Dana first made paella for me around ten years ago. She had been on a vacation with Jeff’s family and her cousin in law, Khaldoun, made paella for their group. She asked for the recipe, which he did not have as he had been making it for years from memory, but he did give her a verbal rundown of his method. Dana combined that with a recipe from Cooks Illustrated for Paella on the Grill, got herself a paella pan and started experimenting with this classic Spanish rice and seafood medley. Fast forward ten years to our trip to Cushing Island last week where we were lucky enough to partake of this feast again.
This was only possible thanks to Dana having shared her love of making paella with her dad, Doug, who lives in nearby Portland and loaned us everything one might need for making paella. Doug has multiple paella pans, a special burner and stand set that attaches to a propane tank, and all the requisite spices, which he was happy to ferry out to us on the island via his boat in exchange for a delicious dinner.
Prepping all your ingredients ahead is important here as you will not want to walk away from the paella once it is cooking, which was especially true for us since we were cooking outside on the deck. Dana minced garlic, diced onions, and seasoned the shrimp and chicken in the kitchen before we moved everything outside.
Having looked through quite a few paella recipes since coming home, I think Dana has the right idea by using jarred Sofrito. Many recipes call for grated tomato, which frankly I do not ever want to do, especially while I am on vacation! Sofrito originated in Spain and is widely used in many Latin American countries, and looking around on Amazon it would appear that there are different versions for different regions, so be sure you are using a tomato base one preferably from Spain. You’ll also need true Bomba rice, which is grown in Valencia and very specific to paella. It is easy to order off Amazon and comes in these cute cloth bags which I was really tempted to save but I couldn’t figure out what I would use it for.
Although this is really a one pan dish it requires working in stages. You’ll brown the chicken and sausage (separately), and set aside. It will finish cooking when you add it back to the pan, but that golden color adds a lot of flavor. Next come the onions, garlic, sofrito, bomba rice, and finally some white wine and chicken broth. Dana had extra chicken broth on hand, just in case, as we were making a large batch and used the entire bag of rice.
Once the rice is almost done you’ll add your seafood, bell pepper, and peas. We used shrimp and mussels, but I saw a few recipes out there with clams instead of mussels so I think there is some wiggle room here. Like we did at the lobster bake we soaked the mussels in water for 20 minutes or so before inserting them hinge side down into the paella. The soaking allows the live mussels to spit out any sand they may have inside, which I am sure you will appreciate when you are eating them!
Once the shrimp is opaque and the mussels have opened up you are *almost* ready to eat. This is the crucial part where you turn up the heat to high for several minutes to develop the soccarat, which is a layer of crisp rice on the bottom of the pan. It is delicious, but tread lightly the first few times you make this as there is a fine line between soccarat and burning your dinner. Sprinkle with fresh parsley, and serve with lemon wedges and a big green salad.
You’ll notice in the recipe below that you are asked to cover the dish at various points. That is easy on a gas grill that has a lid, we improvised with this burner by using a larger paella pan as a lid (Doug has quite the selection!) but foil would also work. I’m going to hit The Spanish Table in Mill Valley for my own paella pan in the coming weeks and will be taking Dana’s advice and getting a pan sized to serve 12, which is 18″. That size will work on our BBQ and on my stove top with two burners, so I can hold off on the propane burner contraption for a bit. I am sure my friends and family will be happy to taste test while I learn the secret to soccarat!
- Paella Pan
- Gas Grill or Paella Burner
- 1 1/2 lbs extra large shrimp, peeled and deveined
- kosher salt and fresh black pepper
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 12 cloves garlic, minced or pressed about 2 tablespoons
- 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and halved crosswise
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
- 12 oz Spanish chorizo, sliced 1/2 inch thick
- 1 onion, chopped fine about 1 cup
- 1 jar Sofrito
- 2 1/2 cups Bomba rice
- 3 1/2 cups low sodium chicken stock
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 tsp saffron threads, crumbled
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 1/2 lbs mussels, scrubbed and debearded
- 1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
- 3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
- Preheat grill. Toss shrimp with kosher salt and fresh black pepper, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and 2 teaspoons garlic in medium bowl, set aside. Season chicken thighs with salt, set aside.
- Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in paella pan until shimmering but not smoking. Add peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until skin begins to blister, about 3 minutes. Transfer peppers to plate and set aside.
- Add 1 tablespoon oil to paella pan, heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add chicken thighs in a single layer, cook without moving for 3-4 minutes, flip and cook additional 3 minutes on second side. Chicken does not need to be cooked through but should be brown. Transfer chicken to bowl. Reduce heat to medium and add chorizo, cook, stirring frequently, until deeply brown and fat has rendered, about 4-5 minutes. Transfer chorizo to bowl with chicken and set aside.
- Add enough oil to rendered fat in paella pan to equal 2 tablespoons total. Heat over medium heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until softened. Stir in remaining garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add sofrito and stir until mixture begins to darken and thicken slightly, about 3 minutes. Add rice, stir until well coated with sofrito mixture. Stir in chicken broth, white wine, saffron, bay leaves, paprika, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Return chicken and chorizo to pan, increase heat to medium high and bring to boil, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Close grill lid and cook until rice absorbs most of the liquid, about 15 minutes. Test rice, if it is not tender add a little more chicken stock and cook a little longer.
- When rice is just about done (tender, most of the liquid is absorbed) scatter shrimp over rice, insert mussels hinged side down into rice, arrange bell pepper in a pinwheel pattern over the paella and scatter peas over the top. Cover again, cooking until shrimp is opaque and mussels have opened up.
- Increase heat to high, cook for an additional 2-3 minutes without stirring to develop soccarat crust.
- Remove from grill, sprinkle with parsley and serve with lemon wedges.