Chinese tradition dictates that for a new year’s meal there must be leftovers. It’s an age-old glorification of excess, but seen in a more practical light, the mountain of Tupperware offers a break from cooking and cleaning up after a marathon of holiday dinner parties. After a weekend of feasting, the fridge is packed with everything from tempura to paella. There’s a tureen of butternut squash soup supporting a huge wedge of clementine tart balanced next to a can of dulce de leche and a bag of unfilled éclair shells. For midnight protein cravings, there’s no turkey leg, but I can nab a few baby squid tentacles and maybe a stray lobster claw from the pot of cioppino. Raiding the fridge for leftovers beats robbing the candy store any day.
In a perfect display of sloppy manners and abject laziness, I often snack right out of the Tupperware, preferably with fingers (everything tastes better this way), and reheating is for overachievers. Not owning a microwave doesn’t help with my cold food habit, but even I won’t stoop to eating stiff cold rice straight from the fridge. Plain rice usually goes to making fried-rice, the silver bullet of leftover recipes, but with something special like paella I wanted to try a new approach.
I’ve seen recipes for paella arancini, essentially a creamy rice croquette. Yet as delicious as that sounds, I felt I had done enough deep-frying this past week to merit a vacation from spitting pots of bubbling oil. Seeking a simpler path, I went for the slow sizzle of a grill pan and created the paella yaki onigiri, or grilled paella rice balls. Yaki onigiri are usually made from plain Japanese rice balls: the surfaces are lightly brushed with soy sauce and grilled till crisp and slightly charred on both sides. It happens that the best part of the original paella is the crispy crust scraped from the bottom of the pan, but no crispness survives a night in the fridge so this approach recreates the coveted crust while the heat fluffs up the interior at the same time. Compressing the paella into triangular rice balls and dry-grilling them on a pan over steady medium heat is pretty stress-free, but it does take patience to achieve that crunch and nutty crust, so take your time and take extra care when flipping them over as they’re wont to crumble. Although it is no great disaster if they do come apart, just default to the cure-all and call it fried rice, the dish to end all dishes.
If you have any comments, suggestions, questions, or other tasty tidbits, contact DuanDuan at SnackBar.Kitchen@gmail.com.