the truffles and eat them and then in turn spread the reproductive spores with their droppings.

To the uninitiated, hunting truffles can seem like looking for a needle in a haystack, and while a knowledgeable truffler uses more than guesswork to locate the fungal gems, it's still hard work—"stoop labor"—and unpredictable, which is why fresh truffles command such a hefty price-tag. For instance, Marx Foods in Seattle will ship you 4 ounces of Oregon black truffles for $80.25. European truffles are even more costly, fetching $2,000 or more a pound for premium Italian whites.

So late last week I piled a few garden tools into the Subaru and made tracks for a low-elevation hideaway in the Cascade foothills where my friend L. has a Christmas tree farm. Edible Northwest truffles, of which there are several species, seem to live in association most frequently with young Douglas-fir, so we found a nearby plantation of 30-year-old trees without too much ground cover and a thick mat of duff. The soil was loose and sandy—perfect for little critters that like to scratch around underground.

The photo at left illustrates the network of holes and runs we were looking for. After pulling back a layer of duff like a rolled carpet, I found this tunnel. More digging with my cultivator unearthed a large black truffle that had been squirrelled away by some industrious rodent for future gnawing. It looked like a round lump of coal. Nearby was another one. My fellow hunters L. and P. hit paydirt as well. After an hour of digging we had more than a dozen in all. (For a post on the ethics of truffle hunting technique, click here.)

Unfortunately, a majority of the truffles were past their prime. This has been a tough winter in the normally temperate Northwest, with weather extremes fluctuating between snowstorms and floods. Most of the truffles exhibited evidence of frost damage, though a few were salvageable, if not in tip-top shape. These we trimmed back at the house and shaved over a spare dish of buttered pasta with a light grating of parmesan cheese. Simple is better with truffles. You want to let the fungus shine. In most cases it's not even necessary to cook the truffle. Instead, the truffle is shaved over the drained pasta and the heat is enough to react with the truffle, unlocking its complex flavors

It's hard to parse the taste of truffles without sounding like a wine snob. Our local black truffles, also called Oregon black truffles (Leucangium carthusianum), exude a complicated aroma/flavor of very ripe fruit, including hints of pineapple up front, with a secondary layer of earthy muskiness with notes of coffee, chocolate, and loam. My meal on this day, prepared immediately after the hunt, is perhaps the closest I've gotten to experiencing the magical power of local truffles. A second meal, prepared a day later with the same batch (pictured at top), was subtler, more restrained. And a recent meal of black truffles at a restaurant was subtler still.

If you haven't experienced good truffles, the best I can do is to describe them this way: Truffles act on the brain. Their taste and aroma nearly overwhelm the senses, flirting with mental associations of over-indulgence and decadence, even naughtiness. Eating them at a restaurant, you might feel like you're doing something that shouldn't be done in public. This, of course, is part of their charm, and goes a long way to explain their cachet and expense.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Warm My Cockles

I'll admit that among most clam chowder aficionados—of which I am most certainly one—Manhattan style is something of a red-haired step child. Given my druthers, I go for cream and butter too. But let's not sell short that versatile fruit the tomato. It's among the New World's most successful exports, along with cocoa, potatoes, and corn. In any other chowder most of us love the tomato, but for some reason it's maligned when in company with clams.

Well, get over it. While Manhattan Clam Chowder may often be dismissed as nothing more than vegetable soup with a few clams tossed in for good measure, if you cook it at home it can be so much more. And if you make it with cockles instead of clams...well, then you're in truly rarified territory.

About Cockles

Cockles are medium-sized bivalves that inhabit sandy beaches and mudflats in the intertidal zone. Because their siphons are so short, they're usually buried just beneath the surface. They can be distinguished from other bivalves by radiating ridges on the shell that run from hinge to margin.

