Friday, March 23, 2007

A Paella Party for the Masses!

When it comes to learning new styles of cuisine, Larry and Mimmye Goode go all out. When they first got a time-share apartment in the New Orleans French Quarter, they went to classes to master the art of gumbo, oyster-artichoke soup and other Creole specialties.

A friend in New York introduced them to Thai food years before Thai was cool in Memphis. They sought out Thai restaurants in New York and New Orleans, and I was with them in London when, one chilly, night, we wandered through the rain and mist looking for a highly recommended Thai restaurant. Then they made several trips to Thailand, taking cooking classes in Chiang Mai.

In another phase, a brush with Indonesian food took them to Ubud, in Bali, for classes in the guest house of a prominent cookbook writer; they’re going back there later this year.

So it came as little surprise to their friends when, after reading that the best paella in Spain is prepared over a wood, fire, Larry dug a pit in the side yard of their East Memphis home, lined it with stone, put a grate on it and invited everyone to help.

Over the years this has become an annual affair. The guests, this year numbering more than 30, bring an appetizer or dessert and a bottle of wine, and mingle while the paella cooks.

There are stories: the year it rained and umbrellas were held over the fire pit until the paella was done; the year the firemen came after a neighbor saw the smoke and called them.

Two kinds of paella are made, one of all seafood to accommodate the non-meat eaters in the crowd, and another of the traditional sort, with chicken, shrimp, shellfish and chorizo.

Why not give it a try? You probably aren’t going to dig a hole in your yard, but you can use a gas or charcoal grill; toss on some wood chips for a good smoky flavor. It can also be prepared on top of the stove with excellent results.

If you’d like to include the seafood paella, just follow the directions, leaving out the chicken and chorizo, and using seafood stock as your liquid.

Get all your prep work done ahead, invite a few friends, who’ll supply the appetizers and desserts, and make your paella when they get there. Who knows? You might start your own tradition!


3 tbsp good fruity olive oil
1 small chicken, bone-in, cut into serving pieces
2-3 cloves garlic (more can’t hurt), minced
1 large onion, chopped
1 lb paella, arborio or carnaroli rice (see note)
6-8 cups chicken stock
1 tsp (loosely packed) saffron threads
1 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 lb each fresh mussels and fresh clams, scrubbed
4 oz sweet Spanish chorizo sausage, or pepperoni, thinly sliced
1 10-oz package frozen peas, thawed
1 red bell pepper, in julienne strips
1 yellow bell pepper, in julienne strips

In a paella pan or heavy 12” skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the chicken without crowding, turning a couple of times, until the skin is golden brown and crispy. Remove to a plate and reserve. Add the garlic, stir a couple of times, then add the onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is tender and lightly browned. Add the rice and stir until coated with the onion/garlic/oil mixture. Nestle the chicken pieces in the rice.
Meanwhile, bring the stock to a boil, add the saffron and reduce the heat to simmer.
If you’re using a grill, preheat it and put the pan over the hottest part. Add the stock by ladlefuls, waiting until most of it is absorbed before adding more. After about 10 minutes, add the chorizo and shrimp, pushing down into the rice mixture. Gently mix in the peas. Then put in the clams and mussels, hinge side down. Continue adding stock until the rice is almost tender. Scatter the peppers on top and cook until the shell fish are open (discard any that don’t) and the rice is tender but still firm in the center. The consistency of the paella should be very moist but not soupy. You can serve this immediately, but often in Spain it is served almost at room temperature. Serves 10-12.

NOTE: These specialty short grain rices are available in gourmet markets and some supermarkets.
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