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Fire Pit Paella

By David Bowers
Published: May 1, 2012
Food styling and photo by John & Tanya Bäck
Paella is endlessly flexible. If you like, brown a pound of chicken drumsticks before you cook the chorizo, then set it aside. When you add the hot stock to the rice in step 5, add the chicken and let it cook while the rice steams. Use mussels instead of clams (or use both), and add a few lobster tails for outrageous luxury. You can simply strip it down and make it with just the chorizo – or kielbasa, if you can’t find dry chorizo – and no seafood at all. The saffron is also optional, but it’s traditional; it warmly complements the delicately smoky flavor imparted by the wood fire. There will be a crunchy golden-brown crust of rice on the bottom of the pan from the heat of the fire pit; this is considered highly desirable. Scrape it up with a spatula, and add a bit to each serving. Makes 6–8 servings.

    8      cups chicken stock
    1⁄2     teaspoon saffron threads
    1⁄2     cup olive oil
    11⁄2   pounds dry chorizo (not the soft fresh kind), cut into 1⁄4-inch rounds
    1      large yellow onion, diced
    4      garlic cloves, minced
    1⁄2     cup chopped parsley
    3      cups short-grain paella rice, such as Valencia
    1      cup dry white wine
    1      can (28-ounce) diced tomatoes
    1      8-ounce jar piquillo peppers (or roasted red peppers), drained and diced
    1      10-ounce box frozen peas
    11⁄2   pounds large shrimp, shells left on
    2      pounds steamer clams or mussels, scrubbed
    4      scallions, sliced thin

1. Before starting, assemble and prep all the ingredients so you’ll have them nearby when making the paella. Heat the chicken stock in a large saucepan on a stove, and then add the saffron, crushing the strands with your fingers. Cover the pan and keep the stock hot.

2. Using hardwood, light a fire in your fire pit. Let it burn down until there are no leaping flames, about 30 minutes. When the wood has turned into glowing embers with small flames, fit a grill rack over the fire pit fairly close to the flames.

3. Put a 16–18-inch flat paella pan on the grill rack, and heat half of the olive oil in it. Cook the chorizo slices until browned, 3–4 minutes. Remove chorizo from the pan to a platter, and set aside.

Add the remaining olive oil and the onion, garlic and parsley, and cook until just softening, about 5 minutes. Add the rice, and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, coating the rice in oil and letting it turn a little bit golden.

Add the wine, tomatoes and peppers, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the wine is absorbed, about 5-6 minutes. Add the hot stock and bring to a boil. Let cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the peas. Distribute the chorizo, shrimp and clams on the surface of the rice, turning the clams seam side up so they can open and pushing the seafood down into the hot rice. Carefully cover the paella pan with a layer of heavy-duty foil, and cook for 10 minutes, until the shrimp is pink and the clams have opened. Sprinkle with chopped scallions and eat at once.
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