For Pope Francis, Jose Garces makes a paella to bring people together

As we close out Feeding Francis, it only makes sense to finish up the series by talking to Philadelphia’s premier Latin American chef.

This is the final part in a nine-part series.

Iron Chef Jose Garces is a wildly successful businessman. With 10 restaurants here in Philadelphia, and another seven throughout the country, he’s made quite the mark on our city. Still, it was tough for him to decide what he would cook up for Pope Francis. 

Reaching back to his first Philadelphia restaurant, which is coming up on its 10th anniversary, Garces chose a recipe from Amada — a black squid ink, seafood paella.

“I chose that dish because it’s something that really represents who I am,” said Garces, who was born to Ecuadorian parents. “As the pope is coming here to Philadelphia and we’re really bringing families together and people together, I thought, this is a dish that exemplifies that in my mind.”

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Paella is a Spanish rice dish usually served around big families. It’s cooked and served in a thin, metal pan. That’s where Garces began — a little oil and some onion started up things up, followed by short grain calasparra rice, which he let toast up in the pan.

“You hear that little popping?” Garces said. “That’s the rice getting happy. Feeling like it’s doing the right thing.”

He added in cockles, shrimp, mussels, and a little bit of squid. As that base of seafood began to cook, the natural juices seasoned the rice.

After a few minutes, Garces added in a black squid ink broth made up of clam juice, onion confit and black squid ink.

“I really like [the squid ink] because it reminds me of the Mediterranean… of the time I lived in Spain,” he said. “I think it also provides a certain richness to this seafood paella that you wouldn’t get from straight clam broth or saffron broth.”

He tossed in some fresh peas, scallions and piquillo peppers, and let those ingredients simmer for a few minutes before covering it in tinfoil and putting it into the oven.

Twenty-five minutes later the paella is ready for the next step — fresh grilled seafood. While it’s not the traditional way to make paella, it’s Chef Garces’ added touch.

“Most times in paella, they cook all the seafood in the pan, as I did, which is great to flavor the rice, but I often don’t like how overcooked it is, so this is my interpretation.”

Garces placed the split Maine lobster onto a grill. Next up are some head-on gulf prawns and Maine diver scallops. Both had been marinated in a mixture of parsley, cilantro, garlic, lemon and oil.

Garces turned to his second-hand man, Chef Austin Schafer of Amada, a “longtime soldier.”

Schafer was busy preparing the complements to the dish — grilled toast points with piquillo aioli, and a fresh salad of parsley, tomato, fava beans and red onion, tossed in a lemon vinaigrette.

The toast points are meant to scoop up the rice onto the seafood. Garces put his final touches on the dish by squeezing fresh lime over the plate.

“At my dinner table, the pope would get a lobster. Of course, the prize, the thing we’ve been working on, is the rice. So a nice scoop of that delicious paella rice,” said Garces. “Now that’s a paella fit for a pope.”

This is the final part in a nine-part series.

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