We have a friend who went to a paella party last year where several different paellas were grilled outside. He was so enamored, he wouldn't stop talking about it. (Apparently, there's a waiting list to get into this party every year so I'm banned from telling you any more about it.) It's a good thing he didn't, because I think he infected several of us with a new interest in paella.
None of us had ever made paella before. It seems a bit intimidating. But it's really not a big deal, especially when you're spoiled like we were by having friends invite us over for grilled paella in their backyard. They did all the shopping and prep and we just showed up and lended a wee little hand here and there to put it all together. It was a feast and it was truly divine. Thanks so much to Joanne and Larry for making it happen. They made a spectacular feast for us. And I'm going to share it with you here.
Joanne used a recipe she found in the New York Times. But from now on, I will always think of this as "Joanne and Larry's paella." Now that I've seen how easy it is, I'm curious to try other recipes, but here's the paradox... this paella was so good that it will now be the paella by which all others are measured. It was perfection. If I was going to make another one, how could I not make this one? I KNOW it's all that. It had the perfectly cooked short-grain Bomba rice with the crunchy crust on the bottom, smoky flavor from the wood chips and the grilling, plus a little kick from chorizo, and luscious richness from the shrimp and clams. We ate until we couldn't eat anymore, but we wanted to.
I was in charge of reading the recipe to Joanne as she put it all together, and despite my misread that lead to putting the pan on the grill a little too early, it all came out perfectly. (Sorry, Joanne!)
So get out there and crank up the grill and make some paella. Invite some friends over and have a feast. As we discussed before dinner, with all the bad news raining down upon us every time we turn on NPR, it's nice to celebrate the simple things in life...good food, friends and togetherness.
Note: Joanne found the authentic Spanish short-grain paella rice, Bomba, at Cissi's Market on South Congress. It was pricey, but so worth it. If you're going to go the trouble of doing paella, you want the perfect crusty crunch on the bottom of the rice. If you can't find it, try La Tienda online.
Joanne & Larry's Paella (from the New York Times)
A handful of wood chips for smoke
One large pinch saffron
2 1/4 quarts low-salt chicken broth
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 pounds chicken thighs
freshly ground black pepper
1 pound chorizo, cut into half-moons
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
4 cups short-grain rice (Bomba)
1 1/2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup frozen peas
2 dozen littleneck clams, cleaned
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
Charcoal burning grill (Weber works great)
18-inch paella pan
Soak the wood chips in water.
In a large stock pot, heat the broth and saffron on medium heat until hot. Then lower the heat to a simmer and keep warm until needed.
In the paella pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. (We used two burners. It was a little awkward, but it worked. If you don't want to purchase a paella pan, the New York Times recipe recommended using a wide, shallow saucepan or a dutch oven.)
Lightly season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Brown them on each side and then transfer to a plate or platter. Add the chorizo to the pan and let cook until it starts to brown. Transfer to another plate. (You might want to use a paper towel under it or to blot it to remove a bit of excess grease.) Remove the paella pan from the heat.
Light the grill at this point. (It's handy to have another group outside handling the grill. Just give them a shout out to get the fire going and then you can go back to the stove.)
Return the paella pan to medium-high heat and add the onion. After several minutes, when it's translucent, add the garlic and stir. (Due to my miscue, we did this on the grill.) Add the rice and stir to combine.
Have those in charge of the fire drain the wood chips and add them now.
Remove from the stove. (Or if you're already on the grill, march right on into the next step...) Take the hot stock, paella pan, chicken, chorizo and other ingredients to a table next to the grill. When the fire is ready (you want to be able to hold your hand over the hottest section for only a couple of seconds), quickly stir the shrimp, chorizo and 2 quarts of the stock into the pan. Add and arrange the clams hinge side up so they open and release their juices into the rice. Position the chicken thighs on top.
Put the cover on the grill and cook until all of the liquid is absorbed into the rice, 25-35 minutes. In the last 5-10 minutes, sprinkle the frozen peas over the top. Add more stock if needed to get the rice cooked through and cook another five minutes. We kept checking the rice at this point, scraping a bit off the bottom to see if we had that perfect crust. It took a few more minutes, but we kept it on the grill until it developed the crust. This is the best part. You'll savor that crust on the bottom.
When you've got the perfect crust on the bottom, not too brown, but just a little crisp on the bottom layer, remove from the grill. Sprinkle parsley over the top and dive in.
We had 8 people, including a 10-year-old who scarfed it up and shouted out a "this is good!" There was plenty for everyone to have seconds and then still have leftovers. You could easily serve 10 with this feast.
Adapted from Manny Howard in the New York Times.
Joanne also made a gorgeous salad and some decadently good blue cheese toast. I brought gazpacho (from the French Laundry recipe), which I'll be posting soon.
The cheese toast was a perfect accompaniment to the gazpacho. I'll be making those two again on their own as a fun lunch. All she did was slice up some French bread and slather it with a very creamy blue cheese. Broil it until melty and bubbly and colored with toasty goodness. Be careful, you'll want to eat every piece of this stuff. And then you'll be sorry. It is that good. But the paella is that good too, so save some room.
Just writing this makes me want to eat it all again.