I've had good cockling in Oregon. Puget Sound cockles (Clinocardium nuttalli), though widespread, aren't commonly encountered, probably because of a lack of sandy habitat. When I saw a bunch of broken cockle shells littering a Hood Canal beach the other day I knew right away we were going to sacrifice a limit of steamer clams for these beautiful-looking mollusks. The easiest way to harvest them is with a garden rake. Look for tideflats with evidence of cockle shells, then rake the flats at low tide. It doesn't take an abundance of elbow grease to uncover a cockle—you'll know right away because the rake tines will ping off the shell.

Cockles have a muscular foot that can reportedly propel them up to two feet as they "jump" along the sea floor. Most folks don't bother with cockles because they're tough and also because they're usually filled with grit from their sandy habitat. But they're meaty, flavorful, and fun to forage. You can get rid of the grit by keeping the cockles in clean salt water for 24 hours before cooking, and the toughness is remedied by chopping and tenderizing. I use them mostly for chowder.

Spicy Manhattan Cockle Chowder

A few days before the new year my neighbor stopped by with a bagful of peppers from his garden. Seattle is not an easy place to grow peppers—and how these things were still in mint condition in the middle of winter was something of a mystery. But I'm fine with mysteries, especially if they work their way into a variety of deep winter cooking to add spice and intrigue. We dropped a few into the New Year's Eve Paella and sprinkled a generous helping into another Crab and Seafood Gumbo. The last got tossed in the Manhattan Cockle Chowder.

This is the sort of dish you can cook as you process each ingredient, an hour from start to finish. The hot peppers spice it up and the sherry gives it a sweet finish.

20 medium-sized cockles in the shell (or 2 cups of meat)
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp olive oil
3 thick slices bacon, diced
1 large onion, sliced into half-moons
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 carrots, sliced into rounds
3 ribs celery, split and sliced
2 hot peppers, diced
3 large red potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 28 oz cans whole plum tomatoes, with juice
2 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
parsley for garnish

1. With live cockles in the shell, figure you'll need about 20, or more if they're small (about 2-3 pounds). Combine wine and water in a heavy pot and heat on high. Add cockles when boiling, cover, and steam for several minutes until all shells are open. Turn off heat, remove meat to a bowl, and strain liquid (yields about 2 cups).

2. In same pot, heat oil and saute bacon until beginning to crisp. In turn, stir in onions, garlic, carrots, celery, peppers, and potatoes, adding each ingredient successively as you finish chopping.

3. Add reserved cockle broth. Pour in both cans of tomatoes and, to save time and mess, rough-cut tomatoes in the pot with a spoon or knife. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Add herbs. Cook until vegetables begin to soften, then add chopped cockles. Cook several more minutes. Ladle into bowls, add sherry to taste, and garnish with chopped parsley. Serve with crusty bread.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day Clambake

Okay, so it wasn't really a clambake in the true sense of the word, but here at FOTL headquarters we celebrated yet another peaceful transfer of executive office by tucking into a bowl full of Hood Canal littlenecks.

The proprietor of this here blog (me) is feeling especially patriotic today, and what better way to honor the turning of another leaf in our storied history than by feasting on the wild bounty that graces this land from sea to shining sea. (And while we're at it, it's worth remembering the commitment from all of us, including the commander-in-chief, that's necessary to insure the enjoyment of such bounty for generations to come.)

The clams, both native littlenecks and non-native Manilas, came from a beach not too far from the mouth of Hood Canal at Foulweather Bluff. Good-sized gravel made the digging somewhat arduous, but the clams were large and numerous. We also found another less common species of bivalve that I'll talk about in my next post.

Steamed Clams with Pancetta, Wine & Cream

This is a variation on a classic dish that you see in restaurants all the time. Fresh thyme is an essential ingredient, and if you don't have pancetta, good slab bacon is fine. Also, make sure the clams have purged sediment and grit; about 24 hours in clean salt water for freshly harvested.

