Friday Fuck Up: How Bobby Flay Ruined Thanksgiving

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For Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims mixed European and Native traditions.  Captain Smith, Squanto – how about a little love for the Asians? This year, my parents’ multinational crew of grad students promised to represent.  On the menu for our T-giving feast was Szechuan beef, Korean pancakes and short rib stew.

“You should cook something, too,” my mom said.

Determined to transcend my lowly status as gastronomic afterthought, I plotted to steal the show.  I would take Thanksgiving tradition to new heights by weaving in the culinary tricks I picked up during my recent hero’s voyage to Spain.

“HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH turkey paella???”  My Spanish friend Isabel, emailing me from Girona, needed 11 “HA”s and three question marks to communicate just how freakish it was to throw gobbler into my paella.

When I was in Barcelona and Madrid, though, I had paellas with all kinds of stuff – snails, rabbit, you name it.  I was further reassured after learning that Bobby Flay had the same idea; his recipe for turkey paella is all over the Web.  Turkey wasn’t the only unusual detail – the recipe also called for a “lemon-smoked paprika aioli” with mayo, lemon juice, and lemon peel.

Bobby Flay, the Irish guy who cooks Southwestern?  What’s he know about paella?  Well, I thought, you don’t win three James Beard awards without covering your bases.  After all those years of Iron Chef and Boy Meets Grill, surely Bobby knows more than just Santa Fe burgers, right?

Glancing around the kitchen on Thanksgiving Day, the competition looked stiff.  Jessica was serving two versions of Korean pancakes – one with kimchi, another with milder vegetables.  Eunsoo’s short rib stew was packed with eggs and spicy vegetables.  Peng Peng’s Szechuan beef bore an intriguing resemblance to Carolina bbq.

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And my paella looked amazing.  At least, it did until I got to the last step of the recipe: “gently fold in lemon-paprika aioli.”  My simmering paella, studded with turkey sausage, onions and bell peppers, quite suddenly turned to mush like your brain on Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami.

“Is that a risotto?” Jessica asked me while everyone else focused on her attractive pancakes.

“Paella,” I said.  “It’s a Bobby Flay recipe!”

“But he’s Irish, right?”

“He won three James Beard awards!”

So … what the hell happened?

Daniel Arana, owner and executive chef at Sol de Espana in Rockville, Maryland, explained to me that the recipe should have called for the mayo in the aioli to be homemade.  “What they were trying to have you make is a crust on the paella,” said Daniel (through co-owner, catering manager, and wife Daniela Jaramillo).  “This is typical in Spain.  The crust hardens and provides a different type of finish for the paella.”  Introducing aioli is a technique that adds great crunch to the black squid ink paellas served all over Spain, and noodle paellas frequently found in Barcelona.  But, Daniel told me, you can’t base your aioli on Hellmann’s.  Store-bought varieties of mayo won’t work because they contain too much egg.

All of which is to say, maybe Bobby Flay should stick with Santa Fe turkey burgers.

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  • Drew December 10, 2010  

    I HATE it when restaurants dump aioli on my paella. It’s rare but it happens. Best policy is to serve it on the side. We Americans definitely know how to screw up a good thing.

  • Paul Schulman December 10, 2010  

    Interesting .. Flay’s had some issues with paella in the past –

  • Marcy B December 11, 2010  

    The taste wasn ‘t bad, but it was no where near paella. Definitely risotto. Interesting explanation from Daniel/Daniella.

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