Food

Mastering Paella on the Coast of Maine

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July 2017
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By
Meeghan
Truelove

Paella. We've all heard of it, and we've all probably eaten it, perhaps in a fancy Spanish restaurant where the dishes are passable if watered-down versions of their original incarnations, and the ricey paella concoction arrives at the table slightly gloppy yet decently yummy after an interminably long wait.

A few summers ago, I stumbled upon the revelation that this is not the way to enjoy paella. No, no, no. Paella is not a food that can be restricted to the confines of a hush-toned restaurant. Paella is wild, unfettered, astoundingly fulsome. It is a bounteous, raucous feast, not a primly composed and daintily consumed dinner.

My first encounter with this side of paella's true nature occurred by accident. Memorial Day weekend was almost upon us, we had no specific plans, but we did have a big Brooklyn backyard, a Weber grill and loads of friends willing to come over to eat whatever we whipped up. Someone suggested cooking paella over the coal-fired grill. I'd never heard such craziness. I was immediately smitten. I've never met a cooking challenge I could resist.

I scoured New York City posthaste for a giant paella pan, then with that secured, set to work cobbling together a recipe. Since this was going to be my first crack at making paella let alone making it over a live fire, for a throng of people, with no party-food backup plan I was hoping to find a recipe that was a foolproof silver bullet, but one timid Google search was all it took to understand that this would not be the case. Paella lovers, it turns out, are fiercely passionate about their personal versions, and paella recipes are like thumbprints: Every single one is different.

But the basic method of preparation is roughly the same, so after absorbing scads of recipes I emerged with what seemed like a fairly reasonable ingredients list and a fairly decent approach.

I shopped and prepped over the next few days, sourcing bomba rice and saffron and chicken thighs, chopping peppers and onions and chorizo, stashing it all in my fridge and cupboards in anticipation of the big event. Memorial Day dawned. We fired up the grill. The backyard flooded with party guests. I hauled my many bowls full of prepped ingredients, the enormous paella pan, a bottle of olive oil and a pair of tongs out to the grill.

And that's when it hit me: Paella is the ultimate al fresco party food. It's a complex, one-dish meal that can feed an entire crowd and also functions as the center of the action. Everyone loves watching it come together and wants to participate; cooking it is close to the simplest thing in the world; it's infinitely malleable once you wrap your head around the basic cooking process; and pretty much all the heavy lifting is done in advance, with the prep work. OK, you'll have loads of little bowls scattered about once you pour in your peas and chicken stock and garlic, but dealing with those is what happily tipsy post-party cleanup is all about. That first paella was an enormous hit. The only thing to do next was take my new perfect-party-food theory out on the road.

Every August I'm fortunate enough to spend a few blissful days with some of life's best friends in a magical spot on the Maine coast. Jen, Brad, Joy and Doug are a carpe-diem crew game for pretty much any adventure, so I knew they'd be ideal paella partners in crime. That first summer, we giddily collected mussels from the rocks just outside our door, procured freshest-of-the-fresh lobsters from the fisherman neighbor, and stoked the seaside logwood fire until the coals were primed for the paella pan. Swept up in the romance of our beach heathens moment, I had the genius idea to use seawater in place of stock for cooking the rice. The results were mouth-puckeringly salty and inedible, but my friends immediately understood paella's deep, liberating fun.

We worked on our paella game every subsequent August. One year I didn't clean the mussels well enough and the whole dish was sandy. Another year, while lifting the groaning pan off the grill, I almost fell into the fire. But finally we decided that we were well-versed enough in the whole festive madness to invite others to partake.

And invite we did. This group does nothing in half measure. Jen spread the word to a merry band of local friends that swelled to a couple of dozen. Brad hunted down two Mack truck wheel-size pans. Joy helped me chop and chop and chop in preparation. Doug made sure all our wine glasses stayed full. Mid-afternoon on the day of the big shindig, Brad built two fire pits on the beach and topped them with grills. Jen set the most gorgeous, low-slung rambling duneside table. I lugged the pans to their stations. Joy helped me corral all the copious prep. The twin huge paellas went off without a hitch. The setting sun cast its golden glow as everyone feasted, convivial, bubbly, sated. Paella theory, proven.

