One of the dishes I was so impressed with during a recent cooking class at the Maya Kitchen was the paella de cordero. It was one of the recipes demonstrated by chef Miguel Angel de Alba, whose father, Anastacio de Alba, founded a chain of Spanish restaurants in Manila, including the now iconic Alba Restaurante Español.
To say that this paella recipe is unconventional is to put it mildly. On a scale of nonconformity, it would probably rank a nine or a 10 (with 10 being the most nonconformist).
For one thing, it does away with saffron, the major ingredient without which a paella wouldn’t be considered paella. I can just imagine the people of Valencia, which is considered the birthplace of this famous rice dish, reacting in communal shock at the very idea: “Ay, que horror!”
To add to the travesty, the recipe replaces the saffron with pesto, which is an Italian ingredient. In a Spanish dish? How absolutely daring!
But, as they say, the proof of the eating is in the pudding. At the end of the cooking session and after tasting the paella de cordero, I was stunned into submission. It was one of the best paellas I’ve ever tasted, never mind the saffron.
Though nontraditional, it had a very robust flavor. The lamb, the pesto, the broth, and all the other ingredients seemed to have conspired to infuse this dish with a scrumptious, gutsy richness that was nevertheless comforting and reassuring.
The drizzle of aioli sauce also did much to add zest to the dish. You definitely won’t miss the lemon wedges usually served with paella.
A few Sundays ago, I cooked this ambrosial dish at home and it was as bold and as rich as I remember it to be when chef Miguel and Maya Kitchen served it to us.
Here’s the recipe (which I’ve adjusted from the original recipe to serve a family of four):
Alba’s Paella de Cordero
½ kg lamb chops
¼ c olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
½ c sliced button mushrooms
2 bell peppers, diced into about 1-inch cubes
5 c lamb broth or beef broth* (see tips)
2 c Arborio rice
4 tbsp (¼ c) pesto sauce* (see tips)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Chopped parsley (optional)
Aioli sauce (garlic mayonnaise)
Mint jelly (optional)
Remove the bones from the lamb chops. Cut the meat into slightly-larger-than-bite-size pieces. Set aside.
Heat olive oil in a paellera or shallow pan to medium heat and sauté onions and garlic for about one minute. Add the lamb meat and sauté until meat is half-cooked. Add the mushrooms and bell peppers then pour in the broth.
Bring to a boil. Add the rice, making sure to distribute the grains evenly in the pan. Let it cook for about five minutes, then blend in the pesto sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Reduce the heat and cover the pan with aluminum foil. Simmer for around 15-20 minutes or until the rice is fully cooked. Remove from the heat, then drizzle the paella with aioli sauce. If desired, sprinkle chopped parsley on top. Serve immediately (with mint jelly on the side, if desired). Makes four servings.
(Mint jelly is available in the condiments or sauces section of supermarkets.)
To make aioli sauce:
Combine 1 c mayonnaise, 4 cloves finely chopped garlic, and 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice in a bowl. Stir until well-blended. Season to taste with salt.
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Pesto sauce is a blend of basil leaves, garlic, olive oil, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese. You can buy this in bottles in supermarkets.
To make a simple lamb broth, simmer the lamb bones in 5 c water for about 30 minutes. You can also use canned beef broth or beef stock.
If you want the paella to have tutong or toasty rice on the bottom, turn up the heat for about one to two minutes toward the end of the cooking process.