There's something intoxicating about the paella-making process.
The aromatic simmered rice dish, which originated in Spain's Valencia region, can be filled with anything from seafood to chorizo, rabbit, snails or chicken (or all of the above).
The one constant, however, is the rice. Unlike its Italian cousin, risotto, paella is traditionally cooked over an open fire. The rice is boiled vigorously until the top gets fluffy and the rice at the bottom of the pan has transformed into the socarrat, the prized burnt rice crust.
We made a mixed paella studded with shrimp, chicken, chorizo and piquillo peppers, cooking the chicken and shrimp on the grill so they got nice and smoky. The entire dish is laced with chicken broth and sofrito, a classic Spanish sauce of onions, tomato and garlic that have been cooked down in olive oil.
To finish the paella, we dusted some parsley over the top, then served it with lemon wedges and a bowl of creamy allioli on the side.
To learn more, read "Fire and Rice."
Recipe from the Tasting Table Test Kitchen
Yield: 6 servings
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours
For the Allioli:
1 large egg yolk
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil, preferably a light, fruity variety
1 garlic clove, pounded into a paste
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt, to taste
For the Paella:
6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste
6 whole jumbo shrimp (with heads and tails)
6 ounces dry-cured Spanish chorizo, sliced into ¼-inch rounds
1 medium Spanish onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 medium tomatoes, grated using a box grater
2 dried ñora chile peppers, stemmed, seeded and soaked in 1 cup boiling water
2 teaspoons hot smoked paprika (pimentón picante)
1 large pinch Spanish saffron threads, crumbled
2 cups paella rice, preferably Bomba or Valencia
Salt, to taste
6 cups low-sodium chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 pound mussels, scrubbed and debearded
½ pound littleneck clams, scrubbed
3 roasted piquillo peppers, torn into ½-inch-wide strips
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 lemons cut into wedges (optional)
1. Make the allioli: Using a large whisk, beat the egg yolk. Very gradually drizzle in the oil, drop by drop in a steady stream, whisking constantly, until the mixture is well emulsified and becomes thick. Whisk in the garlic paste and lemon juice. Season with salt and set aside. Note: The allioli can be made a day ahead. Cover and chill in refrigerator then bring to room temperature before serving.
2. Make the paella: Prepare a medium-hot charcoal grill. While the grill is heating, season the chicken with salt and allow it to come to room temperature. Brush the grill grates with ¼ cup of the olive oil. Place the chicken skin-side-down on the grill and close the lid. Grill the chicken until golden brown and almost cooked through, about 12 to 15 minutes. While the chicken is cooking, season the shrimp with salt and place on grill for about a minute on each side. Transfer the chicken and shrimp to a sheet tray and set aside.
3. Place a 15-inch paella pan on the grill. Once the pan is hot, add the chorizo and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chorizo starts to brown and the fat has rendered, about 10 minutes. Remove the chorizo using tongs or a slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl.
4. Add the onions to the pan and cook, stirring often until soft, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. If the pan seems dry, add the remaining olive oil. Add the tomatoes and hydrated ñora chile, along with its soaking liquid, and cook until the liquid has reduced and the vegetables have completely softened and melded together, about 12 minutes. Add chorizo back to the pan with the paprika and saffron and cook until fragrant, about a minute.
5. Add the rice and season with salt. Cook for 1 minute with the sofrito and chorizo. Add the stock, stir to combine and bring to a rapid boil, adding more charcoal to the fire as needed to maintain the temperature.
6. Bury the chicken thighs skin-side-up in the rice and cook, making sure not to stir from this point on, until the rice is tender but still al dente and the chicken is cooked through, about 20 to 25 minutes. Nestle the mussels, clams and shrimp in the rice. Cover and cook until the mussels and clams have opened up and the shrimp are cooked, about 5 minutes. Top with the roasted piquillo peppers and allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.
7. To serve, sprinkle parsley over the paella and serve with lemon wedges and allioli.