2 dozen steamer clams, scrubbed
2-3 oz pancetta, or 2 thick slices of quality bacon, diced
1 large shallot, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 tbsp parsley, chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup cream
1 tbsp butter
thyme sprigs for garnish

Using a heavy pot, saute the pancetta in butter over medium heat until crisp on the edges. Stir in shallot, then garlic a minute later. Cook another minute or two until softened before de-glazing with wine. Stir in cream and herbs and raise heat to medium-high. Add clams and cover, cooking until they open, several minutes. Eat with good bread for sopping up the ambrosial liquid. Serves 2 as an appetizer.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Stinging Nettle, Potato & Leek Soup

This is the time of year when my stash of stinging nettles comes in handy. I've got a few packets of blanched and vacuum-packed nettles in the freezer awaiting the lasagna treatment and a larger store of dried, powdered nettles that can be easily added to soups or teas. High in protein and nutrients, stinging nettles are a jolt to the system—in other words, they're just the ticket for the deepest, coldest stretch of winter. They also have that taste of the wild that can't be duplicated by domestication.

Who doesn't love a soup that's ready to eat within an hour on a winter day? Just take your favorite Potato Leek recipe and sprinkle in a couple heaping tablespoons of dried nettles. If you got 'em, that is. If you don't got 'em, may I recommend you plan an outing for the spring. Your local hippies at the health food store should have nettles too. Just a couple tablespoons can transform a routine dish into something with a little more edge to it, a dish that sits up and howls at the winter moon.

3 tbsp butter
3 leeks, thinly sliced (tops discarded)
1 onion, chopped
2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 lb red potatoes, unpeeled and cut up
1 quart chicken stock
2 heaping tbsp dried & powdered stinging nettles
1 cup heavy cream
1 bay leaf
pinch of white pepper
pinch of thyme
salt to taste

Melt butter in a heavy soup pot. Saute leeks and onion until soft. Add potatoes. Cook a few minutes. Cover with chicken stock; add water if necessary until potatoes are fully covered. Throw in a bay leaf. Simmer for 10 minutes before adding nettles. Continue simmering until potatoes are tender, then work with a masher. Season and add spices. Turn heat to low. Now is the time to use an immersion blender; otherwise, blend in a food processor to desired consistency. Stir in heavy cream and, if you like, a pat of butter.

For a little extra umph, I floated a few garlic-rubbed croutons on top.

Gift of the Magi

As it happens, 2009 marks my first year with an immersion blender in the arsenal, hence my desire to put it to work. In fact, Marty and I gave each other immersion blenders for Christmas. Same brand, same model. The two presents sat under the tree, fully wrapped, identical, until New Year's Day when we finally decided to give in to the inevitable. The kids took pictures. It was, as they say, a "teachable moment." It's the thought that counts.

Over the years we've tried to resist gadget creep. Toaster-over? No, thanks. Popcorn popper? Pass. Espresso machine? Mr. Coffee gets it done. Waffle iron? Puh-leeeze! But I'll admit we've both coveted the immersion blender from time to time, especially during those all too frequent times we overfed the food processor and sprayed soup everywhere. Plus, they're fairly compact and inexpensive. This was my first test drive and I have to say it came through with flying colors. Hooray for immersion blenders!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Freezer Foraging

I've been a couch potato lately. When Mama Nature puts down 15 inches of rain on Snoqualmie Pass in a single shout, effectively melting three feet of base, and submerges a 20-mile stretch of I-5 south of Seattle, I heed the warning: Stay home! We've got some biblical shite going down in these parts and you don't have to live in Carnation to see the writing on the wall, or the ring around the living room walls, as the case may be.

Which is all a way of saying I haven't been foraging much lately. A trip to the coast for the latest razor clam opener seemed like a dicey proposition—just ask the truckers who have been stranded on dry islands of highway for a few days—and river fishing is certainly out of the question. Too bad the squid jigging has been so poor this year, because that would be an attractive option right now. Next week I hope to get a shot at some blackmouth.

No, the freezer is my go-to foraging ground right now. I think I can safely say it's the best investment of zero dollars I've ever made. For the price of hauling it away, a colleague of mine gave me a stand-up freezer several years ago and I've kept it full of salmon, shad, crabs, shrimp, razor clams, mushrooms, nettles, berries, tubs of stock, and a bunch of other wild foods ever since. The real test will come if I get into hunting and start laying in hunks of meat.

