Father's Day is here, so get ready to fire up the grill and break out the big guns -- or in this case, the big paella pan. Paella is always fun to make and, of course, to eat. It's a perfect way to feed a crowd and your family, and the best way to make it is over a fire. When it's ready to serve, simply plunk it down in the center of the table and let everyone dig in. Family-style eating doesn't get better than this, which is a perfect way to celebrate Dad.
Myriad versions of paella exist, depending on region and taste, but there are specific ingredients to use and techniques to follow for authentic results.
Think wide, low and flat. The key is to spread the rice in a thin layer, so that as many grains as possible are in contact with the bottom of the pan. This will ensure not only contact with the aromatics (soffrito), but the desired crispy bottom (socarrat) of the cooked paella. Paella pans are easy to find and affordable. I purchased my 15-inch pan for less than $30. Alternatively, a very large cast iron skillet will do the trick.
Short-grain rice will absorb the liquid, remain relatively firm during cooking, and crisp -- long-grain rice will not. Use short-grain rice, preferably Spanish Bomba or Valencia. Risotto (arborio) rice may be substituted, if necessary. Note: Depending on the rice, cooking times may vary slightly.
An important blend of sauteed aromatics, typically onion, garlic and grated ripe tomato, is used as a base to flavor the rice. It's important to saute the ingredients until the moisture from the tomato and the wine evaporates and the soffrito thickens, and let it deepen in color to build flavor.
If possible, use a homemade stock; chicken or shrimp stock is ideal, although a good-quality store-bought chicken stock is a fine substitution. A key step is to add a generous pinch of saffron to the stock to infuse a subtle perfume and a burnished golden-red color.
This is the holy grail of paella, the coveted crispy bottom that forms in the pan while the paella is cooking. To achieve this, a few techniques are imperative. Do not overload the pan, or the rice will not be able to dry out and will not crisp. And most important, do not stir the paella once the rice is spread in the pan and topped with the proteins. You will know if the rice is crisping when the paella begins to make crackling sounds. This is the sure-fire way to know when the paella is ready, so be sure to wait for the "snap-crackle-pop" before you remove the pan from the grill!
It's important for the pan to cook over an even heat source. A grill can accommodate the size of a large paella pan, unlike many stovetops. Plus, the fire will add a smoky backdrop to the dish. And finally, Father's Day really wouldn't be replete without heating up the grill, right?
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Active Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour, plus standing time
Yield: Serves 6
4 plum (Roma) tomatoes, halved lengthwise
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1 pound boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
Smoked sweet Spanish paprika
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound large (16/18) shrimp, shelled and deveined, tails intact
Extra-virgin olive oil
8 ounces Spanish chorizo, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices
1 medium yellow onion, chopped, about 1 cup
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 cups paella rice (Bomba or Valencia), rinsed
12 to 16 mussels, scrubbed and beards removed
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
Lemon wedges for serving
Grate the tomatoes, cut-side down, on a box grater. Discard the skins and transfer the pulp and juices to a small bowl.
Bring the stock to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the saffron and keep warm over low heat.
Place the chicken in a bowl and season with 1 teaspoon paprika, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and stir to coat. Put the shrimp in a separate bowl and season with 1/2 teaspoon paprika, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper and stir to coat.
Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium heat. Preheat a 15-inch paella pan or large cast iron skillet for about 10 minutes.
Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the paella pan. Add the chorizo and cook, with the lid closed, until the chorizo is golden brown on both sides, 3 to 4 minutes, turning as needed. With a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to a bowl. There should be rendered fat from the chorizo remaining in the pan. If not, add 1 tablespoon oil to the pan. Arrange the chicken in one layer in the paella pan and cook until colored on both sides, 4 to 6 minutes, turning as needed. With a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to the bowl with the chorizo. (The chicken will not be cooked all the way through at this point.)
If the pan is dry, add 1 tablespoon oil to the pan. Add the onion and saute until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and 1 tablespoon smoked paprika and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the grated tomatoes with juices and the wine, stir to combine, and cook, with the lid closed, until the liquid evaporates and the mixture thickens and darkens slightly, about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the rice and 1 teaspoon salt and stir to coat. Pour in the stock, stir to blend, and smooth the rice in an even layer in the pan. (Do not stir the rice after this point!) Arrange the chicken and chorizo over the rice and drizzle any accumulated juices in the bowl over the rice.
Cook the paella, with the lid closed, until about 3/4 of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is exposed, turning the pan occasionally to ensure even cooking, about 15 minutes.
Nestle the shrimp and mussels (hinge-side down) into the rice and continue to cook, with the lid closed, until the shrimp are cooked through, the mussels have opened, and the rice is making a crackling sound, 10 to 12 more minutes, turning the pan occasionally to ensure even cooking.
Remove the paella pan from the grill and discard any unopened mussels. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle the parsley over the paella and garnish with lemon wedges. Serve immediately.