Monday, September 9, 2013

Paella over a fire! Party time!

This is a party dish! I’ve done it numerous times on a large
Photos courtesy of Mary Small Photography
Weber barbeque. It is a little challenging at first to get the fire just right, but I’ll share my tips to help you have this remarkable cooking (and dining) experience! I think the keys are meticulous organization and preparation because once the pan is on the fire everything moves along quickly. 

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The amounts of rice per serving and the amount of liquid (stock) per cup of rice seem to vary according to which resource you use. I’m working on the 1/3 cup of rice per person and 3 ½ cups of liquid per cup of rice. I count the tomato sauce and the wine as part of my liquid. The 10-serving (17”) pan I used for this recipe could have easily served twelve people with salad and bread accompaniments. 

2 2/3 C. Bomba rice
2.5 – 3 pounds boneless chicken thighs, skin on 
1 dozen sprigs fresh thyme (optional)
7 C. chicken stock
1 ½ C. tomato sauce (home made preferred-recipe below)
¾ C. white wine
 6-8 oz. chorizo cut into chunks (I bought ‘Bilbao’ from Spanish Table)
20 Manila clams
1 C. cooked chickpeas
1 medium onion diced and sautéed in olive oil. Browning them a little is good.
6 cloves of garlic chopped fine and covered with olive oil
2 pinches of saffron
2 tsp. ground cumin (heaping)
2 tsp. paprika (heaping)
½ tsp. smoked paprika
¼ - ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
Salt to taste (count on at least one teaspoon of kosher salt) 

Barbecue tips
The paella pan (pictured below) is sitting on pieces of stepping stone (purchased from a hardware store.) I purchased one stone and broke off pieces for the grill. The pan needs to be above the grill to allow the fire to breathe. Prior to starting the fire, level the grill. Place the empty pan on the pieces of brick and add enough water to the pan to just barely cover the bottom. Adjust the bbq by placing folded newspaper or cardboard under the wheels/legs. When the water is evenly distributed across the pan, it is level, or close enough. 

Prepare the fire
Start about 2 ½ hours before you want to eat. Especially if using wood in your fire. Tips for using wood: almond, oak and walnut all are good. Use small pieces, 3 inches in diameter would be good. The large pieces just take a long time to burn down. If just using charcoal (mesquite is preferred because it burns hotter) you can start an hour and a half to two hours before serving. The bottom of the barbecue should be covered with a thick layer of coals when you start cooking. The fire needs to be very hot in order to maintain a brisk simmer of the liquid for about 20-25 minutes. Count on 20-25 minutes cooking time on the rice and ten minutes to let the paella rest. Tip: Have plenty of small twigs or kindling to feed the edges of the fire. If the simmer starts to fade about 10-15 minutes in, begin adding twigs/kindling. 

Prepare the chicken
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Add leaves from half the thyme sprigs if you like. The rest of the thyme is for the stock. Then, slowly cook the chicken, skin side down. It should take about 15 minutes. Brown the skin as far as you can without burning. Finish cooking on the other side just a minute or two and remove from heat. Note: don’t pile the chicken pieces. Spread them out to cool. Cut each thigh in half or into quarters. 

Prepare the tomato sauce (if home made)
2 C. small diced tomatoes
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
2-3 T. olive oil
pinch of red pepper flakes

I make the sauce in the pan just after browning the chicken. No need to wash the pan and you pick up some savory bits from the chicken. On high heat, sauté the garlic for about 15 seconds. Add the pepper flakes and then the tomatoes. Add couple of pinches of salt. Cover for 2-3 minutes to allow the tomatoes to release some of their water. Uncover, stir and then boil rapidly on medium-high heat for about 10 minutes. Pass through a food mill or blend for 30 seconds in a blender. If substituting canned, I use diced tomatoes, strain off the juice and chop them fine, then add them back to the juice. 


Bring the stock to a boil on the stove (adding optional thyme sprigs if desired) Just before putting the paella pan on the fire add the wine and tomato sauce and return to a boil again. Taste for salt. Take the pot with you to the barbecue. 

Spread the coals. Add a about a half dozen chunks of fresh charcoal. Put the grill and pieces of brick into place, setting the pan on top. Add a ¼ cup olive oil, the onions and the chorizo. It should be sizzling within a minute. Stir. As the chorizo begins to release some of its flavor add the rice, garlic and all the spices. Continue cooking, stirring as needed. This should be accomplished in the first 3-4 minutes on the fire. Then add the hot stock. I add about ¾ of it just to make sure there is plenty of room in the pan. You can add the rest in a couple of minutes, or if there is plenty of room in the pan, add it all. The paella should be bubbling vigorously at this point. Taste for salt. The broth should taste so delicious you could sit down and eat a bowl of it. 

After 10 minutes of cooking stir and check the seasoning one last time. Add the chicken thighs and the chickpeas. Do not stir again. 

At 15 minutes add the clams, valve side into the rice so they open up and you can see into the shell. It looks really cool, see photo of finished dish!

At about 20 minutes the stock should be almost absorbed and evaporated, though it is still bubbling the rice is now more visible. If you were so inclined you could add a half-pound of shrimp; peeled, butterflied and seasoned. Place them on top, pushing them slightly into the rice to cook. They need less than 5 minutes assuming the fire is still medium hot. 

You are now waiting for the rice to dry out a bit at this point. If your fire is petering out you may remove the pieces of stepping stone and place the pan directly on the grill. 

Legend has it that something called a “socarrat” or crust is supposed to form on the bottom of the pan. Ok, I don't think I’ve achieved such perfection. Part of the trick is not stirring the pan (we stirred only once just before adding the chicken.) As the liquid evaporates one is supposed to hear sizzling and crackling sounds. Pay close attention with your nose. Cooking over a fire in a thin metal pan it is easy to burn. If you smell something unusual try rotating the pan a little, maybe you are getting some crust (or burning slightly.) You can peak with a spoon to see what the bottom looks like. Don’t panic, give it a little time. If it is burning after 15 minutes the rice isn’t done and you should add a cup of liquid, more as needed.

I always start to freak out if I smell burning, but it is seldom a catastrophe. People take some of the crusty (slightly burnt) stuff into their rice and say it, “It’s delicious!” I’m a little skeptical, as I am about this socarrat. It may be something to aspire to, or may be a fancy word for some burnt stuff on the bottom of the pan. 

Finally, remove from heat and cover with a damp towel for ten minutes. This allows it to come together. You can sprinkle a little parsley if you like. I prefer a rosé or a favorite red wine. It’s always fun to try some Spanish wine! Enjoy!

Special thanks to Mary Small Photography for the pictures this month!!!

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