Recipe: Throw together an end-of-summer paella

Lynda Balslev | TasteFood

Summer is winding down, which is a great excuse to have a paella party. Vibrant and flavorful, studded with smoky sausage, chicken and fresh shellfish, a paella shouts "fiesta." It's a fun dish to enjoy outdoors, family-style, while the weather is still warm and the days are long.

A paella might sound intimidating, but it's easy to make with the right ingredients and by following a few important steps. While a grill is desirable, it's not necessary. A grill can accommodate the size of a large paella pan, unlike many stovetops, and the fire will add a smoky backdrop to the dish. If you don't have a grill, you can also make a paella on the stovetop.

Use a large paella pan or cast-iron pan (at least 12 inches in diameter). Note that the wider the pan, the more surface area you have to spread the rice, which allows as many grains as possible to brown and crisp on the bottom of the pan while cooking. This coveted crispy bottom is called the socarrat, which is considered the holy grail of paella. To achieve this crispy delicacy, it's critical that you do not stir the paella once the rice is spread in the pan. While it cooks, rotate the pan to ensure even cooking, and listen for crackling sounds that signify the rice is done.

Do not rush your paella. It's essentially a layered dish relying on the seasoning, flavor and accumulated juices of each ingredient to contribute to the whole. Use a homemade or good-quality chicken stock for the broth. If you are in the mood to splurge, add a generous pinch of saffron to the stock for its perfume and the golden hue it imparts to the dish.

Take the time to cook the soffritto, which consists of a slurry of aromatics (onion, garlic, tomato and wine), that create the flavor base for the paella. Season each of the proteins and choose a variety for flavor, texture and eating fun. I often use a trinity of Spanish chorizo, chicken thighs and jumbo shrimp, and then may add more shellfish depending on availability. The heat and smoke of the chorizo adds important flavor to the dish. Chicken thigh meat is juicy and flavorful and won't dry out while the paella cooks. Briny shrimp are sweet and fun to eat with your fingers. Mussels, clams, scallops and calamari are also great seafood additions to a paella.

The instructions below are for grilling a paella. If you are making it on the stovetop, use a large cast-iron pan and cook over medium heat. Partially cover the pan when you add the shellfish in the end to hasten the cooking.


Active time: about 1 hour

Total time: about 1 hour

Yield: Serves 4 to 5

• 4 large plum (Roma) tomatoes, halved lengthwise

• 4 cups chicken stock

• 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads (optional)

• 1 pound boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces

• 1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika

• 1 teaspoon ground cumin

• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

• 1 pound large (16/18) shrimp, shelled and deveined, tails intact

• Extra-virgin olive oil

• 8 ounces Spanish chorizo, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices

• 1 medium yellow onion, chopped, about 1 cup

• 3 garlic cloves, minced

• 1/4 cup dry white wine

• 2 cups paella rice (Bomba or Valencia), rinsed

• 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley

• Lemon wedges for serving

1. Grate the cut sides of the tomatoes on a box grater. Discard the skins and transfer the pulp and juices to a small bowl. You should have about 1 cup. (Alternatively, use 1 cup crushed Italian plum tomatoes.)

2. Bring the stock to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the saffron, if using, and keep warm over low heat.

3. Place the chicken in a bowl and toss with 1 teaspoon smoked paprika and the cumin, and season with salt and black pepper. Place the shrimp in a separate bowl and season with salt and black pepper.

4. Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium heat. Preheat a 12- to 15-inch paella pan or large cast-iron skillet for about 10 minutes. (Or heat a large cast-iron skillet on the stovetop over medium heat.)

5. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in the pan. Add the chorizo and cook until the chorizo is golden brown on both sides, 3 to 4 minutes, turning as needed. With a slotted spoon or tongs, transfer the sausage to a bowl. There should be rendered fat from the chorizo remaining in the pan. If not, add 1 tablespoon oil to the pan. Arrange the chicken in one layer in the paella pan and cook until colored on both sides, 4 to 6 minutes, turning as needed. Transfer the chicken to the bowl with the chorizo. (The chicken will not be cooked all the way through at this point.)

6. If the pan is dry, add 1 tablespoon oil. Add the onion and saute until softened without coloring, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and 1 tablespoon smoked paprika and stir until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add the tomatoes with juices and the wine and stir to combine. Simmer until most of the liquid evaporates and the mixture thickens and darkens slightly, about 3 minutes, stirring frequently.

7. Stir in the rice and 1 teaspoon salt. Pour in the broth and gently stir to combine. Smooth the rice in an even layer in the pan. At this point, do not stir the rice any further.

8. Arrange the chicken and chorizo over the rice, nudging the pieces slightly into the rice, then drizzle with any accumulated juices from the bowl.

9. Cook the paella, with the grill lid closed, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the rice is exposed, turning the pan occasionally to ensure even cooking, about 20 minutes.

10. Nestle the shrimp (hinge-side down) into the rice and continue to cook, with the grill lid closed, until the shrimp are cooked through and the rice is making a crackling sound, 10 to 12 minutes more, rotating the pan occasionally to ensure even cooking. (Note: If you are cooking on the stovetop, partially cover the pan once you add the shellfish to hasten their cooking process.)

11. Remove the paella from the grill. Let stand for 5 minutes. Sprinkle the parsley over the paella and garnish with lemon wedges. Serve immediately.

Lynda Balslev is an award-winning writer, cookbook author, and recipe developer based in northern California. Visit TasteFood at


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