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Archive for May, 2010

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.

Paella Mixta

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
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Once charcoal is ready, place paella pan on grill and heat; add olive oil.
  5. Pour sofrito into pan and stir frequently; simmer until all liquid has evaporated.
  6. Add sausage, toss and let brown for about 3-4 minutes.
  7. Pour in chicken stock and stir.  Bring to a full simmer.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Let paella rest for 5-10 minutes and sprinkle with chopped parsley and basil before serving.

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Ah, it’s just the right time of late Spring here in the San Fernando Valley;  it’s warm enough to enjoy sitting outside and making our first dips into the pool without fear of hypothermia without the roasting triple-digit temperatures that are looming around the corner.  Here, at El Rancho Destructo, it means it’s time to break out that Spanish libation:  Sangria.

Dressing up wine is a long-honored tradition:  the Greeks and the Romans often blended wine with honey and spices which later came to be known as Hippocras in Medieval texts.  In Spain, it evolved to be a wine punch, served informally, sweetened with sugar or honey, flavored with fruit, fortified with brandy or triple sec, and lightened with carbonated water or ice.  There’s a thousand recipes out there, but I haven’t found one that comes close to the one I came up with about ten years ago.  Arrogant?  Maybe.  But it’s darn good Sangria.  Best part?  It’s pretty easy, too.

The most work you’ll really have to put into making this punch is making simple syrup.   Why make simple syrup?  You know what happens when you dump a spoonful of sugar into a glass of iced tea, right?  We’re avoiding the problem by creating a sweetener that will easily blend in the pitcher without having the issue of all the sugar falling to the bottom–it’s really the professional way to sweeten cocktails.  All you need to do is combine equal amounts of water and sugar in a saucepan, bring to a simmer, and stir until the sugar is fully dissolved.  That’s it.  Sure, it’s one extra step, but I like to make a large batch to keep in an airtight container–it keeps for a long time, and it’s always there whether I want to make Sangria, or a batch of Lemonade (it’s perfect for that), or Mojitos when I’m feeling sassy.

As for your wine, Sangria is traditionally made with wines from Rioja, from Tempranillo or Grenache grapes, but any fruity, acidic wines will work well such as a Gamay or a Lambrusco.  One last note:  don’t spend more than $7 for a bottle of wine that’s being used for Sangria–you don’t need a great wine for it, since you’ll be mixing it with so much that any special characteristics in a pricy bottle of wine will be lost.  Remember, this is really an informal drink, to be enjoyed sitting outside with friends on a happy warm day;  it’s not a drink for contemplation like a big Napa Red.

Sangria

  • 1 (750 mL)  bottle of fruity red wine
  • 1 cup simple syrup
  • 1 cup Triple Sec or orange-flavored liqueur such as Cointreau
  • The juices of 2 oranges, 2 lemons and 2 limes
  • 2 oranges, sliced
  • 2 cups chilled Club Soda

Combine wine, simple syrup, Triple Sec, fruit juices and sliced oranges in a large pitcher, and chill for one hour.  Just before serving, stir in club soda and add ice if desired.

For a lovely variation for late summer, try a Sangria Blanca, trading the red wine for a crisp, fruity white wine like an Albariño, and adding peaches or nectarines and raspberries.  ¡Que Sabroso!

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