You can make paella inside in the winter and it’s great, but, wow, if you can do it outside it’s all the better.
Paella, as mentioned, is a Spanish dish, most likely from Valencia which like all the great iconic dishes of the world is wrought with controversy about ingredients: who made it first and where it originated. Some Spaniards will tell you must have rabbit in it. Or chorizo. Or chicken. Or beans. You can put what you like in it. I think the most important bits are the rice; a special chubby, starchy, short-grain rice that goes by the name of Bomba or Calasparra. It’s similar to the Arborio rice used in Italian risotto, but that will be in another post and I’ll being using words like amylose and amylopectin (I’m trying not to be science-y this first run). So rice. Special rice. And the second important ingredient for me to make paella is saffron. The queen of spices. The single stamen from a special crocus flower, plucked by hand, in season. Super expensive, but you won’t need too much. Buy the real deal. Never by ground—you’re being ripped off. Always buy the whole stamens. It’s important to soak the saffron in a bit of water (add the water to the pan), because if you just add it to the pan (it will make more sense if you make it to the recipe), it is not oil soluble, so it won’t release it saffron-y love and it will just get stuck in your teeth. You’ll wonder why you spent $11 on the f**king saffron. If used correctly, it will a stunning orange-y red hue to the dish and a light sorta floral aroma (remember the crocuses, but I think it tastes like, well, saffron).
So the recipe. It’s important to cook this in stages and develop strong flavors from each addition of vegetables, aka the sofrito. When you add the rice, some refer to it as toasting or parching the rice. That means the rice absorbs the liquid from vegetables and chorizo in the pan. Be careful not to brown the rice (that will make it hard for the rice to absorb the liquid and it will be unpleasantly undercooked). Also there is something special called the soccarat. The soccarat is the super yummy, crunchy rice that gets stuck to the bottom of the pan. After everything is cooked, you can turn up the volume on the heat and toast the rice on the bottom of the pan – be careful. The rice goes from no soccarat to burnt quickly.
Lastly, the name paella has some interesting stories attached to it. I heard for years, that it comes from the Spanish words “para” (for) and “ella” (her). The story goes that the men and the women switched domestic responsibilities and the men stayed home and tended the kids, garden, and did the many household chores, while the women went out and did the job of hunting and gathering. When the women came home with the bounty of the field and sea, the men cooked and presented to their spouse a lovely dish paella, “for her.” Romantic. I have also heard that paella comes from the Arabic word, “baqiyah” or leftovers. The Arabs were in charge of Southern Spain for a long time. Likely when paella came to be. You decide.
I have about 20 more paragraphs of paella love and lore to share, but maybe you might want to just make some. Here’s a great way to make it. Substitute as you wish.
If you’re having trouble locating ingredients, you can buy all the ingredients (except the fresh vegetbales), plus paella pans in all sizes from an AMAZING online Spanish grocer, latienda.com
Have fun and buen provecho.
10 to 20 threads saffron
about ¼ cup Spanish olive oil
10 ounces Spanish chorizo, diced, room temperature
6 boneless chicken thighs, skin on, cut in half, room temperature
2 small onions, diced
4 bay leaves, break in half just before you put in the pan
2 red bell peppers, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Spanish pimento (smoked sweet or spicy dried pepper, similar to paprika)
1 cup white wine
2 cups small dice Roma tomatoes (about 6)
6 piquillo peppers, diced
2 cups Bomba or Calasparra rice
2 cups fish stock or clam juice (keep warm)
1 cup chicken stock (keep warm)
24 medium shrimp (24 count), shelled and deveined, room temperature
24 scallops, room temperature
36 mussels, room temperature
6 whole lobster tails, split lengthwise, room temperature
2 cups fresh peas, blanched
12 lemon wedges
If using an outdoor grill, prepare the fire to reach a temperature of 400°F.
In a small bowl, steep the saffron threads in ¼ cup of warm water for 1 hour.
In a 14-inch paella pan over medium-high, add the oil and sear the chorizo (be careful not to burn), rendering its fat, until browned, but not too crispy. Push the chorizo to the rim or cool spot of the pan (if it’s cooking too quickly remove with a slotted spoon). Add the chicken, skin side down, until it is deeply browned; about 6 minutes.
Adjust the heat to medium and add the onions until the onions are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the bell peppers and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, garlic, and piquillo peppers; when the garlic becomes fragrant (1 to 2 minutes), add the wine and bay leaves. Increase the heat to medium-high and allow the wine to cook down and evaporate; until about 2 tablespoons of liquid remains. Stir in the rice and mix thoroughly, allowing the rice to absorb all the sofrito-y love. When MOST of the liqud is absorbed, moving quickly, but carefully (take the pan off the heat if need be), stir the chorizo back to the pan. Shake the pan so that the ingredients are in an even layer. Nestle the chicken into the rice. Pour in the stocks--enough to cover the rice by 1/4-inch (you can always add more).
Do not stir the paella.
Cook 8 to 10 minutes. Arrange the lobster, shrimp, scallops, and mussels on top, being careful to nestle the seafood but not to disturb or heaven forbid, do not stir the paella. Add more stock if the rice has absorbed all the liquid. Once the seafood has cooked through (you can close the lid or place aluminum foil on top of the pan for more control.
Increase the grill heat (or lower the pan directly onto the coals) and continue cooking for 1 to 2 minutes to toast the rice on the bottom of the pan – be careful not to burn.
Remove the paella from the grill and sprinkle with the peas. Serve family-style in the paella pan, giving diners a fork and napkin. Serve with aioli.