It's a joy to walk downstairs to the basement to find a wild food du jour. Lately mushrooms have been feeding the jones: porcini with rabbit, chanterelles for Christmas dinner, lobster duxelles for our holiday party. Last night I hit the chanties again, of which I've got poundage, so I could bring a treat to Jani and Kathy's place for Pizza Night. I also brought over enough red wine to make Kathy give up the recipe behind the dough that makes her Napoli-style pizza so delicious...

Kathy's Pizza

Unfortunately, I'm not allowed to reveal it here on the Interwebs. But: much more goes into a pizza party at Jani and Kathy's that can be passed along for your own enjoyment and emulation. Rule #1 is to hand your guests a special drink the moment they walk through the door. Usually this means a whiskey sour, though during the coldest months it might also be a rum sour, as it was last night.

Next is the pizza making: It's a family affair, all hands on deck. A big pot of red sauce is already on the stovetop, thanks to Jani, but many other tasks are up for grabs, making the final 'za a team effort. The kitchen is stocked. Jani and Kathy own no fewer than three pizza stones and three wooden pallets. Various cheeses and toppings are scattered helter-skelter. The point is to roll up your sleeves and experiment.

Here is my contribution, with ample help from Kathy:

Wild Mushroom Pizza

1 lb butter
4 tbsp butter
2 tbsp fresh thyme
1/2 cup dry sherry
2 cups Gruyere cheese, shredded
1 cup smoked mozzarella, shredded
dough for one large pizza
olive oil
salt and pepper
garnish of fresh thyme sprigs and pink pepperberries (optional)

1. Saute chanterelles in butter for a few minutes over medium-high heat. Add sherry and thyme; season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook until liquid has evaporated, then blot dry and set aside.

2. Stretch and shape pizza dough into desired shape. Brush with olive oil, then top with cheese mixture. Drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 500 degrees until crust is lightly browned, about 6 minutes.

3. Remove pizza from oven and quickly top with mushrooms. Return to oven and bake until crust is golden, another 4 minutes or so.

4. Allow pizza to cool a couple minutes. Garnish with pepperberries and thyme.

The smoked mozzarella and chanterelles combine to make a very powerful woodsy flavor, which is accented by the thyme and pepperberries. This is not a frivolous pizza. I should also note that previously sauteed and frozen chanterelles will make it somewhat chewier than fresh chanties, though not in a way that is displeasing. Be prepared to wash it down with plenty of red wine.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

What's up, Doc?

I cooked my first wabbit last night. No, not a wild one. I don't own a gun...yet, but soon, my pretties, soon—which is a story for another time. This one was store-bought and cooked with porcini mushrooms from two of my stashes (frozen and dried), hence the foraging connection.

Rabbit cookery has been on my mind a while now, ever since I started ordering them at restaurants in the last few years. Like a lot of folks, I was kinda squeamish about summoning Bugs to the table on a platter, but when I finally got up the gumption at the Palace Kitchen a while back, what greeted me was not a carrot-chomping wascal but a tender and delicious meal that registered high on the comfort-o-meter. Mr. Fudd would have been in heaven.

Maybe that was the problem. My Palace rabbit and equally yummy ones that followed were the products of professionals. Truth be told, I was a little disappointed with what emerged from my own amateur-but-trying-hard oven last night, although I've learned a few lessons. For one thing, I need to try to refrain from my usual headlong dive into new waters; you know, do a tad more research on the literature and expertise so abundant online. For another, expectations should be set accordingly. Who did I think I was? Daniel Boulud?

In retrospect it occurs to me that all my restau-rabbits have been boneless—and here is a key to quality rabbit-eating: they're bony critters, with meat similar to chicken but bonier bodies, including a bunch of sneaky little bones to boot. Even though the finished product turned out to be quite flavorful, next time I plan to de-bone the bunny first, or see if my butcher offers alternatives to the whole rabbit. The other tricky issue is that rabbit meat is very lean and subject to drying out. You would think that de-boning would raise the risk of a too-dry rodent. Obviously there's a skill to be learned about cooking rabbit so that it is both tender and moist.

