For the past ten years, my family has been fortunate enough to travel and explore the country of Panama. We’ve made great family friends, visited exquisite destinations, enjoyed beautiful weather and debatably my favorite aspect of every trip—we have tasted delicious food. With every trip we take, I know I can count on the freshest produce which likely was picked off a tree, or caught from the ocean that day.
My family and I have witnessed Panama evolve over the past ten years and while every vacation consists of trying at least one new restaurant, we remain loyal customers to some of our favorite places which have been in business even before we started our travels.
Only a fifteen minute drive from our beach house is a family-owned Spanish restaurant, Los Camisones. This traditional dining spot is beloved by everyone in the area and is considered an essential stop on the way to the beach.
My go-to dish at Los Camisones will always be the paella. Since I was eight years old, I don’t leave Panama without enjoying this freshly made seafood and chorizo accompaniment which is inundated with flavor within a sea of yellow, saffron-infused rice. My family has yet to leave the restaurant without completely devouring this dish and although I can’t find another paella that meets its standards, I know it’s waiting for me every time I return to my second home.
Over spring break I was lucky enough to bring a few Vassar friends to Panama and made sure that a visit to Los Camisones was penciled into our agenda. As I explained to the waiter that my friends could not go home without trying my favorite paella dish, he suggested something I wish I had thought of a few years back—our very own cooking class. Finally we’d be able to to make “Camisones Paella” and cherish it back in New York. Before he could even finish his sentence, we jumped at the opportunity to learn such a classic entrée and while it may take a few attempts to perfect, this recipe is 100 percent worth trying.
The perfect paella relies upon short-grain rice, fine saffron, sweet onions, chorizo, chicken thighs, clams, shrimp, baby octopus and rich olive oil. In terms of cooking your paella, the dish is meant to be cooked above an open fire, which may intimidate new chefs, but is meant as a technique and learned skill/practice overtime. However, for beginners, one can— and should— cook their paella on top of a grill with a paella pan, which can be found at any cooking store.
The first step begins with cooking your protein which includes browning the meat of the chicken and chorizos and warming the liquid stock. Heat your paella pan with olive oil over medium heat and add seasoned chicken thighs (salt and pepper) in the heated oil. Once the skin is golden, remove the chicken from the pan and cook the chorizo in the oil until brown. Once the chorizo is cooked through, remove it from the pan and let it rest.
Now it is time to mix in the onion and garlic. While the paella pan is still over medium-high heat, add the onion until it turns translucent and later, mix in the garlic. Once the two flavors are well combined, add in the rice and stir the ingredients together while topping it off with salt and pepper.
With the rice already heated within the pan, gather the stock, chicken chorizo and additional protein into the mix. As your stir in (already cooked) shrimp, octopus, chorizo and peas, continuously add stock to avoid drying out the rice. Following this procedure, add the clams (hingeside up) so that their juices will be able to spill into the rice and add their own flavor and finally, mix the back into the pan on top. With all the ingredients settled into the dish, allow the paella pan to cook upon the heated surface for 25 to 30 minutes. After allowing the surplus of flavors to diffuse into one another, add an additional and final cup of stock with salt, pepper and parsley seasoning.
During the process of cooking paella, it is crucial to remember that patience is key. Although it is easy to just mix all the ingredients above a heated surface all at once, a perfect paella is formed by mastering the idea of time and knowing when to add each separate component into the fish. Buena suerte!
1 large pinch of saffron
2 1/4 quarts of low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
2 pounds of chicken thighs
Salt and freshly-ground pepper
1 pound of chorizo (best sliced into semi-circles)
1 medium onion (finely chopped)
1 tablespoon of garlic (minced)
4 cups of short-grain rice
1 1/2 pounds of jumbo shrimp (peeled and deveined)
1 cup of frozen peas
2 dozen littleneck clams (cleaned)
2 tablespoons of parsley (chopped)