Creating something from scratch. Remembering the toil and feeling the satisfaction of the results is what I get from cooking. Especially over open flame. We have a tendency these days to feed our bellies and our brains with what ever is at hand or popular for easy gratification and instant fulfillment but is it rewarding? When you think about the amount of time we spend staring at our cellphones or on the Internet deviling into and scoping out things and other peoples lives for momentary indulgence it stands to reason that our concept of food and eating has adopted these habits. The slow and rewarding process of learning a book from cover to cover or building something from its basic components has been lost to us. Immediate results, at hand knowledge and the need for on-the-spot contentedness has made us into fast fix junkies.
So now that I have that off my chest, let’s talk about creating something that takes time, forethought and some effort. Paella. The Valencian dish that some see as a task while others see as a meld of cultures. The word itself means pan. In this world what is simpler than bringing into existence a meal that encompasses meat, chicken, shellfish and rice all in one pan? Doesn’t that feed our need of immediacy and simplicity?
Paella, stews, soups and casseroles fill that voguish need for everything but in a traditional and satisfying dish that takes time to create.
This one is a simple take on the traditional. Assembled for 4 people and cooked on my #BGE over hardwood. Inside is good but outside adds that smoky kiss and sends a salute to Bacchus.
1 Chicken breast or 4 thighs (or combination of both) cut into 8 pieces of equal size
1/8-cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Spanish chorizo sausages cut to same size as chicken
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
½ Spanish onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped, reserve some for garnish
½ can whole tomatoes, drained and hand-crushed
Or 8 small cherry tomatoes diced
2 cups short grain Spanish rice
2 cups water, warm
1 cup white wine
Generous pinch saffron threads
8 scrubbed littleneck or pasta clams
8 jumbo shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1 handful of sweet peas fresh or frozen and thawed
Lemon wedges, for serving
12-inch Cast iron fry pan or your outdoor pan. This works in this size pan, anything smaller will overflow.
1-tablespoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1-tablespoon onion powder
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to preference
Rub the spice mix all over the cut chicken, cover and place in the fridge for an hour or so to incorporate the flavours.
Outside, get your grill (charcoal or gas) ready with a medium heat.
Heat oil in your pan over medium-high heat. Add the chorizo to the oil in the pan and sauté. If you are using cooked chorizo, you’re just browning it. If it is raw you are cooking till ¾ done. Remove your sausage and add the chicken skin side down to the oil and now chorizo-seasoned pan. Brown the chicken on all sides till ¾ cooked. The chicken and chorizo will finish cooking when the paella is assembled in the hot pan. Salt and pepper to your needs. Remove from pan and reserve.
Now using the same pan make a sofrito (fancy word) by sautéing the onions, garlic, and parsley on medium heat for 2 or 3 minutes stirring occasionally to get the onions translucent. Then, add tomatoes and cook until the mixture comes together and the flavors unite. 2 or 3 minutes should do. Add your rice and stir-fry to coat the grains. You will see them start to give up their hard pale colour. Pour in wine and stir to coat all the rice. About a minute. Add the water and bring to a simmer for 10 minutes, gently moving the pan around so the rice cooks evenly and absorbs the liquid. Distribute the chicken and chorizo evenly throughout the pan. Sprinkle the saffron over the entire contents of the pan. Add the clams tucking them into the rice hinge side down. This way you will see them open and cooked . Give the pan a good shake and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. No stirring from here on. Check the rice for al dente during the last minutes of cooking, when your rice is fluffing up and beginning to take over the pan, tuck in the shrimp as you did the clams. The shrimp will take about 8 minutes to cook. When you’re shrimp is pink, you’re clams are opened and you’ve checked the rice by sampling it, turn up the heat on your grill for 1 minute. You should be able to smell the rice on the bottom toasting.
Now take off the heat and let it rest, covered with foil for 5 minutes. Add your peas and parsley and tuck your lemon wedges into your creation.
Pull any unopened clams from the paella and discard.
It’s best and easiest to serve this family style in the pan in the middle of the table and let everyone help themselves.
In traditional paella the rice on the bottom toasts and firms up. You can impress your friends by telling them it’s called the socarrat.
Make sure the shrimp and clam count matches your family and feeders. You want everyone to have an equal portion.
If you want to serve a gathering, double up the recipe and use a bigger pan.
Be well and eat well.