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Paella Imperatives

You can be as creative as you want with your paella as long as you have quality ingredients and the right equipment. Here's what you need:

* Spanish rice Calasparra  bomba, preferred by many Spanish cooks, is not available in the United States. I recommend plain Calasparra, a short-to-medium grain Spanish rice. Like bomba, it can soak up a maximum amount of flavorful liquid, becoming plump without turning mushy. Good paellas can also be made with other short-to-medium grain rices from Spain, California and Italy. Note that while one cup of dry Calasparra rice requires more than three cups of cooking liquid, a cup of any other short-to-medium grain rice requires only two cups of liquid.

* Pimentón de La Vera My trick for imbuing kitchen-cooked paella with an outdoors wood-smoke flavor is to use pimentón de La Vera, paprika from Spain's western region of Extremadura. The smoky, brick-red paprika has a warm, rounded flavor. Pimentón is produced by drying and smoking mature red peppers over oak fires, then stone grinding them to a uniquely smooth, almost talclike powder.

* Paella pan A good, dry paella is ideally cooked in a proper paella pan--a two-handled, wide, shallow, flat-bottomed pan with sloping sides. This type of pan allows liquid to evaporate quickly while the rice cooks uncovered over low heat. As an alternative, you can choose a very wide and shallow skillet.

These and other necessities--including, for purists, round iron grates for supporting a paella pan over a wood fire
--are available from The Spanish Table, 1427 Western Ave., Seattle (206-682-2827; tablespan@aol.com).

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