The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke

Grilled Paella

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This blog entry about my journey to making grilled paellas has a bit of a “What goes around comes around” quality to it. This first paella I saw was the last one I made and best paella I’ve ever made. But let’s begin at the beginning. I saw my first paella on TV three years ago. Steven Raichlen made a Paella Primavera (Vegetable Paella) on the first season of Primal Grill. This Spanish rice dish looked amazing. When a new Spanish restaurant opened in town, paella was the first thing I tried and I was hooked. I had some self-education to do, as well as come up with a source for some special ingredients. I needed to get the special pan used to make paellas and I got a paella cookbook because I knew zip about making paellas. I’ll put some links at the bottom on sources for some of the ingredients and equipment you will need.

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The varieties of paellas are limited only by your imagination

Fortunately the Sur la Table store in my area had everything I needed. Saffron, the most expensive spice by weight, which is used in most paella recipes. Bomba rice, a Spanish rice that is a smaller medium grained rice that absorbs a tremendous amount of liquid for it’s volume. They had the Paella, Paella cookbook I was looking for, as well as a 15” (38 cm)diameter cast iron paella pan. Paella pans come in a multitude of diameters to suit the amount of people you intend to serve. You want to keep the depth of the ingredients shallow and increase the pan diameter to serve more people. My 15” (38 cm) pan serves 4-6 people. Most of the recipes in Paella, Paella were sized for 4-6, which made things convenient. The cast iron pan, though traditional, was rather high maintenance in that it had to be kept well oiled to keep from rusting. I have since replaced it with a stainless steel model that is easy to keep clean and doesn’t rust.

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The basic steps of a paella are similar no matter which one you are making. First onions & peppers are sauteed in olive oil (Left) . Then garlic & parsley which take less time to cook are added to the pan & everything continues to saute (Right)

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The Bomba rice and saffron have been added and they continue to cook for one minute (Left). Vegetable stock has been added (Right). From this point forward you do not stir or otherwise disturb the paella while it cooks for an additional 20 minutes. This veggie paella uses grilled vegetable which go on top at the very end.


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The grilled veggies have been taken of the skewers and are on top of the paella which is served right out of the pan (Left). One of the wonderful thing about paellas is every bite is a little different from the last & at the same time they all contain some of the rice which has absorbed lots of flavors from the various liquids in the recipe.

Preparing paellas is similar. If you are serving meat in the paella, it often gets seared in a separate pan. While the meat is searing some diced onions are seared in olive oil, then some pepper and garlic is added. Other ingredients with shorter cook times, such as diced tomatoes are sauteed last. The Bomba rice is added next and is cooked for about a minute. The last step is to add in the meat you are using back in, as well as some beef, chicken or vegetable broth and the saffron. You stir it well to thoroughly mix the various ingredients. From this point forward you don’t stir or disturb the rice mixture. You cook it for about 20 minutes until the rice has absorbed all of the liquids. One of the things you are looking for is a crispy bottom crust where the rice has toasted. This is called the socarrat and is the sign you have made the perfect paella. It is not unlike the treasured smoke ring in low and slow BBQ cooking. There was only one problem for me: I have a glass top electric stove and you can’t get an even heat across the rounded bottom paella pan. So it was necessary to place the paella in the oven for the last 20 minutes to finish cooking. By using the oven, you sacrifice any chance of getting the toasted socarrat on the bottom. Where paellas sometimes involve cooking things in 3 different pans at once, they really improved my cooking skills and multi-tasking abilities on the stove. Grilled paellas have also improved my multi-tasking skills on the grill too.

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A large grill or two medium grills are required. I have filled my 6 burner gas grill completely when making grilled paella.

This summer I made my first paella on the grill. It was a CHICKEN & SUN DRIED TOMATOES PAELLA Paella and I cooked everything out at the grill. I used the side burner to heat the chicken broth, I put soaked wood chips in the smoker drawer to add smoke to the mix and put the paella pan next to the smoker drawer. I cooked some ingredients in a sautee pan while the onions and garlic were starting in the paella pan. It is nice using the grill because, unlike the stove, the entire grill surface is a heat source. Once I was done with the sauteeing portion and had added the rice and broth to the pan, the last 20 minutes were done with the lid closed. This showed me two advantages of the grill over the oven. The first was being able to use the smoker drawer. This paella had a smoky flavor which you aren’t going to get in the oven. The second advantage came when I served the paella: It had the beginnings of the socarrat crust at the bottom. Not a full one, but this was the first hint of one I’d ever had in two years of making paellas. The larger heated area of the grill helps with the development of the crust.

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Two special ingredients you will need are saffron (left) shown soaking in warm water prior to being added to the paella. Medium grained Bomba rice is more absorbent than the long grained rice you are used to using (Right).

When I finally got around to making that first paella I had seen on Primal Grill it marked my second grilled paella. This paella was a little different than others I’d made in that some of the veggies were cooked on the grill and added at the very end. This gave them a nice grilled flavor which went nicely with the smoke flavor from the oak chips. Where some of the veggies were grilled on skewers, this paella used about every square inch of my 6 burner grill. I had to put a couple of the skewers of veggies over the smoker drawer because there was no more room left anywhere else. This time I left the rice on for a couple extra minutes at the end and cranked the heat up to high. While this was happening I took the veggies off the skewers and added them on top of the rice. I began to smell the rice toasting and at this point I pulled the paella. This time I had a crusty bottom from side to side and end to end. Success!! I was quite happy with these results because the socarrat is not the easiest thing to get. Here I had a fully developed socarrat on only my second try on the grill. There is only one downer in all this: It is October and cold weather is less than a month away. Where part of cooking paellas requires the lid to be open, it won’t be practical in less than a month. I will try to get in one or two more and then I’ll have to wait till Spring to get another grilled paella. I liked the paellas I made in the Kitchen, that is until I made one on the grill. Now I am spoiled.

A good paella cookbook was key to learning this new to me food type. Paella, Paella has great recipes and good how to advice.

In conclusion I would urge you to try a paella at a Spanish restaurant if you aren’t familiar with them. And if you love them like I do, and I am pretty sure you will, get a good paella cookbook like Paella, Paella and try making a grilled paella. You will need a grill with a large surface area or two medium sized grills. You will also need a Paella pan which can be purchased at a large cooking store like Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table. The Williams-Sonoma & Sur La Table stores around here usually carry the saffron and Bomba rice you will need. If you have a Penzey’s spice store near you, they will have saffron. Most of the recipes in Paella, Paella serve 4-6 and that requires a 15” (38 cm) pan. Me I don’t like oiling a cast iron pan, so I got a stainless steel version. Make sure the pan you get will fit on the grill and also your oven if you will be making some of your paellas inside on the stove. I got my stainless steel pan as well as a nifty server made of grass and imported from Spain that holds the pan up off the table via a site on the internet. I didn’t mention it before, but paellas are served straight from the pan. In fact in Spain it is traditional to put the paella on a small table and everybody gathers around the table and eats it straight from the pan. The website I used was La Tienda, which also has all of the ingredients needed for authentic Spanish cooking, if you can’t find them locally.

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An imported Spanish handwoven grass matte to protect your table when serving the paella (left). The stainless steel paella pan I switched to for easy cleaning (right).

I have been trying all sorts of international foods these last few years and I’ve gotta say that grilled paella is right at the top of the list. Try some soon. You’ll thank me.

Here are links for the Picture Entries for the two paellas I’ve made on the grill. There are also links for some sources for ingredients and gear needed to make your own paellas..

  PAELLA PRIMEVERA (Vegetable Paella) Paella Picture Entry


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