Rabbit and Snail Paella
Tender braised rabbit, wild Burgundy snails, carrots, sunchokes, and rice in this modern version of the traditional paella Calenciana, which despite its modern chicken-and-shellfish connotation, started off as a dish of rice cooked with rabbit, beans, and small snails known as vaquetes.
The paella starts with a mixture of canola and extra-virgin olive oil. Normally it gets cooked over a large gas flame, but today Jamie was working on an induction burner installed next to the open plancha station in the back of the restaurant.
Several aromatics are added in quick succession, starting with scallion bottoms.
"We caramelize the onions in advance because they take so long," says Jamie. The onions are cooked down slowly until their sugars naturally break down and sweeten.
Carrots and sunchokes
Roughly diced, un-skinned carrots and sunchokes are added, which Jamie then seasons with salt.
Garlic and sofrito
Spanish sofrito is a strongly reduced tomato-based mixture. Toro makes theirs with tomatoes and onions. Fresh garlic is also added to sauté.
Jamie seasons the paella
After adding calasparra rice, Jamie seasons the mixture with salt and pepper.
Toast the rice
The rice is toasted in the flavored oil to break down some of its starch and develop nutty flavors.
Once the rice is toasted, Jamie adds a mixture of chicken stock and the braising liquid from the rabbit that will be added later. The braising mixture is aromatic with pimentón de la vera, which adds its unique sweet, smoky flavor.
"A traditional rabbit paella would have chunks of rabbit that get cooked right in the pan," says Chef Ken Oringer. For Toro's version, the rabbit is slow-cooked separately and added in moist shreds. The same rabbit is used to make their rabbit terrine.
The snails are wild Burgundy snails canned in France from Henri Maire. Large, meaty, and clean, these are some of the most prized snails you can get.
Jamie places the snails on top of the paella to warm through gently as the rice finishes cooking.
Unlike a risotto, which is cooked at a gentle simmer and stirred frequently, a paella is cooked at a rapid boil with no stirring. The bubbling helps agitate the rice and release its starch to thicken up the broth into a creamy liquid, all while it develops a crunchy browned soccarat on its base—the most prized part of the dish.
Jamie pokes the rice occasionally to taste it for doneness and monitor the development of the soccarat.
As it nears completion, Jamie scatters some mint over the surface. Normally they use nepitalla (calamint), though today it was standard spearmint.
Ready to serve
After scattering it with scallion greens, Jamie holds up the finished paella for Ken.
The large-format dish is big enough to easily feed four hungry diners. It's also available in a smaller version that feeds two to three.
Scraping the soccarat
"Is it weird that with all this awesome stuff in here the carrots are the most appealing thing to me?" asks Jamie. The carrots are great, but the best part is obviously the crunchy browned crust at the bottom of the pan. The paella comes served family style at the table with a wooden spoon to make scraping it up easy.