Calamari, Blood Sausage, Chorizo and Chicken Paella

About four times a year Scott and fellow potters from the Chelsea Ceramic Guild go to Roger Baumann’s studio in Lake Peekskill to woodfire their pots. I love to tag along on these trips as it gives me a welcome chance to get away from the city to be outdoors absorbing nature, sharing with good people and helping the group get their wares ready for the fire.
Roger Baumann's Woodfire Kiln in Lake Peekskill
A beautiful, brisk, early fall day at Roger Baumann’s studio in Lake Peekskill. His hand-built woodfire kiln located in an idyllic spot next to a stream.
On our latest trip to Roger’s early this fall, potter Ana Larea and her husband, painter Arturo Guerrero, treated us to a traditional outdoor paella. Ana and Arturo are native Spaniards and Arturo is an amazing cook. This was my first experience with outdoor paella and I asked Arturo if I could watch and learn.
Crisp ingredients are used to make this paella
The chicken is braised in fragrant seasonings. Blood sausage, chorizo, calamari and crisp green beans are added. Once the savory juices have reduced and strengthened in intensity, the Arborio rice and fresh stock is added and topped with fragrant rosemary and roasted red pepper.
Smoke infuses into the paella
Smoke from the wood fire infuses into the paella to give it a rustic smoky flavor. Arturo propped the paellera (paella pan) far enough away from the flame for a gentle, even cooking temperature.
Arturo Guerrero stoking the fire
The fire has to be just right in order for the paella to cook properly. Raw logs were burned to smoldering charcoal, then the cooking process beings.
Making an Outdoor Paella
Arturo maintained an even, medium fire throughout the whole process and added wood as needed to keep the fire going.
Outdoor Paella with Arborio Rice
Arturo checks the paella and adds fresh chicken stock as needed until the rice is fully cooked. For this paella he used Arborio rice, but he prefers using Bomba rice.
Socarrat
As the paella cooks, the delicious socarrat develops. This crispy crust at the bottom of the paellera (paella pan) is infused with super concentrated flavors. It’s my favorite part of the paella.
Paella Cooking
The paella is almost done. A savory aroma fills the crisp fall air.
Calamari, Blood Sausage, Chorizo and Chicken Paella
The paella is removed from the fire once the rice is firm but cooked through, the juices have reduced to a creamy, rich base and the socarrat forms a dark brown and crispy crust. This paella is almost ready.
Calamari, Blood Sausage, Chorizo and Chicken Paella
Arturo removes the paella from the fire and sets it aside to finish cooking and to cool slightly.
Ana and Arturo Guerrero serving paella in Roger Baumann's back yard
Ana and Arturo Guerrero serving paella. Roger Baumann, our host, in the background. Photographed by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
The paella was absolutely delicious and made for a memorable experience. Spending a day cooking outdoors, enjoying the simple things and sharing with friends – this was a day that reminded me how rich and savory life can be.

Traditional Sofrito

Traditional Puerto Rican Sofrito Recipe with Culantro and Aji Dulce
Woodfired plate by Roger Baumann. Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
The preparation of many dishes that are close to my heart begin with a simple ritual: chop an onion, chop some pepper, mash two garlic cloves, set a handful of washed cilantro aside, heat a little oil in a heavy cast iron pan, add the onions, add the peppers and the garlic and then lovingly stir and watch over this mix until the onions become glossy and the aroma fills the kitchen. The simple preparation of these ingredients is the base to many Puerto Rican dishes and it is called sofrito.
I learned this ritual in my grandmother’s kitchen when I was a young girl. When it was time to cook at Mima’s house I would grab hold of the pilón (mortar and pestle) to mash the garlic and help her prepare the sofrito. This ritual became second nature and when it was time for me to start cooking, these were the ingredients that I naturally stocked in my kitchen. Back then, my sofrito consisted of these ingredients: a yellow onion, one half a green bell pepper, two cloves of garlic and a handful of fresh chopped cilantro – these were the ingredients that were available in most grocery stores in Montana. This sofrito would flavor anything from arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) and empanadilla filling to habichuelas guisadas (stewed pink beans).
It has always been my belief that rice and beans is the measure of a Puerto Rican cook and in my family, Mima has always won the ‘best beans award’. For over fifteen years, I have been trying to make Mima’s beans but was never quite satisfied with the results – my beans were good, but were definitely missing that Mima quality. So, last year when Angelica and I visited my grandparents, I asked Mima to please show us exactly how she made her beans. I took notes.
What I learned was that the secret to Mima’s beans is her sofrito. She uses fresh local ingredients which include: yellow onion, pimiento del pais (green cubanelle pepper), ají dulce (small sweet peppers), garlic, culantro (also known in Puerto Rico as recao) and cilantro. The flavors of the local peppers and herbs, especially that of the ají dulces and the culantro really give the sofrito that “grandma’s garden” taste that I was missing by using bell peppers.
Although sometimes hard to find, cubanelle peppers, ají dulce and culantro can be found in some latin markets. In New York City you can usually find these ingredients in any grocery store in Spanish Harlem or at the Essex Market in the Lower East Side, which has a great selection of fresh latin ingredients. Now anytime I want to make rice and beans, I make a special trip just to get these ingredients. The flavor payoff of making sofrito with the right ingredients is well worth the effort.

