Lately, I've found myself cooking Spanish rice a lot. Chinese people are accustomed to eating rice but preparing a meal with rice is sometimes rather tricky, especially when cooking for just a person or two. Even for families with children, the younglings may not find rice all that appealing. I finally experimented with Spanish rice (Bomba Paella Rice) by different cooking methods and saw every attempt most successful. Here comes my experience.
Spanish rice is short and round and has a slightly chewy texture. You can cook it soft (depending on your preference) and retain a slightly burnt socarrat in the pan like Chinese pot rice. For 500 grams of rice, it costs about $30 and can serve two people. So, for a tiny packet, it can be used 5 to 6 times, or 3 times if serving a family of 4. The rice supplies you with the energy and protein you need for a day, but the fat content is nearly zero with only 77 grams of carbohydrates, which is 1/4 of what you need for a whole day.
When cooking Spanish rice, first and foremost, heat the pan with a teaspoon of olive oil. Toss in some sliced onions and bell pepper. Then add a little salt and sliced garlic. Cook with low heat until the mixture is fragrant. Next, add some slices of sausages and smoked Paprika to increase the flavour. Then you can add raw rice (unwashed) and cook it with the mixture for five minutes. After that, add sliced tomatoes or tomato sauce and water or chicken soup. Finally, you can choose to add shrimp heads or chicken feet (if you have foreign friends, use chicken legs instead!) to add more flavour to the stock. Remember to maintain a low heat till water evaporates. Don’t stir. When the rice is 70%-80% cooked, add seafood (shrimp, mussels, clams, boneless fish, squid, etc.). Add a little water and cover it to cook for 6-7 minutes on high heat. If there is too much water, remove the lid, cook it at high heat, and switch to low heat when the rice starts to dry up. Taste and test the texture of rice. Listen to the pan, and you would hear some cracking sound when the socarrat is formed at the bottom of the rice. Again, don’t stir.
Lastly, add coriander on top of cooked rice. When this is done, you should have a slightly burnt layer of rice at the bottom of the pan or what the Spanish refer to as socarrat. Now you are ready to serve!
Onions are incredibly versatile in the kitchen. I usually use a medium-sized onion and cut 4 to 5 beautiful rings cross-wise from the central part of the onion. Keep the remaining parts for later use and separate the rings according to their sizes and shapes. For sandwiches or Japanese soba served in breakfast, you can use the smaller rings. If you don’t like the bitter taste of raw onion, soak in cold water for 10 minutes. For summer sandwiches, salmon with raw onion rings is the perfect match. In winter, you can make soba (or any noodles). First, cook the noodles, blanch with cold water. Then, drain and place the noodles in a bowl. Top with onion rings and thinly chopped green spring onions before pouring soup over.
You may use the remaining sliced onions for a salad later in the day. Add baby spinach and peeled orange slices to the onion rings. Sprinkle toasted pine nuts and mix with honey mustard dressing. This salad is fresh, delicious and most importantly, healthy! Other than this western dish, the onion rings can also be cut into halves and used for frying noodles with bell pepper slices, meat slices and a little red chillipepper. Finally, add a little soy sauce, oyster sauce and green spring onion to make it a perfect dish.
After using the rings, the ends of the onion can be chopped and used for frying rice together with chopped cooked shrimps, green onion and slightly scrambled egg. When fried with minced garlic after adding a little salt, the chopped onion becomes the perfect base for making any dish. I particularly like to use it for cooking tomato sauce. Just add one or two cans of peeled tomatoes and a little tomato paste, and cook for 20 minutes to let the ingredients melt entirely into the sauce. Then feel free to use it in any dishes you like. It is delicious!
There is one thing I always buy when going to supermarket – a chilled chicken. If you are concerned about hormone issues, you can buy imported French chicken or organic chilled chicken from the mainland that hasn't been injected with any hormones. There are many ways to prepare chicken, but my favourite one and probably the easiest one is Hainanese chicken.
To cook Hainanese chicken, first marinate the whole bird with salt and rice wine. Boil a big pot of water. Add lemongrass, ginger, green onion and garlic to the boiled water and simmer the chicken in low heat for 25 minutes. By then, the chicken should be soft enough to be torn apart by hand. Submerge the whole chicken in icy cold water for 2 minutes and take it out for cooling. Tear the legs without bones and serve as Hainanese chicken. The breast can be reserved for salad or sandwiches. The water used to cook the chicken can be used as stock (after removing the oil). Pour it into a glass container and it can be kept for a few days in the fridge to be used as stock for soups and stir-fry dishes.
I always like to make use of the chicken carcass (after removing the chicken meat) and 2 – 3 cups of the chicken stock to make western soups or sauces. Add half an onion, a carrot, two to three chopped celery sticks and a few bay leaves to the stock. Cook it on low heat for 45 minutes to an hour. To make a seafood soup, you can add shrimps along with mushrooms before serving. Alternatively, you can add red wine to the mixture and boil it to make a thick sauce. When friends come to visit you, I recommend Hainanese chicken with rice and stir fry vegetables for lunch. In the evening, make a western seafood stew and start with a chicken salad. That’s what I would call a good day!
Carrots are a must-have ingredient to be kept inside everyone’s fridge. I always say that carrots are one of the best ingredients because it has high nutrition value, and you just can’t go wrong with them!
I am used to peeling and shredding carrots and then cooking them with sliced onions and green spring onion for fried noodles. As with the remaining parts (if any), dice them into big and small pieces—bigger pieces for making soup, whilst the small pieces can be used for fried rice or an omelette. I also recommend marinating sliced carrots by soaking them in saltwater with vinegar, sugar or honey for an hour. Finally, remember to put it into the fridge overnight for serving as pickled vegetables.
Like onions, carrots are very versatile. For example, put slices of carrots under steamed dumplings to make the dumplings more delicious and beautiful, or add a few shreds of carrots into stir-fries to add a bit colour to the dish. Adding boiled carrots to the dishes of the elderly will bring them much joy. Don't overlook the value of a carrot - it's a real gem amongst the many ingredients!
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