At 7 clams per pound, as Bugs would say, this experiment wasn't cheap either. I present the recipe below (in French, no less) in any event because the sauce was so good and it's a simple preparation that would work just as well with fowl. And to all you Bunny Experts out there: Please weigh in with your own tips and travails.

Le Lapin avec Cèpes Deux Fois

Cèpes are porcini in French, aka boletus mushrooms. I used two types of boletes: frozen "spring king" buttons, of which the exact species name is up for grabs although some call them Boletus pinophilus, others Boletus rex-veris, and still others believe them to be part of the Boletus edulis complex. These are a spring and early summer variety found on the east slope of the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountains, and they're known to be less pungent than their fall cousins though still firm and delectable. The second variety was a handful of dried Leccinum mushrooms from this fall's harvest, probably Leccinum aurantiacum. Also from the Bolete family, Leccinums are generally better dried and pulverized to extract their earthy flavor.

1 3 1/2 lb rabbit, cut up
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups beef stock
1/2 pound fresh (or thawed) boletus mushrooms, sliced
1-3 oz dried boletus mushrooms, pulverized
1 large can whole tomatoes, chopped, minus extra liquid in can
1/2 tsp dried tarragon
1 tbsp parsley, chopped
parsley for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add warm water to dried pulverized mushrooms to cover.
2. Melt butter in large pan and brown rabbit pieces; set aside. Saute onions and garlic in same pan. If using fresh mushrooms, add to saute and cook 5 minutes; if using previously frozen mushrooms, saute in smaller pan with an extra tbsp of butter until slightly browned, then add to larger pan.
3. Deglaze with wine, stirring until mostly evaporated. Add tomatoes, stock, reconstituted mushrooms with their water, and herbs, stirring. Cook over moderate heat until reduced and thickened, several minutes.
4. Arrange rabbit pieces in buttered casserole dish, then cover with sauce. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Serve over polenta with a garnish of chopped parsley.

This recipe was inspired by James Villas's Braised Rabbit, Mushrooms, and Tomatoes, from Crazy for Casseroles. Bugs Bunny photo by Gabrielle.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Ushering in a New Year of Wild Foods

New Year's Eve is largely, in the view of FOTL, a letdown. If you brave the crowds downtown, you're guaranteed a long, tedious night of bad food, overpriced bubbly, and boorish behavior. Here at FOTL, we prefer to indulge in boorish behavior in the privacy of our own home, with friends and accomplices who are forgiving of such boorish behavior. The food is a lot better too. (As is the late-night dance party...)

Once again my friend Tip and I donned the aprons to throw together huge vats of paella for our guests. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The dinner didn't actually make an appearance until a quarter to midnight, the cooks being too busy quaffing cavas and wolfing down cheeses from The Spanish Table, including an etorki that was mindblowingly delicious. Over the course of several hours we enjoyed a feast of fresh oysters, calamari from recently foraged Pacific squid, bagna caôda compliments of our Piedmontese friends the Coras, and a full bar of booze and wine.

Though not wild in origin, the bagna caôda deserves special mention. Chris and Lori harvested winter vegetables from their garden and put together this fondue-like dish with an aromatic sauce of garlic, olive oil, anchovies, and butter, all of it heated in an attractive vessel over flaming Sterno. Really, there's not much I can do to fully describe just how stinky and delicious this whorehouse specialty is. Sopping up bread with the sludge in the bottom—and I use the word sludge with utmost admiration—is one of the more prurient acts in the food world, always accompanied by an orgiastic chorus of oohs and ahhs. Cardoon is a traditional bagna caôda veggie; others include cauliflower, broccolini, beets, cabbage, fennel, and whatever else you want to stir into the hot bath. The taste is intense and lingers in the memory.

