In my family we’ve always been rice eaters…almost any dish with rice (well done, that is)we love; be it “meloso” (creamy), “caldoso” (with more stock), risotto or “seco” (cooked dry in a “paella” pan or in the oven) or on it’s own!My mom has always made fantastic paellas (some of the best I can recall) so in my dried rice dishes I took her’s as a base on which to improve.
Quique Dacosta is the reknown chef of the two michelin star restaurant “El Poblet” in Denia (Alicante), which aside from being a “cocina de autor” restaurant with very personal creative dishes, masters the art of cooking rice as expected from the emplacement in the Valencian community (though he himself is from Extremadura). So, being a rice lover, I’ve always followed his cooking as close as possible and immediately had to get his amazing book on rice dishes “Arroces Contemporáneos” when it came out in 2005 with lot’s a invaluable information on the science of rice to understand how it behaves on cooking and numerous beautiful dishes using various cooking techniques.
But, it was not until december last year that I watched him prepare an “arroz a banda” in Robinfood (a fantastic cooking program, in spanish, led by the hilarious David de Jorge). This program marks a before and after in my “paella” style dishes…The radical difference being the amount of stock used per amount of rice! Sounds simple, right? Well, when I heard him mention that he used 1L of stock for 160g of rice (very little for the pan, to make just one layer of grains, no overlapping!), I thought it couldn’t be right! When most recipes, and what I often used was 2 ,5 parts stock (at the most) to 1 part rice. So, I had to go at myself to check if it was possible.
With the idea in mind that I would ruin the “arroz a banda” dish, I simplified his version (full of amazing quantities of tasty fish & shellfish) to make a simple stock with just the heads and carcasses of some medium-sized prawns, convinced I would end up with a soupy rice or creamy at least. To try to compensate I turned the heat to full blast for the first 10 minutes (it’s always higher those first 10 minutes…though I had never tried, that high!) and then lowering to medium the remaining 8. To my surprise, ALL of that simple prawn stock evaporated resulting in a perfectly cooked, with a beautiful “socarrat” (caramelised crust) in the bottom and full of taste…just with a few sad prawns!!
I’ve repeated and repeated this dish, testing different rice types, adjusting the minimum amount of prawns to use to get a tasty & easy to make(but cheap)fumet and removing all unnecessary components to just leave the rice to enjoy it on it’s own! The term “arroz a banda” meaning literally “rice on the side” was coined to refer to a rice, cooked in a paella pan (for lot’s of evaporation) as a side dish to fish boiled to make a sustancial stock (just like “cocido” stock is made and then fine vermicelli pasta is cooked in it). You can of course enrich this basic “poor” version as much as you like up to all the list of tasty ingredients in his main recipe, but this simple version, tested over and over and tried by many people now, is a great starting point that won’t disappoint and leave you wondering how so little can have soooo much flavour! Enjoy!!!
Poor man’s “arroz a banda”
(just enough for 2 as a first dish in a 30cm in diameter paella pan!*)
For the stock:
250g of fresh prawns
11/4L of water (to obtain 1L)
…anything else more you want to add, like fish bone you may have! Though that’s enough for a tasty rice!
For the rice:
about 3-4 tbsp of olive oil, better if it’s extra virgin
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 ripe tomato, grated
160g of rice ** (suggested maximum: 180g, see note below ***)
pinch of sweet pimentón
pinch of saffron
salt to taste (beware, as a lot of stock gets reduced, it will be added later on!)
*To maintain the result of this dish consistent, if you want more rice, I suggest you increase the size of the paella pan accordingly or make 2 simultaneously, otherwise the result won’t be as good)
**I most often use “Calasparra rice” with excellent results. This rice, a D.O., more than a variety (which unless indicated Bomba) is always Balilla x Solana variety, is a cheaper version of bomba, a grain that although does not absorb a lot of flavour from the stock due to a higher proportion of amylose than most Japonica varieties (usually short-grain varieties)does not often overcook, remaining firm to tooth. In the case of dried rices like paella this not a problem as the reduced stock stays on the outside of the rice compensating for that reduced flavour absorption when compared to other varieties like Sénia (the one Quique Dacosta recommends).
