Campfire Paella

Paella was born in the city of Valencia. When we went there on our way down the coast we tried it for the first time and it blew me away.  I’ve been enamored with paella for a long time, ever since I first saw it being made. I love how the pan is formed especially so as to maximize the amount of delicious crispiness which, in Spanish, even gets its own word because that’s how good it is (socarrat). I also love how one of the most important ingredients is fire. When you make paella on a gas flame, it just doesn’t taste the same, although getting perfect crispiness on an open flame is a serious challenge; one that I have not yet met.

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Making paella on the campfire has become one of my favorite ways to make a night around the campfire with friends a little extra special. It takes some work, but my god is it worth it. I made this for the first time on New Year’s Eve 2015 when we were camping on this amazing beach in Spain. At the time, I didn’t have a paella pan that was big enough to feed four people, so I had to use a giant frying pan instead. The downside to that is, of course, that there is way less crispiness, but I can live with that for now.  I’ve made this several times since then and it always comes out spectacularly.

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As anyone who has read any of my other “recipe” entries or anyone who has ever watched me cook, I for the most part pay no attention to portions in recipes, I  just follow my instincts. I live most of the time in a van, and I don’t have measuring cups or spoons, and I also usually cook according to what I find behind supermarkets, so the idea of going out and buying specific amounts  of things is not a thing for me. When I was trying to decide how I was going to make this, I checked around in the New York Times recipe section, as well as the Whole Foods recipe app and just took what I wanted from each recipe and formulated it all into one as I went. For that reason, when I try to write this stuff out, I’m always at a lost for how much of each ingredient I should write down. But I think that there are plenty of people out there who are just like I am; who have enough experience to be able to casually cook things by employing techniques that are familiar to them and according to their preferences as long as they have an idea of what things are supposed to look like at the end. And so I’ve decided to post these things up anyway, despite a total lack of precision. That said, here goes.

Ingredients:

  • Olive Oil
  • Chicken Broth
  • Saffron
  • Chicken Legs and Thighs
  • Chorizo Sausages
  • Garlic (a lot)
  • Onions
  • Carrots
  • Red Peppers
  • String Beans
  • Tomatoes
  • Dry white wine
  • Bomba Rice
  • Canned large white beans

Method:
Chop all your vegetables and the garlic. Place chicken broth in a pot and bring to a simmer. Use as much chicken broth as you will need to hydrate the amount of rice that you’re using. When the liquid is simmering, add a pinch of saffron. Do not allow to come to a rolling boil.

Build a fire. Wait until the flames are burning low. Place pan over the embers, leaving a few inches of space. Pour some olive oil in the pan and wait until it gets hot. Sear the chicken legs and the chorizo on both sides, then remove from grill. Into the pan, add your chopped onions and sauté. Add chopped carrots, red peppers and string beans, and then sauté for a few minutes longer. Add your chopped garlic and sauté for another thirty seconds or so. Pour in your rice, and stir so that it is coated. Allow the rice to toast for a few minutes. Now add your chopped tomatoes. Stir and allow to heat through. Add a splash of dry white wine and stir. Wait until the liquid is absorbed and then start slowly adding your saffron-infused chicken broth by the ladleful (like making risotto). After the first two or three ladlefuls are absorbed, slice your chorizos that you set to the side before and add them along with the chicken legs and thighs back into the pan. Continue adding broth and stirring constantly until all the liquid is absorbed, your rice is nice and tender, and your meat is cooked through and falling off the bone. Just before you add your last bit of broth, drain the canned beans and throw them into the pan as well. This whole process will take a good forty minutes or so.

FYI: Since I didn’t have a paella pan, I made this in a big wok-style pan. That combined with the fact that I made this over a fire (i.e. I couldn’t control the amount of heat that was on the pan at any given point) meant that I had to keep stirring this the whole time the liquid was being added. Normally, a good paella is not stirred, because you want as much of that delicious crispy stuff we were talking about as possible. Just sayin.

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