Recipe: Cava’s killer octopus, chicken and clam paella
By Chris McDonald
PREP TIME: 25 minutes
COOK TIME: 1 hour 45 minutes
Serves 4 to 6
¼ cup olive oil
1 large white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 sweet red pepper, seeded and chopped
4 canned plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 tbsp sweet smoked Spanish paprika
3 bay leaves
½ tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lb cleaned octopus
⅓ cup olive oil
4 small bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, cut in half crosswise
Salt and fresh black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup sofrito
1⅓ cups bomba rice
3 cups low-salt chicken broth
¼ tsp crumbled saffron
2 6-inch cured chorizo sausages, halved and sliced
16–24 small Manila clams
½ cup chopped Italian parsley
1. For sofrito, heat oil in large skillet over medium. Cook onion and garlic for 10 minutes until soft but not browned. Add red pepper. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes until soft.
2. Add remaining sofrito ingredients. Reduce heat. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until reduced. Discard bay leaves. Pulse sofrito in food processor until smooth. Refrigerate (up to 3 days) or freeze.
3. Steam octopus for about 1 hour until tender. When cool enough to handle, rub off skin. Cut tentacles and body into bite-size chunks and discard head.
4. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a 15-inch paella pan or cast iron skillet. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Cook for about 8 minutes, turning once, until browned. Pour off fat from pan. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add remaining oil and cook garlic until fragrant. Add sofrito. Stir for 1 minute. Warm stock in a saucepan.
5. Stir in rice. Cook for 2 minutes until translucent. Stir in hot stock and saffron. Increase heat to medium. Bring to a simmer. Add chicken, octopus and chorizo. Push clams, hinge side down, into rice. Position pan so it straddles two burners and adjust heat so paella simmers gently. Cover pan tightly with foil. Cook for 5 minutes, then rotate pan 90 degrees. Cook for 5 more minutes. Remove foil. Turn chicken. Cook uncovered for 15 minutes, rotating every 5 minutes, until rice is almost tender, chicken is cooked and clams are open.
6. Remove pan from heat. Sprinkle with parsley. Cover with kitchen towel and let stand for 10 minutes.
You can tell your clams are fresh if they smell like the sea and have tightly closed shells.
Chris McDonald’s 30-year career started before many of the current crop of bright, young, tattoo-sporting chefs could even hold a spoon. McDonald ran one of the city’s most ambitious kitchens at Avalon, back (way back) when the Entertainment District was just a holding area for old, empty warehouses. At Cava, his six-year-old Spanish dining room at Yonge and St. Clair, he’s been consistently ahead of the trend curve—serving tapas, local produce and charcuterie well before everyone else. One of his finest menu items is paella, the macho Iberian dish traditionally cooked over outdoor fires. It takes at least an hour to prepare, and there’s no turning back once it’s on the flame. Then again, commitment, as McDonald notes dryly, is what great chefs are all about.