Many diners associate paella with the summer months, since this dish is traditionally cooked outside over an open fire in Spain. However, in the U.S., the more popular cooking method is inside over gas burners, thus making paella a perfect dinner choice for cooler autumn evenings. Cooking over a fire or burners allows the rice of a paella to crust on the bottom of the pan. This toasted rice, called socarrat, is perhaps the most favored part of a paella.
Rice is the key to extraordinary paella, and the best rice to use is bomba, a short grain rice that absorbs one and a half times more liquid than other rice. Once cooked, bomba is a resplendently gorged grain bursting with flavor. Bomba rice is available at The Fresh Market (various locations, including 4223 Providence Road).
Some recipes will tell you that calrose rice, a rice developed by the University of California at Davis, is an acceptable substitute for bomba; it is not. A better substitute is camolino Egyptian rice. Sold as Cleopatra rice, a Clic Foods product, camolino can be found on the Middle East aisle of Super G Mart (7323 E. Independence Blvd.).
The second hard-to-find ingredient for paella is Spanish chorizo. Unlike the softer Mexican chorizo, which is readily available at Latino stores around Charlotte, Spanish chorizo is a smoky, fully-cured pork sausage that is firm, much like Italian hard salami. Once, Charlotte had its own Spanish chorizo, the absolutely delicious D'Rouco's artisan sausages made from a 400-year-old Spanish recipe, in Matthews. Today, imported Spanish chorizos can be purchased from Kevin and Mirian Connors at their A Taste for Life kiosk in the Carolina Place Mall, near the food court. The Connors also sell hand-selected Spanish wines, vinegars, olive oils, truffle oil, Spanish cheeses, saffron, and tinned foods such as anchovies. A Taste of Life (11025 Carolina Place Parkway) is closed most Mondays (see Facebook, www.ataste.net).
Looking for a food you can't find? Or do you know of other food items unique to the Q.C.? Whether it's regional foods or international, talk to me: [email protected].