The official grilling season is here! Aren’t you excited? I am! I love grilling food–fat steaks cooked rare, with the bits of fat, crackling and brown; eggplant and zucchini, smoky and tender; pineapple dipped in rum and sugar, caramelized by flame–it’s all so, so good.
This year, I decided to roll out an old favorite for my first meal on the grill: Paella. When Choo and I were first dating, I had purchased a paella pan. Now, Choo was very anti-seafood (with the exception of some shrimp) back in those days, so I’d make it with chicken thighs, sausage, and a few shrimp–delicious by all means, but not as exciting as the Seafood Extravaganza that paella can be. He’s comfortable with pretty much all seafood these days, so now I can have fun with adding tons of mussels, clams, and shrimp. My old paella pan was lost in our big move in 2001, and I didn’t bother to get a new one until just recently when we recalled how much we loved cooking paella out on the grill, and how fun it was to have a big, brimming pan of savory rice and meats to share with friends on a Saturday night.
Everyone knows one of the key ingredients to paella is saffron, which creates the distinctive golden-yellow rice, but the important component to flavor the dish is sofrito–a combination of tomatoes, onion and garlic typical to several Mediterranean cuisines. A Spanish sofrito takes those tomatoes, onions and garlic and finely minces them (best done using a box grater or a the grater attachment in a food processor), and slowly simmers the mixture with olive oil until the liquids are evaporated and what is left is nearly a paste, a deep-reddish brown and rich in flavor.
Sofrito simmering away in the paella pan.
Why cook paella on a grill? The first answer is that it is an authentic way to cook paella–they are traditionally cooked over an open fire, and the smoke adds more character to the dish as a whole. Secondly, paella pans are large–mine happens to be an 18″– and they just do not fit well on a stove. Sure, you can do it on the stove, but you will be turning the pan constantly to try to keep the heat even.
When making paella on the grill, one of the major components to having everything come together easily will be doing all your prep before heading outside to cook. While you light your charcoal and wait for it to be ready (usually about 30 minutes or so), is a perfect time to get all your ingredients measured out and ready to go.
Once the sofrito has cooked down, the sliced sausage is added and browned quickly, chicken stock added and brought to a boil, rice sprinkled in, then all the seafood and vegetables carefully placed in the pan. A few minutes covered with foil helps cook the shellfish.
When the paella comes off the grill, a generous sprinkling of fresh chopped basil and parsley finishes the dish.
Paella is such a great, fun communal meal to have with a few friends–a pitcher of sangria and a crusty baguette with some olive oil for dipping, and you’re set to go.
Proportions are for an 18″ paella pan–serves 6 generously.
- 1/2 teaspoon Saffron threads
- 7 cups low-sodium Chicken Stock
- 3 large Tomatoes, seeds and pulp removed
- 2 small Onions, trimmed and peeled
- 4 cloves Garlic
- 1 teaspoon Paprika
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Salt
- 1 teaspoon coarse-ground Black Pepper
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 8 ounces dry-cured Chorizo, sliced (Linguica or Andouille can be used as a substitute)
- 2 1/2 cups Valencia or Bomba rice (a short-grain rice like Arborio can be used as a substitute)
- 2 pounds Mussels, scrubbed and beards removed (toss any with cracked shells or shells that remain open after tapping)
- 8 Littleneck Clams, scrubbed
- 1 1/2 pounds Jumbo Shrimp, deveined, shell-on
- 1 cup frozen Peas
- 2 cups frozen quartered Artichoke Hearts
- 1/2 cup jarred Piquillo Peppers, sliced into 1/2″ strips (roasted red bell peppers can be used as a substitute)
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 2 tablespoons chopped basil
- Start grill–charcoal should have a full grey ash coat. A hand placed 2″ above the grill can be held to a count of 4.
- While charcoal heats up, place saffron in a saucepan and break up threads with the side of a wooden spoon. Add chicken stock to saucepan and bring to a full boil. Once the stock comes to a boil, take off heat and let saffron steep in the stock.
- Using a box grater or grater attachment in a food processor, shred tomatoes and onions and pour into a bowl. Finely mince garlic and add to sofrito base. Stir in paprika, salt, and pepper and set aside.
- Once charcoal is ready, place paella pan on grill and heat; add olive oil.
- Pour sofrito into pan and stir frequently; simmer until all liquid has evaporated.
- Add sausage, toss and let brown for about 3-4 minutes.
- Pour in chicken stock and stir. Bring to a full simmer.
- Sprinkle in rice and stir. Distribute rice evenly with a spoon and then let rice simmer for about 8-10 minutes, until the rice starts to absorb the liquid.
- Place clams and mussels hinge-down into rice, evenly distributing them around the pan. Add shrimp, peas, artichoke hearts and peppers. Once the stock is at a full simmer again, lightly tent with aluminum foil and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed, about 8-10 minutes.
- Let paella rest for 5-10 minutes and sprinkle with chopped parsley and basil before serving.