PAELLA FOR A 32 PAN

2 tablespoons saffron

6 pounds chicken thighs

6 pounds mussels or clams or combo

6 or so cups olive oil

2 pounds chorizo, cut into chunks

3 tablespoons smoked paprika

2 heads garlic, diced or minced (basically, cloves chopped however you want)

10 tomatoes, grated on a box grater

6 onions, sliced or diced, your call

20 cups chicken stock or broth **water can be used instead of or in addition to stock/broth

18 cups rice: arborio or calasparra or bomba (the rice is important!)1 package frozen peas6 red peppers, diced or sliced fresh flat-leaf parsley to chop up and sprinkle over top before serving lemons, sliced into quarters, for each person to squeeze over their portion before eatingAdd salt as needed

1. Heat stock/broth, infuse it with the saffron, keep warm.

2. Preheat the olive oil in the pan until it shimmers.

3. Brown chicken thighs on all sides in the pan, about 4 minutes per side, and then remove from pan.

4. Cook chorizo chunks in pan until they're getting crispy but not burned, and then remove from pan.

5. Saute onions and garlic in pan, then add peppers and tomato and keep sauteing, cooking it down. Deglaze pan with 6 cups stock/broth or wine, scraping up the nice browned bits on the bottom of the pan and letting the whole veg/liquid mixture cook down a bit more.

6. Then add all the rice. Stir it to coat the rice and then DO NOT STIR THE RICE AGAIN!

7. Cook for about 4 minutes, then nestle the chicken thighs into the rice throughout the pan.

8. Continue cooking until nearly all the stock/ broth has evaporated. Then add 3 more cups stock/broth.

9. Cook down until almost all the stock/broth has evaporated. Then add 3 more cups.

10. At this point, start tasting the rice for doneness.

11. Add the chorizo and peas, and if you're doing shellfish, add it hinge-side down, so they can open up.

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Best Region for the Season

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Lobster

New England and Canada are known as major lobster hubs along the Atlantic, and Maine is one of the most famous regions in the world for these mouth-watering delicacies. For the freshest catch, Maine's top lobster-loving towns include Rockland, Bar Harbor, Belfast, Georgetown, Harpswell, Kennebunk and Ogunquit.

Crab

More than 6,000 species of crabs across the world vary in everything from appearance to taste. For example, Maryland crab fans meticulously pick the meat from under the crab's shell, while in Florida, they split open the legs and claws for a tasty treat. To experience the best Maryland blue crabs, visit cities such as Baltimore and Annapolis, as well as Kent Island on the Chesapeake Bay's Eastern Shore and Solomons Island in southern Maryland.

Habitat

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Blue Crab | Courtesy of Pakhnyushchy

Lobster

Although they are mostly ocean creatures, lobsters do frequently appear on land and sea. They are omnivores and sometimes eat their own when confined or stressed. You can find them throughout the world's oceans in freshwater and brackish environments. Some of the most delicious species are caught in the Gulf of Maine and along coastal Nova Scotia.

Crab

Typically found in saltwater or brackish water, thousands of different crab species live in all of the world's oceans. Like lobsters, some are land-crawlers. Many solely live in the water and others inhabit the edges along rocks and sandy shores. The best crustacean havens for crabbing include Maryland, Virginia and Delaware. Florida stone crabs are found in southern waters in shallow, rocky locations including knee-deep seagrass beds and reefs.

Traditional Recipes

Lobster

The sweet taste of lobster pairs well with your taste buds in any variation. Cook it in a gamut of dishes from steaming, grilling or boiling, to chopped-up in a warm soup or cold salad. Some of the most famous classics include a New England lobster boil, baked lobster tail, lobster mac and cheese, creamy bisque and much more.

Crab

Pick-and-eat crab feasts are a beloved pastime across the mid-Atlantic region. Catch, steam, season, crack open and scarf down! Use a mallet to break the claws open and get the good thick meat. Two varieties of crab soup creamy or tomato-based are popular along the East Coast, as well as dishes such as crab dip, crab Rangoon, crab pretzels and best of all the world-famous Maryland crab cakes.

Fun Facts

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Lobster Dish | Courtesy of BDMcIntosh

Lobster

Lobsters actually have two stomachs and can detach a limb and grow it back during their molting cycle. Today, lobsters are among the pricier seafood selections and are considered a delicacy, but that wasn't always the case. In early 19th century New England, lobsters were so abundant that their shells were used as fertilizer and their meat was fed to pigs as scraps.

