This dish is a type of “arroz caldoso,” which is a popular type of rice preparation in Valencia and Catalonia. Caldoso comes from the word “caldo,” the Spanish word for soup. As the name suggests, these types of dishes are cooked to an almost soupy consistency – there should be a bit of liquid left in the pan, and it shouldn’t be a solid, set-up mass of rice. Some people actually prefer to make arroz caldosos as liquidy as a soup This type of arroz is often served as a main course, though it also works as a hearty side.
This is a pretty typical autumn dish inland in Catalonia. When fall comes, so do the rains, and the mushrooms soon carpet the forests. Catalans are endlessly obsessed and infatuated with mushrooms, probably more than any other culture in Western Europe, and, I, being an obsessed mushroom hunter, am always very curious to explore the way they like to use mushrooms. This is just one of many mushroom dishes that will eventually start to show up on these pages.
This is definitely all about the mushrooms. Ideally you want to get a variety of different mushrooms to use for this. A good mix will give you deeper flavors and a more interesting mix of textures. You can use different commercially grown, storebought mushrooms, like shitake, oysters, crimini, etc. that most grocery stores carry these days. Wild mushrooms are even better (if you can safely get them). The day before I made this dish, a good friend gifted me a couple pounds of chanterelles, which I used in this recipe. Porcini, Slippery Jacks, Russula, Saffron Milk Caps, Yellow Foots, Blewits, and Hedgehogs are just a few of the wild mushrooms that would make great additions to this dish.
I also like to put in a handful of dried mushrooms to go with the fresh mushrooms. Dried mushrooms tend to have much more concentrated aroma and flavor that can penetrate all of the other ingredients in the pan.
Arroz caldosos are always cooked using the small, round-grained rices, like Bahia or Bomba, that are popular throughout Spain. If you can’t find these rices, substitute arborio rice.
2 lbs of mixed mushrooms (wild, if possible)
Olive Oil for cooking
1 oz dried mushrooms
2 quarts (8 cups) water
1 medium sized onion, peeled, and cut in small dice
1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut in small dice
½ red or yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut in small dice
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 cups Bomba rice (or some other small, round grained rice)
A few sprigs of thyme, leaves only
1 bay leaf
1. Place the dried mushrooms in a pot, and cover with the water. Place on a low flame, add a pinch of salt, and keep hot and covered with a lid, until needed.
2. Heat a large cazuela or heavy-bottomed pan on a medium flame. Sauté the mushrooms with the olive oil, and a pinch of salt. Cook until the liquid is reduced and reabsorbed, and until the mushrooms are just slightly browned. Remove the mushrooms from the pan and set aside. Cook the mushrooms in a couple batches, if necessary, so as to not crowd the pan too much. They should be in close to a single layer in the pan when you sauté them.
3. Make the sofregit (sofrito): Add another generous glug of olive oil to the pan, then add the onion and a pinch of salt. Lower the flame to medium-low and sauté, stirring regularly, until the onions are meltingly soft, but not browned. Add the garlic, bell peppers, and a pinch of salt. Continue to sauté, stirring regularly, until the peppers are also meltingly soft, but not browned.
4. Stir in the cooked mushrooms, bay leaf, thyme, and the rice. Continue to cook, stirring for about 30 seconds. Pour in the water with the reconstituted dried mushrooms, stir to mix everything in and turn the heat up to bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to keep a simmer.
Note: I suggest scooping out the dried mushrooms and adding them first, then strain any sediment out of the water before adding it to the rice.
5. Let simmer for about 10 minutes, until a lot (but not all) of the water is absorbed. Taste the remaining broth, and adjust salt as needed. Remove from the heat while there is still a fair bit of water left, and serve immediately, while bubbling hot. It should have the consistency of a thick soup or thin rice porridge. It will start to thicken up on the table, as it is served.
Note: If desired, you can set aside some of the sautéed mushrooms from step 2, to garnish the finished dish.