Sunday, June 17, 2012


I may add some text to this later, but for now I quite enjoy this quiet testament to good eats. (Plus it makes it harder for you to rip-off my recipe and steal my Taco Truck plans!) Happy Father's Day to all my fellow Dads. Cheers, brothers!

Sunday, June 10, 2012


The first time I tried paella was back in the late 80s at my friend Eric's place. They were having a big party out at his parent's place, which was a big old estate in Bath, Ontario (now, sadly, a subdivision). Half of Eric's family tree is Spanish, and paella was naturally part of the celebration. He cooked it outside in a massive pan set over a fire pit -- the end result was a stunning combination of rice and seafood, but sadly, I didn't pay one iota of attention to the process. Now it's time for me to get with the program!

This recipe is based on a couple of versions -- one from Zingerman's Guide to Good Eating by Ari Weinzweig, the other from Seamus Mullen's Hero Food. I highly recommend Zingerman's for the detailed discussion of rice (and other things!) and Mullen's book for the inspiring recipes, photos and prose.

The ingredients for this can vary, but I went for a non-seafood version (this is recipe testing for my kids who despise most forms of seafood, so naturally I steered clear). One thing that is invariable however is Spanish rice. Make sure you have paella rice (preferably Bomba if you can get it) and the rest is more-or-less immaterial.

I decided to cook this outside according to tradition, and so should you. I have a spot set up for cooking the rice (sadly I can't have a fire pit in the city, but my copper Turkish grill makes a very fine stand-in), a Weber to keep the chicken stock hot, and a picnic table to cope with all the other chaos. Step one is to fire-up the grills so they are hot when you need them.

This version of paella calls for 1 3/4 cups of paella rice, 4 chicken thighs, some diced onion, some chopped chorizo (the ready to eat Spanish kind), a pinch of saffron soaked in hot chicken stock, lots of Spanish salt, a few pickled hot peppers, about 5 cups of chicken stock, and a lemon (for serving).

Once your fire looks like this...

...set up your paella pan (oh yeah, you need one of those too -- or a shallow carbon steel skillet around 15" in diameter for this recipe: note that different amounts of rice require different pan sizes!) and start frying the chicken thighs in olive oil. Chuck sticks on the fire to keep it going once your coals start dying out. A tripod like this is handy for raising or lowering the pan to keep it in the heat sweet-spot, but if you're a talented fire meister you can probably cope with a fixed pan position.

Give the chicken thighs a good dose of salt before and while frying (and if you have the Spanish stuff, this is the time to use it!)

After around 10 minutes the thighs should be nicely toasted. Add your chorizo and onions and fry those up a bit.

Then get out your bad-boy measuring cup and ladle about 5 cups of hot chicken stock into it.

Pour the stock and the soaking saffron into the paella pan and get it heating. Once it starts boiling gently, add the rice. (I went with Seamus's thinking on this that the rice should go into boiling hot stock -- Zingerman's recommends frying the rice in oil first, then adding the stock, but I didn't think that made as much sense.) Stir the rice to distribute it evenly, and then put the spoon away.

Now just tend the fire to keep the stock bubbling away at a decent clip. The rice should take 20-25 minutes to finish. It's a good idea to avail yourself of one of the many very fine Spanish wines while you're waiting.

At around the half-way point, you'd add mussels and clams if you were doing the seafood version, and would put cooked shrimp on a few minutes after that. In any event, you should also have a taste around 12 minutes in to check for salt and doneness. Don't be scared to add more salt. (Recent news suggests the whole high blood pressure / salt thing is totally bogus, so live it up if you believe recent news!)

Once the stock is almost gone, add your pickled peppers. (If the pan seems to be getting too dry before the rice is done add another splash of stock -- don't add too much though, since it is far easier to add a little more stock than it is to get extra out once it's in there.)

Put the pan on the table (on a trivet or cutting board -- it's hot!) and let it rest a few minutes before you dig in. Serve with a squeeze of lemon. ¡Que aproveche!

(One of the very great things about this recipe is leftovers for breakfast in the morning. Serve with some eggs scrambled with chorizo a la Midnight Run, a few slices of Manchego cheese, and some strong black coffee and you're in for a glorious start to your day.)