The one thing every paella has in common is long-grain rice, and a wide, flat-bottomed pan that lends its name to this iconic Spanish dish that is found all over Chicago, including Tapas Gitana in Lakeview.
There are several ways to celebrate a meal in Spain; Sangria usually plays a role. In nearly every region, you can bet you'll find paella. At Tapas Gitana - which has locations in Northfield and Boystown on Halsted - there are always a handful of paellas on the menu.
"Paella is a staple item in Spain. You'll find it all over the different regions in Spain. It originated in Valencia, down South. but you'll find it everywhere. Each region has a different style of paella," said Andrew Novak, the owner and chef of Tapas Gitana.
The best-known is the Valenciana version, which begins with chorizo sausage and chicken, sauteed in garlic oil. Onions, peppers and tomatoes are added, and once they're softened, Novak adds long grain rice. Just like risotto, he must add liquid stock - in this case, seafood that's been infused with saffron - which will season and add color the dish. He also adds some individual saffron threads, giving the paella even more vibrancy.
"Paella actually is the pan the dish is cooked in. What the dish is, it's a traditional rice dish that can be made with meats, game, fish, seafood. It's generally a saffron scented rice," said Novak.
The paella is covered and baked for about 20 minutes.. then to finish the plating, he garnishes it with sweet peas, diced piquillo peppers, a few lemons and fresh parsley. He also makes a mariscos version, overloaded with clams, shrimp, mussels and calamari.. as well as an "Imperial," which is essentially a mariscos plus lobster tails. One thing you need to look for is the tell-tale bottom crust, called socarrat.
"Socarrat..it's a very nice, rich, chewy, crispy bit that comes on the bottom of the pan when it's cooked properly," Novak said.
Paella is not fast food, so if you do plan on ordering it at any Spanish restaurant, always expect at least a thirty-minute wait. It leaves more time for sangria.
3445 N. Halsted St.
310 Happ Rd., #123, Northfield