Friday, March 30, 2018

My Mother's Paella

This past week I’ve been trying to dig to the bottom of the piles of papers on my desk. I can now see glimpses of the top (and the floor) here and there, but it’s nowhere near finished. And then I want to make new folders and labels and . . .

Anyway, one of the items that crawled out was an inch-thick bundle of index cards with recipes. My mother assembled these, probably after 1962 (I gave her a decorated file box to hold them for her birthday that year), and other contributors included family members and women my mother knew from her multiple bridge groups, Welcome Wagon, and probably a few more I don’t remember. And even my grandmother’s cleaning woman.

It’s kind of a mixed collection of recipes, mostly geared toward appetizers and desserts (those bridge club members were competitive with their snacks!). I thought I’d try my hand at my mother’s version of paella, unusual for her because she wasn’t particularly interested in ethnic cooking. But this sounded tasty (and my mother’s birthday was in April).

As always, I cut the recipe in half—and it still filled my large casserole! I also tweaked a few things, and guessed at some of the amounts, since they weren’t spelled out in the original. But it’s a foregiving recipe, so don’t worry.

Chicken Paella


1/2 cup olive oil

1 frying chicken, cut up (or use whichever parts you prefer)
   (Note: the chickens in the 1960s were smaller than those you find in markets today, so adjust accordingly)
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minched or mashed
1 can chopped or diced tomatoes with their juice
1 lb. raw shrimp, peeled
2 cups rice
pinch of saffron (expensive and hard to find, but it makes a difference!)
4 cups clam broth (or use chicken or seafood broth)
1 pkg. frozen artichoke hearts
1/2 lb. green peas

That all-important pinch of


Heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Brown them, then add the onions and garlic. Cook until the onions are lightly browned.

Add the tomatoes and juice and cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring.

Add the shrimp and cook until they are pink (not long). add the rice and mix in. Transfer the contents of the skillet into a deep casserole with a lid.

The shrimp are in there somewhere

Bring the broth to a boil (in saucepan or microwave) and add the saffron. Pour the broth over the ingredients in the casserole and cover. Cook over low heat for 15 minutes (the mixture will still be soupy). Uncover and finish cooking over low until all the liquid has been absorbed. 

Add the artichokes and peas and cook until heated through. 

I'd like to think that the recipe was inspired by my grandparents' short years of living in Cuba in the 1920s, but my grandmother never cooked so I doubt she carried the recipe with her when they left (because the house blew down in a hurricane). As time passed, my mother simplified the recipe but it was a family staple--and it always included saffron.

Books . . . are coming. One in April, maybe (from Beyond the Page, still searching for a name), one in June (Murder at the Mansion, St. Martin's), September (also from Beyond the Page, and still nameless), and one in January 2019, which may have finally gained a name as of yesterday (The Lost Traveller, from Crooked Lane).


  1. So much great news about all your releases and inspiration to make my paella again soon. Thank you, Sheila.

  2. What a treat to have those recipe cards.

  3. I'd forgotten about them, until they reappeared. I told my sister that she had contributed one recipe, back then, and it turns out she's still making it all these years later. I was less lucky when I found a handwritten recipe book from one of my Irish great-aunts, who actually worked as a cook/housekeeper. All I remember from it is that she seemed to put sugar in everything.

  4. Sounds wonderful. Cant wait for the releases of your upcoming books!