Puerto Rican Ají Dulces. Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
Note: Ají dulces are small colorful peppers that have a strong herbal flavor, they are not spicy. However, they can be easily confused with a very spicy pepper like the habanero because they are similar in size and coloration. Be careful when selecting them or ask your grocer to make sure they are ají dulces. Learn more about the ají dulce here. Learn more about culantro and cubanelle peppers.

Cubanelle peppers in Ponce’s Plaza del Mercado market. Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
Traditional Sofrito
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
1 green cubanelle pepper, seeded and finely diced
3 ají dulces, seeded and finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced or mashed with a mortar and pestle
3 culantro leaves, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy cast iron skillet over medium heat until the oil begins to ripple. Add the onions and stir to cook until they become glossy but still crisp in texture. Add the cubanelle peppers, ají dulces, garlic and cook for a few minutes longer until the ingredients begin to release their aroma and the onion becomes transparent and soft, add the culantro and half the chopped cilantro (see note).
Note: Sofrito is the base to many dishes. This basic preparation will be followed by your main ingredients and finished off with cilantro. In some cases, you will also add annatto to the sofrito. I prefer to add the final half of the fresh cilantro toward the end of the cooking process to brighten the flavor of the dish.

Baking with Butter Tips

Baking with Butter Tips
Photo by Francesco Tonelli, The New York Times.
The New York Times article “Butter Holds the Secret to Cookies That Sing” by Julia Moskin is a fantastic resource for home bakers seeking the perfect holiday cookie. It talks about the importance of softening butter correctly to maximize it’s ability to hold air that will later give cookies and cakes their structure and texture. It even goes into the differences between domestic butters and imported cultured butters and features some buttery recipes, including one for Orange Butter Cookies by Amy Scherber and Toy Kim Dupree from “The Sweeter Side of Amy’s Bread
Here are a few buttery tips that I found helpful:

  • “butter should be creamed… for at least three minutes”
  • “The best way to get frozen or refrigerated butter ready for creaming is to cut it into chunks. (Never use a microwave: it will melt it, even though it will look solid.) When the butter is still cold, but takes the imprint of a finger when gently pressed, it is ready to be creamed.”
  • “For clean edges on cookies and for even baking, doughs and batters should stay cold — place them in the freezer when the mixing bowl seems to be warming up. And just before baking, cookies should be very well chilled, or even frozen hard.”

Flour Conversion Calculator

Baking with Flour
Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds
Not having a food scale at home should not scare you away from trying recipes that use weight measurements. Websites like traditional oven.com have easy to use flour conversion calculators that quickly translate weight measures into volume and vise-versa. This site is also an in-depth resource for bread and pizza fans with anything from recipes to plans for building your own wood burning oven. Try their flour conversion calculator here.

Scone Essentials

Follow this basic method for making scones:

  1. Cut butter into dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.
  2. Make a well in the center of these ingredients.
  3. Add liquids with a few swift strokes (6 – 10 strokes).
  4. Gather the dough with your hands and shape into a loose, crumbly ball.
  5. Flatten dough into a 3/4 inch disk, cut into wedges.
  6. Bake in a cookie sheet according to recipe.

Tips:

  • Work quickly.
  • Keep the butter cold.
  • The less you touch the dough, the better it will be.
  • About cutting the butter into the dry ingredients: I cheat here – it’s much easier to incorporate the butter into the flour with your hands (instead of using a pastry cutter or knifes) but the heat from your hands will melt the butter, so work quickly and freeze the mixture for a few minutes when you are done to keep the butter hard.
  • Pour the liquids into the flour mixture, not the other way around.
  • Stir the liquid into the flour mixture with as few swift strokes as possible. The dough will still have dry spots and crumble, that’s okay.
  • Pat the dough gently into a disk, don’t compress the dough.

Try these scone recipes:
Raspberry Almond Scones
Spiced Pumpkin Scones