"Rim of Fire" Paella

Anyone who has lived on the West Coast of the Americas, the eastern shores of Asia and Australia/New Zealand, Indonesia, and Guam will know the term “Rim of Fire” to describe the chain of volcanoes that bubble beneath the surface of the Pacific Ocean’s edges. This subterranean activity sometimes finds its way to the surface in places like Kilauea on Hawaii Island, Ubinas in Peru, Mt. St. Helens on the U.S. West Coast, and Pinatubo in the Philippines. Other times its power is more felt than seen, except in its aftermath, as in the frequent earthquakes that trouble all areas of the Pacific.

This dish was designed to “shake up” the palate and imagination with a Pacific take on an Iberian classic, the lovely paella. In our version, carnaroli — an Italian rice variety used for risotto — is simmered with a saffron sofrito spiked with sake, then studded with Manila clams, Hawaiian-style Portuguese sausage,
Kauai shrimp, and edamame for Pacific flair. If we had had abalone from the Big Island, we would have put those in too! Red and yellow pepper strips add color and sweetness, and a squeeze of tangy calamansi at the end brings this dish firmly into the Pacific rim. This was made early last summer when we were still on Oahu and all these wonderful ingredients were still our “local.”

Now the challenge will be to make a new local version with foods from this corner of the world.

Serves 4 persons

1/2 of one Hawaiian Portuguese sausage
1 TBL+ 2 TBL + 1 TBL olive oil
1 Cornish game hen, cut into serving pieces
sea salt and ground black pepper
6-8 cups vegetable or chicken broth (amount will depend on type of rice used, carnaroli will need more liquid)
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup seeded, diced tomato (about 1 large tomato)
small handful fresh cilantro sprigs, washed, dried and minced
pinch of saffron, soaked in warm water
1/2 lb. carnaroli or arborio rice
1/2 cup (120 ml) Japanese sake or Okinawan awamori

1 lb. (455g) Manila clams, scrubbed and cleaned
1/2 lb. (225g) sweet Kauai shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 red bell pepper, seeds removed and cut into thin strips
1 cup (150g) shelled edamame (fresh green soy beans)

Calamansi limes, for garnish and seasoning

Cut sausage lengthwise, then crosswise in 1/2 inch pieces to form half-moons. Season game hen pieces well with sea salt and ground black pepper.

Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C.

Heat broth in saucepan to boiling, then reduce to simmer and keep at simmer near paella pan. Have a ladle ready nearby too.
Note: It’s important to add hot broth to the rice as you cook, so I usually have more liquid than I anticipate I might need. Adding cold or cool liquid to the rice will cool the rice and the pan and the liquid will not absorb properly into the rice grains.

Heat paella pan, or other shallow wide pan, over medium heat, add 1 TBL olive oil, and gently fry sausage pieces until browned and cooked through, about 3-4 minutes each side. Remove all pieces to paper towel and set aside.

In same pan (without washing), brown all pieces of the game hen, and remove to oiled oven-safe pan. Cover and put in pre-warmed oven.

Still using the same pan, add 2 TBL olive oil and onions. Cook until onion just start to turn transparent, about 4-5 minutes, then add garlic, cilantro and tomatoes. Cook until tomatoes start to turn a darker red color, another 3-4 minutes. Move ingredients to the sides of the pan, and add last TBL oil to the center, then rice. Stir to coat rice evenly in oil and sofrito (the onion-tomato mixture). Increase heat to medium high, and continue to stir and toast the rice for another 3-5 minutes, or until the rice begins to crackle and pop.

Just before the rice threatens to singe, pour the sake over the rice and stir through. You will hear a hiss of steam, which risotto guru Valentina Harris, author of “Risotto! Risotto!” calls il sospiro, the sigh. Allow the rice grains to fully absorb the wine, stirring constantly, before adding a ladle of hot broth. Continue stirring until the liquid is again absorbed, then add another ladle. This method of allowing one ladle of broth to be fully absorbed before the next is added, allows the rice grains to swell slowly and cook properly, and helps to avoid the dreaded “uncooked kernel” that can haunt rushed risotti.

Continue adding broth one ladle at a time, until rice grains start to look shiny and to stick together. Add the saffron and another ladle of broth, then turn heat down to medium, and add pepper strips and edamame to rice, and stir through. Add another ladle of broth if rice has absorbed most of the liquid, then add clams, cooked sausage and game hen pieces, another ladle of broth, and stir, then cover and allow to steam for 5 minutes. Add another one or two ladles of broth (depending on whether you prefer a dry or soupy texture), then shrimp, and cover again for another 5 minutes. Keep covered and remove from heat.

Serve in shallow bowls or plates, garnish with calamansi to keep with the Pacific theme. A New Zealand or Australian sauvignon blanc is the perfect wine for this meal. Enjoy!

More using Kauai’s unique sweet shrimp: Spicy Seafood Stew w/Kauai Shrimp & Hawaii Abalone and Creamy Ewa Sweet Corn Soup with Kauai Shrimp