***As mention on the first note, the key to this dish is precisely the proportion of rice to stock in the given area of the pan, more rice for the same paella pan will result in overlapping grains of rice and the cooking of the grains and the caramelisation of themselves will be different)
So, now after all that talking, or rather, writing, for the simple recipe…
Nothing fancy, simple prawns, the better, the tastier the stock, though. I buy when I find decent ones at a good price and freeze in 250g batches (as you can imagine, Linguine is a big fan of this dish)
To make the stock, I remove heads & carcasses of the prawns to leave the flesh
Then, I fry them with a bit of oil to release all that rich flavour! Add the water and bring to boil. Make sure you are watching as it comes to a boil, so that yacky foam does not mix with the stock and you can remove it to get a clear fumet. Give it at least 20 minutes to infuse at a simmer (or a bit longer if you can, though fish & shellfish shouldn’t boil for longer than half an hour or they’ll bring out bitter notes…If you like, it’s best to cook for that long, turn off and let infuse for longer before straining).
Meanwhile I prepare the rest, but just to put it all together, when ready, strain to make up to 1L, top up if needed, but keep hot, as the stock should be added almost boiling to the rice.
The bodies of the prawns, I either use to make a starter har gaow..if I’ve had the time (still perfecting, but will come…)
or I just stir fry them over high heat in the oil where I’ll make the sofrito to give a taste into what will come ;)
Remove & serve…or if you prefer to include that into the rice, as in the first dish, chop them up in small pieces, give them that stir fry to give more taste into the oil and reserve to add almost at the end of cooking, when most stock has evaporated. Up to you!
For the sofrito, just slowly fry the garlic, do not let it colour as it get’s bitter!(Quique Dacosta does not add garlic directly, but uses garlic-infused oil, if you have some, go ahead with the substitution!
Then, add the pimentón and the pinch of saffron and immediately add the grated tomato, so it doesn’t burn.
Let that reduce until all the water from the tomato is evaporated and add the rice and give it a short stir before adding the stock. This coats the rice lightly with oil to keep the grains a bit more separate (by the way, this is the Alicante way of making rice: a stock and a sofrito, in Valencia, the make a stock within the paella and then add the rice).
Add the hot stock over and bring the heat high up!!!Keep boiling over very high heat for 10 minutes. You can add some salt here, but as I said before, take into account that there’s a lot of stock reducing completely, believe me, I’ve already made that mistake!It’s best to adjust to taste after at least 7 minutes of boiling down.
After those 10 minutes, lower down the heat to medium for 8 more minutes. After that time is over, the stock should have completely evaporated…if you see a few minutes before it’s not even close, you can adjust the heat accordingly. You may not get it perfect the first time, as you get to know your hobs intensity required for the right times, though it most often works from the first moment!
In the photos below, the stock at the begining as it was added and brought to a high boil and after those 10 minutes to give you an idea of how much gets reduced and the texture of the stock after that time (you can see the rice and the stock is thicker, with a starchy consistency).
Another note about the pan…Dacosta recommends a Lacor paella pan, which is a thick bottom inox pan with non-stick coating, I have another good brand thick bottom pan, and though I’ve made the same dish in other shitty pans (I mean really shitty, not even paella pans) it does make a difference (though all may work once you adjust to them), specially for a homogeneous “socarrat” that the pan distributes heat evenly.
For the socarrat, Quique Dacosta adds a tablespoon of that garlic oil to favorise and aid in caramelisation of that starch. I add a bit extra oil from the begining, so I lately don’t add it, but you can if you like, it helps.
And that’s it! Ideally rest for 4-5 minutes more and serve or eat straight from the pan!!
Hope you like it as much as we do!