While I'm at it, I'll hand out more props: to the Day-Reis gang for their marinated and barbecued lamb and the Hunter-Gales for their Big Salad. The Coras also brought over a few pounds of squid harvested out of Elliott Bay, a pound of which got sauteed up for a calamari appetizer. But the cornerstone of the feast—the menu item that set the gears into motion this New Year's—was the paella.

Kitchen-Sink Paella for 10

We call it "Kitchen-Sink Paella" for obvious reasons. Each time we use a conflation of two or three or more recipes and end up using most of the ingredients from each, including but not restricted to: chicken, chorizo, squid, shrimp, mussels, clams, and oysters. Of those, only the chicken and sausage were store-bought this year, which is a new record. The other key ingredients are Spanish rice, saffron, and sweet pimentón (paprika). This time around we used the more expensive Bomba rice, which requires a higher 3 to 1 ratio of stock to rice—which in turn requires you, the cook, to properly estimate your size of cookware or risk a flood of paella.

Speaking of cookware, the traditional paella pan is large, steel, and fairly shallow, the broad shallowness allowing the rice to cook quickly without burning. According to, a 26-inch pan will serve 15. One of these years I'll have to pick up the real thing, but in the meantime Tip and I have been getting by with unsanctioned cookware, including his well-named "everyday pan" and my large skillet. This year Tip forgot his pan, so we experimented with a Le Creuset French Oven, mainly because it was big enough.

In the past, if memory serves, we finished the paella in the oven; this time we decided to court tradition and not stir (this despite our choices of cookware; clearly multiple cavas were making mischief). The shallower skillet came through with flying colors but the deep French Oven took longer to cook and burned on parts of the bottom, though not in a calamitous way. The take-away here, to employ the verbiage of a former employer, is to use a broad, shallow pan. Memo to Santa...

Here's what The Spanish Table has to say about cooking paella: "Traditionally, paella is not stirred during the second half of the cooking time. This produces a caramelized layer of rice on the bottom of the pan considered by many to be the best part. With a large pan, it is difficult to accomplish this on an American stove and you may prefer to stir the paella occasionally or move the pan around on the burner(s). Another alternative is to finish the paella by placing it in the oven for the last 10-15 minutes of cooking. Paelleras can also be used on a barbecue, or an open fire (the most traditional heat source)."

4 cups Bomba rice
12 cups chicken stock
2 large onions, chopped, or 1/4 cup per person
50 threads of saffron (5 per person), crushed, toasted, and dissolved in 1/2 cup white wine
4 tbsp (or more) olive oil
10 (or more) pieces of chicken, on the bone (thighs and drumsticks), or 1 per person
10 soft chorizo sausages, sliced (about 2 lbs), or 1 per person
5 tsp sweet or semi-sweet pimenton (paprika), or 1/2 tsp per person
10 cloves, minced, or 1 per person
1 large can diced tomatoes
2 lbs squid, cleaned and cut up
1 lb shrimp, shelled, or 2 per person
2 lbs clams in the shell, or 4 per person
1 lb mussels, or 2 per person
2 red bell peppers, thinly sliced
2 hot peppers, diced
1 10 oz package of frozen peas
chopped parsley and lemon wedges for garnish

1. Warm stock.
2. Toast saffron gently in small saute pan until aromatic, then add wine. Bring to boil and set aside.
3. Heat olive oil in large paella pan (or two pans), then brown chicken on all sides. Next add onions and garlic and cook until translucent before adding chorizo, cooking a few minutes.
4. Add rice, stirring until fully coated. Add paprika and tomatoes. Stir in saffron-wine mixture and all the stock. Bring to a boil while scraping bottom, then add peppers. Adjust heat to maintain a slow boil. After 5 minutes or so, add frozen peas and seafood, stirring in peas, squid, shrimp, and clams; arrange mussles by inserting vertically halfway into top.
5. Cook another 15 minutes or until rice is done and clams and mussels have opened. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and garnish with lemon wedges. Serve with good Spanish wines, lots of them.