SoupAddict has found her favorite outdoor party dish, ever: Paella. (Pronounced “pie-AYE-ya” for those of you who, like SoupAddict, need to pronounce things correctly, even when it’s just in one’s own head. The first Harry Potter book drove SoupAddict crazy, until she jumped on the interwebs to learn the proper way to say “Hermione”.)
Paella is a Spanish dish loaded with rice, sofrito, stock, a few carefully selected spices, and whatever protein suits your whim. Chicken? Good. Clams? Good. Scallops? Good. Chorizo? Good. A one-dish meal, prepared on the grill or over an open fire. Pour some sangria, and drag your friends out of the air-conditioning to gather around as you assemble this spectacular dish.
Note to Foodies: much like Cuban sandwiches, which draws passionate debates about authentic ingredients, SoupAddict’s version of paella may not be entirely authentic, but it is entirely delicious. She nonetheless begs the pardon of paella passionates who might find offense with the ingredients called for/not called for herein. SoupAddict, for example, cannot tolerate the sight of canned or frozen peas, and so has forbidden this traditional ingredient from coming within a one mile radius of her paella. Food adversion. It happens.
SoupAddict also wants to advise you up front: prepare/measure out all of the ingredients in advance. Paella has many steps, but they’re simple if everything is ready to go. You do not want to be caught scrubbing the clams when the cooking shrimp is already turning pink. The advance prep is also why it’s such a great party dish: when it’s time to cook, you just pull everything out of the fridge and get the grill going. No cleaning chicken while your guests guzzle your booze, finger your heirloom vases and toe-tap and knee-bob in the next room.
The key to a really good paella is the rice. Bomba rice is ever so delicious in paella—it’s a short grain rice that maintains a wonderful firmness and makes awesome socarrat (the rice that sticks to the bottom of the pan and toasts just short of burning … sooo delicious). If you can’t find Bomba rice locally, arborio is a good substitute.
Clams are an easy addition to paella, with a dramatic presentation as they begin to pop open on the grill. (See that brown one in the back? He’s a bad seed. Bad. Bad, clam! This one didn’t open when cooked, and when SoupAddict pried it open later, she found charcoal gray meat inside. Bad, clam!)
Mmmm, more seafood goodness. White shrimp and bay scallops. Mussels are also a great addition to paella.
Next, chicken thighs and a link of chorizo sausage, removed from its skin and crumbled. (Trivia: a healthy dose of paprika gives chorizo its bright color.)
The sofrito gives the paella its rich, delicious flavors. A sofrito is simply onions, garlic, and peppers (SoupAddict uses green bells, red bells and roasted piquillo peppers), and much like preparing soup, provides a savory, aromatic base for the paella.
Paella squeezes much flavor out of just a few spices: salt, smoked paprika and, most importantly, saffron threads.
Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, and comes dear, but you don’t use much, so a small container will last you a long time.
[Note: SoupAddict tried to add more commas to that last sentence, but, thinks, there’s, enough. SoupAddict likes commas … and ellipses.]
With the prep work done, stoke up the coals. SoupAddict has much love for her new chimney starter. In fact, it was the chimney starter that finally lured SoupAddict back to a charcoal grill.
Some alder chips smoulder, catch fire and smoke. Use your favorite wood chips. Or none at all. SoupAddict’s philosophy is, your house, your rules.
A big tray full of goodness. Note that the seafood is still in the fridge, since SoupAddict likes to take her time with the sofrito and the soaking of the rice in the stock.
In a large, very flat (and fire-proof) pan, heat the olive oil. SoupAddict loves her traditional carbon steel paella pan. You can easily find these pans —even huge, three-foot wide versions that will serve a crowd—online. Thoroughly cook the chicken and sausage first. Then remove both to another plate.
If needed, add more oil to the pan, and add the sofrito. Saute until the onions and peppers are soft. Stir frequently, making to certain to pause now and then to admire the wonderful colors.
Scooch the sofrito to one side of the pan, add a little drizzle of oil to the empty side, then add the spices to the oil. Mix well, and then incorporate into the sofrito.
Scooch the seasoned sofrito to the side again, and add the rice. SoupAddict likes to ever so lightly toast the rice before adding the stock. She doesn’t know why. It just seems the thing to do.
Add all of the stock and give everything a good stir to mix.
Now, take a deep breath. The next part is counter-intuitive. Especially for anyone who has made risotto.
Do not stir.
No matter how much you’re dying to.
Just don’t. Let the rice absorb the liquid undisturbed. This encourages the formation of socarrat, the toasted-almost-burned rice mentioned earlier.
When most of the liquid has been absorbed, add the shellfish (clams, mussels, etc.), nestling them down into the rice and liquid for good heat contact. Allow to cook for several minutes, then add the remaining seafood.
Rather than stirring the whole kit and caboodle to evenly cook the seafood, just use tongs or a spatula to nudge or flip over the shrimp and scallops. When the seafood is almost done cooking, return the chicken and sausage to the pan to reheat.
Nooow you can stir a little. When the socarrat begins to form (see it sticking to the pan in spots?), squeeze two fresh lemons over the entire dish (don’t forget to catch the seeds).
And stir in a good glug of white wine or brandy. Now, SoupAddict is not made of money to where she can just willy nilly use Courvoisier as a cooking ingredient. No, sir. See, what happened was, one day at the liquor store, SoupAddict saw a small bottle of Courvoisier and thought, hmm, what would it be like to sip Courvoisier from a beautiful balloon glass, surrounded by fireplaces and candles and deep, comfortable leather furniture?
So, she bought the cognac, and made a big deal that night of the whole warm, cozy atmosphere thing. And then drums rolled, and crickets stopped chirping, and people everywhere sat on the edge of their seats [did you, one night, suddenly find yourself sitting on the edge of your seat without knowing why? Well, that was probably the moment] … and SoupAddict took a sip. And put the glass down. And swallowed hard. Turned on the TV, and tried to forget such a taste ever existed in the world.
So, the Courvoisier has been relegated to cooking. Where it is absolutely fabulous in a dish like paella. Fabulous.
Whether served in your fanciest pasta bowls or on paper plates, your guests will love it. And love you.
Which might actually suck a little, because now they’ll have expectations.
Paella does that.
I’m giving approximate amounts here, based on the number of people in your party using the process above. Paella is not about exact measurements; paella is about yummy food shared with the people you love.
Figure on one pound of protein per person. Not that everyone will be eating one pound of meat, but you want to make sure that you have enough shrimp to go around, for when the resident shrimp hog hogs the shrimp.
Use about 1/2 cup of dried rice per person.
You might have leftovers, but that’s okay: they’re just as good the next day, and you’ll thank SoupAddict.
- Protein: chicken, chorizo, shrimp, clams, mussels, lobster, crab claws – use your favorites.
- One onion, one garlic clove, one green bell pepper, one red bell pepper, two roasted piquillo peppers (from a jar), all chopped, for each one cup of dried rice.
- Bombo or arborio rice. For bomba rice, use a 1:3 proportion of rice of to stock. For arborio, use the liquid ratio indicated on the box, substituting stock for water.
- Chicken or vegetable stock (use appropriate amounts for rice preparation above)
- Smoked paprika. Use one tablespoon for every one cup of dried rice.
- Saffron threads. Use one pinch for every one cup of dried rice.
- Salt and pepper to taste. Start with one teaspoon each for every one cup of dried rice, and go from there.
- Olive oil, for cooking
- Fresh lemon. One will probably do it, no matter how large the dish.
- White wine or brandy. Figure about 1/4 cup per one cup of dried rice.