Crab

Crabs are typically an aggressive crustacean and often fight with other crabs and aquatic creatures. They can walk in any direction and mostly scurry sideways. Unlike lobsters that can live to age 100, Atlantic crabs only survive for three to four years. Dungeness Crabs from Alaska can live up to 13 years, and the Japanese spider crab has the longest lifespan of all its fellow crustaceans, often reaching 80 to 100 years old.

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Cruising the Great Loop Taught Us How to Cook
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Kate and her husband Tim

Before embarking on the Great Loop, my husband Tim and I lived in New York City, which helped prepare us somewhat for life on the water. We took our clothes to a laundromat, hand washed our dishes, and understood the challenges of living in a small space. But given it's one of the culinary capitals of the world, living in Manhattan didn't teach us how to cook. Since living on our boat, a 31-foot 1996 Camano Troll named Sweet Day, we had to change our relationship with the kitchen, which means we actually had to use it. Here's what we learned.

Be Creative with What We Have

While cruising the Great Loop, we imagined tiki bars and restaurants dotting the shorelines everywhere we stopped. This is definitely true in some parts. But more times than expected, we found ourselves nowhere near a place to grab a meal, much less a grocery store.This means we've learned how to build meals with what we have onboard. We also realized that as long as we have flour and a little butter, homemade tortillas can easily transform a couple sides into tasty tacos and easily impress neighbors at the next docktail party.

Rarely Waste Food

In the daily hustle of our lives in the city, we ended up wasting a lot more food than we'd like to admit. The opposite has been true while cruising. We typically buy enough fresh food for three to four meals, because that's all we can fit in our fridge. A home-cooked dinner is easily stretched to lunch the next day. And since we travel with our fridge, leftovers never get left behind.

No Need for Fancy Kitchen Gadgets

We have a small propane oven and a three-burner stove. We can use these with barely any electricity, making cooking underway and at anchor seamless. When we're plugged into a marina or if we run our generator, we can also use our microwave (when it's not being used as a food pantry).Some cruisers have Instapots and other gadgets, but our boat isn't set up to handle that amount of electricity. Plus, we don't have the space. So, we've had to learn (with a lot of practice) how to cook juicy chicken or tender salmon without the benefits of modern cooking technology.

Access Our Kitchen 24/7

One of the biggest (and underrated) benefits of cruising is that your stuff travels with you, including your kitchen. This means we can make a marinade while cruising and cook the chicken at anchor that night. Or knead a loaf of bread underway to make sure it's ready to bake the next day. Plus, you never have to worry about forgetting olive oil or spices when on a trip. Spending time and experimenting in the kitchen helps break up those long cruising days too, all while rewarding us with a tasty meal once we reach our destination.

Know the Steps Ahead of Time to Plan a Meal

One quirk of our galley is we can only run the oven or the stove, as our propane system can't support running both at the same time. As a result, it requires knowing the recipe and its steps in advance to ensure we have the right equipment and ability to cook the meal. If the meal is good enough to be part of the rotation, the steps become easier to remember the next time we cook it.

Learn What Meals We Can Make Quickly

Just like land life, there are days when we may feel excited about prepping and cooking a more time-intensive meal, and others when we're hungry, it's 7:00 p.m. and we just need to get something in our stomach. In New York, that meant heading downstairs for a slice of pizza.

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Courtesy of Kate Raulin Carney

That doesn't work while cruising. Learning what meals take time (especially in Sweet Day's kitchen) and what meals can be thrown together quickly (hello mac and cheese and tuna fish) is extremely helpful. When we're stocking up on food, we make sure we have enough of those go-to meal items for those inevitable times when we just need something fast.To help you stock your galley, here are some of our favorite items:

  • High-quality all-purpose knife: Our Zwilling Santoku knife cuts pretty much everything we've cooked in the last year.
  • Dutch oven: This is perfect for baking fresh bread, making soups, rice and other meals. We store it in the oven while not in use.
  • Stainless steel French press: We didn't want to have to rely on electricity to make coffee, so our go-to is a sturdy French press. Plus, it's fun to get beans from local coffee shops.
  • New York Times cooking subscription: This app allows us to easily search tons of recipes and discover new dishes with ingredients we have on board.
  • Pre-cut parchment paper: I learned this from my dad. It keeps food from sticking to the pan and makes cleaning easy a big plus on a tiny boat, where you may need to clean the pan quickly to put another item in the oven.

