Food historians say that paella (literally,“pan”) first appeared near the coastal city of Valencia in the 18th century. It’s a festive meal, one I enjoyed preparing recently at a private cooking class in Madrid taught by chef Arantxa Lamas, a Le Cordon Bleu graduate. Though traditionally grilled, you can also cook it on your stovetop.
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium Spanish onion, peeled and diced
- 1 red bell pepper, trimmed, cut into 2 by 1/4-inch strips
- 3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1 ripe tomato, seeded and cut into 1/4 inch dice
- 2 cups short grain rice, such as bomba, Calaspara, or arborio
- 1/2 cup dry white wine, preferably Spanish
- 4 to 5 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade, or more as needed
- Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper
- 8 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs, about 1 1/2 pounds
- 1/2 pound large, head-on shrimp or prawns
- 12 mussels, scrubbed
- 1/4 cup cooked green peas
Place the saffron in a small bowl with 1 tablespoon warm water. Let it soak for 5 minutes.
Set up your grill for direct grilling and build a 3-zone fire. Ideally, you’d work on a large charcoal grill or gas grill. If working on a charcoal grill, toss a log or some wood chunks on the fire to generate smoke. If working on a gas grill, place wood chips (soaked in water for 30 minutes, then drained) in the smoker box or in a smoker pouch.
Place the paella pan over the hottest part of your fire and heat the olive oil. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook over high heat, stirring often, until the onions begin to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, parsley, and tomato halfway through (after 2 minutes). If the mixture starts to burn, slide the pan to a cooler part of the grill.
Stir in the rice and sauté until the grains look shiny and are coated with oil, 1 minute. Stir in the soaked saffron and wine and boil for 1 minute. Stir in 4 cups of stock and adjust the heat (by moving the paella pan closer or further away from hot part of the fire) to obtain a gentle simmer. Gently simmer the rice until soft, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the remaining cup of stock if needed, and salt and pepper to taste. Season the chicken thighs and shrimp with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, on another part of the fire, grill the chicken thighs, starting skin-side down. This will take 6 to 8 minutes per side, working over medium-high heat. Once the chicken thighs are browned and cooked through, add them to the paella. After about 12 minutes, place the mussels on the grate and grill until the shells pop open. Transfer the bivalves to the paella with tongs, taking care not to spill the juices. Brush and oil the grate and place the shrimp on the grate. Grill until firm, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Add the shrimp to the paella as well as the peas.
Taste the paella for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as needed. If you’ve cooked the paella properly, the rice will be tender just as all the stock is absorbed and the proteins are cooked. You may need to add more stock or you may need to cook the rice a little longer to absorb any excess stock. Don’t worry—your paella will only improve in the process. Serve at once, with a crisp dry Spanish wine such as an Albariño or Txakoli.
Serves 6 — Recipe adapted from Project Fire with Steven Raichlen, American Public Television