Once the weather turns nice in the spring, Paella comes to mind! Why, you may ask? The perfect way to pass a nice spring afternoon in my eyes is around the grill! That’s right, I like to take my paella pan out to the grill. No better way to pass the time than spending a few hours outside with family and/or friends and watching this fabulous dish come together on the grill.
The most important thing to consider when making paella is the pan. I have two different size (both rather large) paella pans. Which I use just depends on the number of people I plan on serving. My small pan probably feeds six to eight people and the larger one can feed ten to twelve. This recipe is made in my large pan. Usually I end up with enough to feed the entire neighborhood and everyone eats well! They come in many different materials, both of mine are stainless steel. The most important characteristics are that the pan be shallow and flat-bottomed.
The next thing to consider is what type of paella you want to make. The three most common paella dishes are Valencian Paella (meat based), Paella de Marisco (seafood based) and Paella Mixta (mixed paella). There are as many variations as there are cooks that make the dish. I prefer to make mixed paella and that’s what I’ll be discussing here.
The first step is to get the charcoal grill going. We use our good old-fashioned, round charcoal grill. Either of my pans work perfectly on this! Once the charcoals are good and hot, start by heating two or three turns of olive oil in the pan.
Once the olive oil heats up, add two large onions chopped, ten cloves of garlic chopped, and four large tomatoes chopped (I prefer fresh, but canned crushed or diced tomatoes would work as well). Stir, stir, stir a few minutes until onion and garlic are tender.
While the veggies are getting happy, it’s time to bloom the saffron. I must warn you, saffron is not cheap! However, trust me when I tell you it is worth every penny and then some! I am very generous with the saffron in this dish. Into a cup of vegetable broth, sprinkle two or three generous pinches of the saffron, rubbing between your fingers to release the flavor.
Next, a pound of boneless skinless chicken thighs which have been cubed, and a pound of chorizo which has been sliced go into the pan. Any chicken and sausage mix you choose works. This is just my personal favorite combination. Once they hit the pan, leave them alone for a moment so they begin to brown. Then stir and leave them alone again so they brown evenly.
When the chicken and sausage begin to brown well, add in twenty-eight ounces of short grained rice. I typically use arborio because it is easy to find. For the dish to turn out correctly it must be SHORT GRAINED rice. The texture will not be right if you use a long grain rice. Once the rice is added to the pan, stir constantly for five minutes or so.
Add in the stock with the saffron, plus four cups more vegetable stock. I use unsalted vegetable broth because I like to control the seasoning myself. Any broth you have on hand will work though. Season well with salt and pepper to taste. Bring up to a boil and allow to simmer for about fifteen minutes. Check the rice, and add liquid if necessary. Once the rice begins to get tender you can begin to add in the remaining ingredients.
Nestle in two pounds each of clams and mussels. Make sure to soak and rinse the clams and mussels for several hours in cold water so that they are not gritty. If you add a little bit of corn meal to the first batch of water, they will expel most of the sand they are holding onto. I change the water three to four times while they are soaking. At this point, I put the grill cover on until the clams and mussels begin to open. Maybe twenty minutes or so.
Once the clams and mussels just begin to open, add in two pounds of shrimp and three red peppers which have been sliced. I also add a cup or so of either peas, green olives or capers. All of these work, it just depends on what we have on hand.
At this point, no more stirring!! Leave the dish alone until the clams and mussels open completely and the shrimp are cooked. The most important detail of paella is the crispy bottom! The only way to get this crispy bottom is to leave it alone during this last stage of cooking. You will know it is done when the clams and mussels open, the shrimp are nice and pink and all the liquid is completely absorbed.
Presentation is an important part of this dish for me, so when I begin placing the seafood I really pay attention to the details. Once the dish is done, sprinkle with chopped parsley or cilantro for the finishing touch.
The entire process, from the chopping of the ingredients to completion takes several hours. Enjoy some time with family and friends, relax outside around the grill, enjoy a nice cold beer or glass of wine (not too many or you’ll be to tipsy to enjoy the completed dish!) and savor the reward at the end!