SIMPLE FLOUR TORTILLAS

Here's our go-to recipe for an easy batch of tortillas. Some of our favorite ingredients for stuffing inside are pantry staples black beans and rice or roasted sweet potatoes with a charred scallion crema (Greek yogurt, mayo and scallions charred on a hot skillet).

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/4 cup room temperature butter (Can also replace with shortening, lard or vegetable oil)
  • 7/8 to 1 cup of hot water

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  2. Add the butter (if you're using vegetable oil, add it in step 3). Use your fingers to work the fat into the flour until it disappears.
  3. Pour in the lesser amount of hot water (plus the oil, if you're using it), and stir briskly with a fork or whisk to bring the dough together into a shaggy mass. Stir in additional water as needed to bring the dough together.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead briefly, just until the dough forms a ball. If the dough is very sticky, gradually add abit more flour.
  5. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Round the pieces into balls, flatten slightly and allow them to rest, covered, for about 30 minutes.If you wish, coat each ball lightly in oil before covering to ensure the dough doesn't dry out.
  6. While the dough rests, preheat an ungreased cast iron griddle or skillet over medium high heat, about 400°F.
  7. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll into a round about 8 inches in diameter. Keep the remaining dough covered while you work. Fry the tortilla in the ungreased pan for about 30 seconds on each side. Wrap the tortilla in a clean cloth when it comes off the griddle to keep it pliable. Repeat with the remaining dough balls.
  8. If you have leftovers, allow them to cool completely, then wrap tightly in plastic and store in the refrigerator. Reheat in an ungreased skillet or for a few seconds in the microwave.

Recipe is from King Arthur Baking Company, kingarthurbaking.com/recipes/simple-tortillas-recipe. To follow Kate and Tim Carney's cruising adventures aboard Sweet Day, go to lifeonsweetday.com or @lifeonsweetday on Instagram.

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WHERE TO EAT WHEN YOU'RE CRUISING into unfamiliar harbors often feels like an insurmountable problem, especially along the Northeastern Seaboard. While looking around Long Island Sound to create a guide to its gastronomic offerings, we realized that this region hosted so many great dining options that it merited a two-part series.In this issue of Marinalife, we present a delicious sampling of the Connecticut Shore's waterfront establishments that feature fresh seafood and local cuisine. Stay tuned for our summer edition when we tour the culinary treasures along the Long Island New York Shore.

West to East on the Connecticut Shore

MAMARONECK, NY

La Piccola Casa Ristorante

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STAMFORD, CT

The Crab Shell

For waterfront dining at Harbor Landing Marina, savor excellent seafood and local favorites. Also check out the outdoor bar with a crab shack and live music. (crabshell.com)

NORWALK

Sunset Grille

On the dock and right near the fuel dock at Norwalk Cove Marina, guests can enjoy gourmet seafood offered at a lively seasonal, outdoor venue. (sunsetgrille.net)(Note: Dozens of restaurants are accessible from Norwalk Cove Marina or Rex Marine Center (via the Cove/Rex shuttle) or from the Norwalk Town Dock.)

BRIDGEPORT

Dolphin's Cove

Located at Dolphin's Cove Restaurant & Marina and an easy spot to meet crew coming by Rt. 95 or the Port Jefferson Ferry, this family-oriented eatery offers a wide array of dishes from the sea and land and a kids' menu. (dolphinscovect.com)

Captain's Cove Seaport Restaurant, Bar & Marina

Nested in the waterfront on Black Rock Harbor, it serves battered and fried seafood and shellfish, and has a decent kids' menu. Check out lots of attractions in the area. (captainscoveseaport.com)

STRATFORD

Outriggers

Located at Brewer's Stratford Marina, this restaurant presents fine dining in a casual atmosphere. Sample fresh fish and other seafood delights prepared to order. (outriggersrestaurant.com)

The Chowder Spot This food truck at the boat launch ramp in Stratford Harbor dishes up the ultimate in casual grub with a fantastic waterfront view.

