Food for Thought: Paella Nancy style | KNKX

Food for Thought: Paella Nancy style

May 22, 2019

Nancy Leson's husband, Mac, has always been the paella maker of the two. But this time around, Nancy wanted to give it a try. Paella is one of those dishes like gumbo or cassoulet that court controversy. There are probably as many paella recipes as there are people who will passionately decry them as inauthentic.  

So since no recipe will ever please everyone the best bet is always to please yourself.  "You know that thing you do when you look at umpteen different recipes and then just do what you want to do?"

And that's just what she did.

Some ingredients in the paella pan she got Mac years ago.
Credit Nancy Leson / KNKX

It's not necessary to have an official paella pan like the one Nance got from The Spanish Table. Even a plain roasting pan will do in a pinch. What is important is to have even, steady heat. Nance and Mac's practice is to start the proceedings on the stove and then move the pan to the top of their Weber grill to finish. Here's the recipe she adapted from Cook's Illustrated's Revolutionary Recipes.

Nancy’s Version of Cook’s Illustrated’s Grilled Paella Recipe

This recipe serves 8 from a 17-inch paella pan and may be scaled down as necessary using a smaller cooking vessel.

Four skinless, boneless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat and halved, crosswise

Kosher salt and black pepper

8 large prawns, peeled and deveined

½ pound fresh squid, cleaned and sliced into rings and tentacles (optional)

olive oil

6 garlic cloves, minced

1 ¾ teaspoons hot or sweet smoked-paprika

3 tablespoons tomato paste

4 cups homemade shellfish stock (substitute 3 cups chicken stock plus an 8-ounce bottle of clam juice)

2/3 cup dry (fino) sherry (substitute dry white wine)

Pinch of saffron threads

1 onion, finely chopped

6 crimini mushrooms (substitute white mushrooms), diced

½ cup peppadew peppers, chopped (substitute jarred roasted peppers)

2 ½ cups arborio or bomba rice (I use Matiz brand)

½ pound Spanish-style chorizo, diced large

½ pound fresh clams, scrubbed

½ pound fresh mussels, scrubbed

½ cup frozen peas, thawed

Lemon wedges

1. Place the chicken on a plate, sprinkle with salt and pepper and set aside. In a bowl, toss the shrimp and squid with 1½ tablespoons of oil, ½ teaspoon of garlic and ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika. Set aside.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large (3-quart) saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add remaining garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until the garlic starts to color, about 1 minute. Add tomato paste and remaining 1½ teaspoons paprika and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until brown bits form on bottom of the saucepan, 1-2 minutes. Add stock, sherry and saffron. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Remove saucepan from heat and set aside.

3. Prepare the grill: Start a chimney full of coals — enough to cover the bottom of the grill. See instruction number 7 for placing pre-soaked woodchips.

4. Place the paella pan on the stove over medium-high heat. Add a tablespoon of oil and brown the chicken on each side for 2 minutes. Remove to a plate. Add ¼ cup oil to the pan and once it’s shimmering, add onion, cooking just until the onion starts to color. Add the mushrooms and peppers, stirring frequently for a couple/few minutes. Turn the heat down to medium.

5. Add the rice and stir until the grains are well coated with oil.

6. Arrange the chicken around the perimeter of the pan. Pour the stock mixture over the rice. Smooth the rice into an even layer, making sure nothing sticks to the sides of the pan and no rice is resting atop the chicken. Once the liquid reaches a simmer, distribute the chorizo over the surface of the rice.

7. Now, go check on your grill. When the coals are white-hot, spread them evenly. Once the paella is ready to be moved from stove to grill, sprinkle a cup of soaked wood chips over the coals. Put the top grate down, cover, and open the lid-vent completely.

8. Now, grab some sturdy potholders and carefully take the paella pan outside and place it on the grill. Close the lid. Cook until the rice is almost cooked through (start tasting/checking it after 15 minutes).

9. Once most of the liquid is cooked off, the rice on the bottom and sides of the pan will begin to sizzle and brown. Here’s the part where you need to use your senses of sight, taste and smell to figure out how much longer to cook the paella. As soon as the rice is at the point where it’s starting to get really crispy along the edges, yet remains moist in the center (taste it!) add the clams and mussels, tucking them, hinge-down, into the rice. You want the “soccarat” — the crusty bottom of the rice — to be dark and crispy, but not burnt, so pay attention!

10. Scatter the shrimp, squid and peas over the top then close the lid for 5-ish minutes, allowing the clams and mussels to cook through and open. Take the paella off the grill, let it rest for a few minutes then serve with lemon wedges for squeezing. 

— adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Revolutionary Recipes

"Rice is great if you're really hungry and want to eat two thousand of something." – Mitch Hedberg