The Ultimate Summer Party: Backyard Paella
Summer. So warm, so lovely, so very fleeting. What’s a Minnesotan to do but make the most of it? Outdoor entertaining is clearly the key to savoring the season, though I’ll admit that by mid-July I’m pretty much over brat and burgers. Craving something a little more interesting like me? Paella just might be the key.
Paella is the quintessential Spanish rice dish, a working-class meal named after the pan in which it is cooked. At its simplest, Paella consists of short-grain rice, vegetables, and protein, cooked to sumptuous perfection with rich stock and saffron over an open fire. One of the original one-dish meals of the Western world, it is delightfully humble, adaptable, unique, and perfectly suited for backyard entertaining.
To make a perfect Paella, you’ll need a few things. First and foremost, you’ll need heat.
Light up the old charcoal grill, or better yet, put that backyard fire pit to use. The large, flat surface of a true Paella pan is essential if you want to achieve the celebrated golden-brown crispy bottom called socarrat; we have gorgeous classic paella pans in the Cheese Shop from Garcima.
Next, and perhaps most importantly, you’ve got to have authentic Paella rice, like Santo Tomas Bomba. Invest in some Al-Jucar saffron threads. A little pinch goes a long way, and Paella just wouldn’t be Paella without it. From there, you’ve got carte blanche for whatever it is you crave. I like to stop by our seafood purveyor, Coastal Seafoods, to see what they’ve got in stock that strikes my fancy. It could be mussels, littleneck clams, calamari, lobster…you get the idea. Stroll through the aisles at Surdyk’s and you’ll find plenty of Spanish treasures to add to the mix: Palacios Chorizo, Marcona almonds, olives, piquillo peppers, smoked paprika, and so much more. Make sure you stock up the Zoe olive oil!
Backyard entertaining calls for food, friends, and of course, the perfect sangria. Have your friends take turns adding ingredients, and soon enough you’ll be on your way to enjoying the best summer meal. – Lindsey Coleman
1 cup good quality olive oil (Zoe)
1 gallon chicken stock
8 cups Bomba rice; rinsed well and dried
1 large pinch saffron
2 large white onions, finely chopped
12 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 poblano chiles, seeded and chopped
4 lbs boneless/skinless chicken thighs, quartered
1 cup dry white wine (Spanish preferred)
1 lb Spanish chorizo sausage; diced
4 lbs black mussels, scrubbed and “beard” removed
4 lbs medium-sized shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 lbs cleaned calamari, chopped coarsely
1 1lb bag frozen peas, thawed
1 12oz jar piquillo peppers, drained and julienned
1 c chopped cilantro leaves
2 lemons, cut into wedges
salt and pepper to taste.
Note: The key to success with this dish is to have the right equipment and to have everything prepared ahead of time. For this recipe, we used a 22-inch paella pan and a small charcoal grill of similar width. Also, you will need to have a small table to keep all of your ingredients, as they all go in at different times.
To begin, light a charcoal fire on your home grill and wait until the charcoal has burned to a very hot, glowing ashy gray color. At this point, make sure that all of your vents are open to maintain airflow. Add a couple of wood logs onto the fire and wait until they are burning with a very hot constant flame. Place the paella pan on top of the grill grate. The pan can balance on the grill grate handles or you can use 2 small bricks wrapped in aluminum foil. There should be a space of at least 1-inch between the grill and the pan for air flow.
Place the paella pan on the grill and bring to high heat, about 3-4 minutes. Once hot, add the olive oil and the chicken thigh meat. Once the thighs are well colored, add the sausage, onion, and chiles and cook for another 2 minutes. At this point, add the rice, garlic, and saffron and cook in the oil until the rice is well toasted. Deglaze the pan with white wine. Once wine evaporates, add all of the stock and stir the mixture so that there is an even layer of rice across the width of the pan. Once the liquid comes to a boil, wait for 5 minutes and then add the mussels in a circle around the outside of the pan so that they sit down in the simmering liquid. After 4 minutes, add the shrimp in a circle just inside of the circle of mussels. In another 1 minute, turn the shrimp over and add the calamari to the center of the pan. All of the pan should be covered in seafood. Be sure to turn the calamari and shrimp if needed to cook evenly but do not stir the rice. Top the paella with the peas and the piquillo peppers and cook until all of the liquid is absorbed and the rice starts to sizzle on the bottom of the pan. Garnish with the chopped cilantro and lemon wedges and move to a large covered table and serve immediately.