A festive occasion calls for a big statement, and this paella is just that a colorful rice dish bursting with clams, mussels and shrimp along with smoky chorizo and saffron for tons of flavor. You don’t need much else to serve alongside it, but you could make a green salad if you feel inspired.
Set the whole pan of paella on your picnic table, and bring out some crusty bread and wine glasses. Summer is just too short not to celebrate it with friends.
WHAT IS PAELLA?
The origins of paella are ancient, rooted in the area around Valencia, Spain near the Albufera Lagoon, where both fishing and rice growing dominated the region for centuries.
Paella was the food of farm workers who cooked dishes of rice over wood fires, embellished with whatever ingredients they could find.
The dish is named for the wide, shallow pan in which the paella is cooked. The word “paella” is from a Valencian dialect meaning “pan,” probably derived from the Latin word “patella” for pan.
DO I NEED A PAELLA PAN?
While you can buy a paella pan and even a special outdoor paella grill for cooking it, it’s easy enough to adapt the traditional paella method to our home kitchens without a lot of extra fuss.
Since I don’t possess a paella pan, I used the largest sturdy skillet in my collection of pans. A cast iron pan would be ideal but mine was not big enough and I found my heavy skillet worked just fine. Lacking a large skillet, you could also use a medium-size roasting pan (approximately 14 X 10 inches).
HOW TO MAKE PAELLA AT HOME
Although you can cook paella entirely indoors on top of the stove, when you consider paella’s wood-fired origins, it makes total sense to cook it outside on the grill. For this recipe, I started it on the stove indoors while the grill heated, and then finished it on the grill. Even, steady, medium heat is the goal.
THE BASIC INGREDIENTS FOR MAKING PAELLA
Paella is the mother of all the one-pot meals, so it makes a supreme party dish. Improvisation rules the day, since even in Spain the issue of what ingredients should go in paella is hotly disputed, making it impossible for foreigners, let alone Spaniards, to dictate them strictly.
- 4 1/2 cups chicken stock
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled and then loosely measured
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 6 ounces mild dried chorizo sausage, sliced into thin half-moons (See Recipe Note)
- 3 cups short-grain rice, such as Spanish Bomba rice or Italian Arborio
- 1 (14-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
- 1 cup frozen green peas
- 1 pound large (21-24 per pound) shrimp, peeled and deveined, with tails left on
- 1 pound mussels, rinsed and scrubbed
- 1 pound littleneck clams, rinsed and scrubbed
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley, for garnish
- Preheat the grill: Heat a gas grill to medium-high heat (375ºF), or light a charcoal grill and let burn until the charcoal is covered with gray ash.
- Steep the saffron: In a saucepan over medium heat, bring the stock to a boil. Add the saffron and salt. Turn off the heat and let the saffron steep for at least 15 minutes. Taste and add more salt, if needed.
- Cook the sofrito base: In a 12- to 14-inch stainless steel skillet or cast iron pan, heat the oil over medium heat on top of the stove. Add the onion and red pepper, and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Stir in the garlic and chorizo.
- Assemble the ingredients by the grill: On a table next to the grill, set the skillet with the sofrito, the rice, tomatoes, infused stock, salt, peas, shrimp, mussels, and clams.
- Begin cooking the paella: Set the skillet with the sofrito on the grill. Add the rice, and cook, stirring often, for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the rice is coated with oil and lightly toasted. Stir in the stock, tomatoes, and peas. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, if you like. Spread the rice evenly over the bottom of the pan. Close the grill cover and simmer the rice without stirring for 15 minutes, or until the rice absorbs most of the stock. If the mixture looks dry, pour about 1 cup of hot water over it, but do not stir.
- Add the seafood: Nestle the mussels and clams into the rice with the hinge sides up so they release their juices into the rice. Arrange the shrimp around the shellfish. Cover the pan with foil, close the grill and cook for 6 to 10 minutes longer (depending on the heat of your grill), or until the rice and shrimp are both cooked through and the mussels and clams are open. (Discard any shellfish that remain tightly shut once everything else is cooked.)
- Check to see if the bottom is browned: Slip a spatula under the rice and check to see if you have achieved the elusive golden brown socarrat. If not, set the pan over the heat, uncovered, for a few minutes to lightly caramelize the bottom.
Sprinkle with parsley and bring the whole pan to the table for serving.