HOUSATONIC RIVER

(between Stratford and Milford on the Connecticut coast)

clam chowder - new england dock and dine - marinalife
Clam Chowder | Wikimedia Commons

Joey C's Boathouse Cantina & Grill

Raise a fork to an all-around good menu with Mexican specialties, as well as local seafood, vegan and gluten-free options, and a large outdoor deck. (joeycsboathouse.com)

Riverview Bistro

Enjoy excellent seafood and classic dishes in a graceful venue overlooking the Housatonic River. Find a nice, secluded bar and lovely banquet room. (riverviewstratford.com)

Knapp's Landing

Located right on the water with a wonderful menu to match the view. Choose from a variety of seafood dishes ranging from clam chowder to lobster ravioli accompanied by a good raw bar. (knapps-landing.business.site)

MILFOD

After docking at Milford Landing Marina, a one-block walk takes you to lots of great dining choices including:

Archie Moore's

Serving craft beer in a rustic atmosphere since 1898, the pub's regular patrons come for the casual vibe and nibble on the famous buffalo wings. (archiemoores.com)

7 Seas

Open for lunch and dinner and specializes in New England-style lobster rolls and fried seafood in a casual setting. (7seasmilford.com)

Stonebridge Restaurant

American fare, fresh seafood and great appetizers. Take your pick of seating in a formal dining room, lively pub or outside on the deck. (stonebridgerestaurant.com)

SBC Restaurant & Beer Hall

Enjoy the neighborhood bar groove with handmade cocktails, local craft beer and farm-fresh American dishes at the end of the Wepawaug River. (SBCrestaurants.com)

BRANFORD

Dockside Seafood & Grill

Located at Safe Harbor Marina at Bruce & Johnson's. Casual nautical atmosphere with extensive menu of seafood, pasta, and lots more. (docksidebranford.com)

Stony Creek Brewery

Head all the way up river and dock at the brewery for craft brews with a view, cocktails and hot pizza. (stonycreekbeer.com)

Nellie's

Experience casual waterfront dining on a large patio on the Branford River with a good grilled seafood menu mixed with SoCal and classic New England cuisine, topped off with craft cocktails. (nelliesbranford.com)

CLINTON

Lobster Landing

Located right on the water in Clinton Harbor, it's rumored by Yankee Magazine to have the best lobster roll in New England. (facebook.com/LobsterLandingLLC)

Rocky's Aqua

Known for its classic New England seafood and steak dishes, plus a nice waterfront view. (rockysaqua.com)

WESTBROOK

Liv's Shack

Located at the site of the former BOOM restaurant at Pilot's Point Marina and specializes in hot buttered lobster rolls, fish tacos, hamburgers and more. (livsshack.com)

Bill's Seafood

A short walk or dinghy ride brings you to Bill's at the Singing Bridge. The seafood shack serves fried fish, lobster rolls and chowder on an outdoor deck. Kids love to throw French fries to the gulls and ducks. (billsseafood.com)

OLD SAYBROOK

Fresh Salt

Enjoy fine dining of locally sourced produce, seafood and meats at the Saybrook Point Resort & Marina for breakfast, lunch and dinner. (saybrook.com/eat-drink/fresh-salt)

Note: Head up the Connecticut River to discover other interesting restaurants such as The Griswold Inn in Essex (griswoldinn.com) and The Blue Oar in Haddam (blueoarct.wixsite.com/ctrestaurants) where you can BYOB, tablecloth and candles.

NEW LONDON

Fred's Shanty

Locals love this classic destination for seafood take out with picnic tables on the water. (freds-shanty.com)

Fisherman and lobsters - ne dock and dine - marinlaife
Fisherman and lobsters | Osvaldo Escobar on Unsplash

On the Waterfront Restaurant & Bar

Relax in casual elegance while dining on Italian-influenced seafood and steaks with stellar views of the Thames River. (onthewaterfrontnl.com)

Muddy Waters Cafe

Come here for coffees, baked goods, and breakfast or lunch options. It's home of the famous Love Salad, a generous Italian antipasto-type salad with garlic bread. Closest access by water is at the dinghy dock by the town moorings. (muddywaterscafenl.com)

Note: Visit the eastern end where Long Island Sound meets Fisher's Island Sound. In Fisher's Island Sound, head up the Mystic River to find Abbott's Lobster in the Rough (abbottslobster.com), Red 36 (red36ct.com) and lots of restaurants in downtown Mystic by the Bascule Bridge. Also explore Stonington's many culinary offerings including Breakwater (breakwaterstonington.com) and Dog Watch Café (dogwatchcafe.com/cafe).

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