I just spent a fantastic couple of days in a place I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t really know existed. Did you know that there is a ton of amazing wine, food, coffee, and opportunity for adventure in Okanagan Valley, British Columbia? I will probably mention it again on here, most likely while whining that I can’t retire yet. It’s true.
Before I left, I made this bad boy and invited a couple of my favorite people over. It’s the rational thing to do before skipping town: pack your phone charger, make sure you haven’t lost your passport, get pumped about doing the New York Times crossword (in-flight ritual–just me?), make an enormous meal.
Paella isn’t really a Spanish dish, if you want to get specific. It’s not representative of the diverse country as a whole, but rather, of the Valencia region. There are two types of “authentic” paella: Valencian, which includes chicken, rabbit, snails, duck, a few kinds of beans, tomatoes, rosemary and sweet paprika, and–originating on the Valencian coast, natch–seafood paella, which you’re probably familiar with. A hybrid of the two is what we have here–mixed paella, that is. Although it is popular outside of Valencia, some insist it’s not the real deal.
Knowing these things excites me, but I’m not into turning food into some sort of shouting match. Live and let live, eat and let eat. That’s boring, but that’s how mama rolls.
You could do this in an oven, but if you have the means, I’d highly recommend using your grill to do this. Two reasons: (1) cooking outside is inherently more fun, and (2) direct heat means a layer of crispy, toasty rice on the bottom. Furthermore, if using a charcoal grill, you can amp up flavor even further by throwing some wood chips in there.
It’s a delicious, highly regarded dish, but honestly, if you can throw a bunch of stuff into a pan, you can make paella. If you’re intimidated, let me assure you: this isn’t difficult. Time-consuming, and somewhat pricy as far as ingredients are concerned, but not difficult, and very much worth it.
P.S. Numero ocho.
Grilled Mixed Paella
(adapted slightly from the New York Times)
One large pinch saffron
2 1/4 quarts low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pound chicken thighs, bone-in or boneless, skinned
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound chorizo, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 red or yellow bell peppers, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups short-grain rice, such as bomba or arborio
1 pound shrimp, peeled, cleaned and deveined
2 cups fresh or frozen peas
1 dozen littleneck clams, cleaned
Combine the saffron and broth in a large pot over medium heat; once hot, lower heat to keep warm.
Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a paella pan (mine is 15 inches, and I scaled the original recipe, which uses an 18-inch pan, down a bit) on the stove. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper and brown the chicken and the chorizo on all sides, then transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.
Add the onion and peppers to the paella pan and cook until onion is soft and translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant. Add the rice and stir to coat it with the oil. Season this mixture with salt and pepper, and remove pan from heat.
Also, at this point, you can coarsely chop the chicken or leave it whole, and de-bone it if you’d like.
Heat up the grill to medium-high heat. Bring your stock, paella pan and the rest of the ingredients out by the grill, and when the grill is so hot that you can only hold your hand over it for a few seconds, place the paella pan onto the grill, stir in the shrimp and peas into the rice, then add as much stock as fits in the pan (I used nearly 2 quarts). Stir. Nestle the clams into the paella, hinge side up, so that when they open, they open toward the bottom of the pan.
Cover the grill as well as you can. (Note that the paella pan may not fit perfectly on there, especially if you used a tiny Weber grill like I did–this is fine. Just rotate the pan 180 degrees at least once to ensure everything cooks evenly.)
Cook until liquid is absorbed, around 25-30 minutes, adding more broth if the rice is underdone. Listen for a crackling sound toward the end of the cooking time if you want the crispy, toasted bottom crust to form–you can always poke around with a spoon to check on it and make sure it’s not burning, also. Season with salt and pepper, stir, and add a little more broth if you’d like. Serve immediately.
Serves 8-10. At least. Make some friends!