The warm whisper of summer has arrived as a dryness on the breeze with the promise of meals in the garden and nights spent laughing under the stars. There have already been requests for Carlos’ paella cooked over our firepit. We have rigged a simple, some might say “sketchy,” grill with a barbecue rack and shelving rods, held together by nuts and bolts. The whole contraption rests on cinder blocks. Stovetop paella tastes great, but an open flame imparts such a wonderful smokiness that we rarely cook it indoors anymore. It also cooks more evenly over fire, and the soccarat, the caramelized crust that forms on the bottom of the pan, is worth fighting over. We love to prepare paella for special occasions, but, honestly, a few good bottles of wine to share ranks as a special occasion around here. You want a paella in your honor? Bring the Rioja.
Carlos’ recipe is based on the paella his father used to make and on one that our friend, Belen, makes. Both are from a tiny fishing village near the northernmost tip of Spain called O Vicedo, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Cantabric Sea. Belen’s mom raises chickens and makes her own chorizo. Her father, Señor Antonio, is a retired fisherman who still goes out to his secret locations in the estuaries to gather the best squid and shellfish. It seems fitting that the paella I’ve had from this region favors a combination of shellfish, chicken and chorizo.
Theories abound as to the origin of the word paella, but I like Carlos’ version best. He says that when a fisherman catches fish that are too small to sell at market or is fishing for mackarel but traps octopus in his nets, he tosses them aside in a basket to bring home to his wife, “for her” or “para ella” to cook with some rice. The pan is also called a paella or a paellera. La Tienda has a stellar selection for sale, along with ingredients like perfect Valencian short-grain rice, pimenton and Spanish chorizo. Paella can be cooked in any wide-bottomed flat pan, and it can be easily prepared on a barbecue.
We prepared a beautiful paella last summer when Carlos’ cousin Eddie Mortenson came to visit with his Galician wife Maricarmen and their son Christopher, who, though he spends every summer with family in Spain, had never before tasted paella. These photos are from that night.
4 tbsp olive oil, approx.
1 lb Spanish chorizo (not Mexican) cut in ¼ inch slices
5 or 6 chicken thighs (bone-in, with skin) cut in half across bone
1 large onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds total your choice: shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, calamari, lobster (or two bags of Trader Joe’s seafood mixture, shrimp, or langostine tails. If you use these, add before the cooking liquid)
3 cups Spanish short-grain rice, arborio is worthy substitue
1 cup white wine
5-6 cups chicken stock (or water)
2 pinches saffron
1 tbsp smoked paprika (optional)
1 cup frozen peas
roasted red peppers cut lengthwise in ¼ inch slices (jarred piquillo peppers are ideal, but expensive!)
kosher salt to taste
pepper to taste
Serves 8-12. Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in paellera over medium-high heat. Add chorizo. This will start to color the olive oil. Add chicken, skin side down. Cook until chicken is slightly browned, then turn over and brown other side. Add onion, pepper and garlic, season lightly with salt and pepper, cook for about 5 minutes. Add rice and stir to coat with olive oil, allow rice to toast for 2-3 minutes. Add white wine to deglaze, loosen any bits stuck to the bottom of pan. Add 5 cups chicken stock. You’ll see rice floating around the pan at this stage. If it’s not, the mixture is too dry and you should add more liquid. Add saffron and paprika. Stir gently, bring to a slow simmer. Cook until all liquid is absorbed, 15-20 minutes. About 10 minutes before cooking is done, arrange seafood on top and lightly season. Add peas evenly to top. Avoid stirring at this point. Remove from heat. Top with red pepper slices. Let paella rest for 3-5 minutes. We serve ours with rustic bread and very cold white wine such as Albariño or a medium bodied red wine such as a Rioja or Ribera del Duero.