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COOKING SPANISH PAELLA OUTDOORS FOOD & COOKING ARTICLE

Cooking Spanish Paella Outdoors
Article researched and written by Orce Serrano Hams

Cooking Spanish paella outdoors really is the only ‘true’ way to experience paella. As a dish traditionally made by workers in the countryside due to its versatility and quickness to cook the paella, over the generations has made its way onto almost every Spanish restaurant menu and has now become kind of a national Spanish dish. Originally hailing from Valencia the humble paella is now enjoyed in various forms all over the world. No matter which recipe you prefer, whether it be a traditional Valencian, chicken and rabbit, seafood or vegetarian etc the best paella’s are cooked outdoors over the open fire.

Equipment

Cooking a paella over the open fire or barbeque may at first seem like a daunting task but it is actually very simple and, given the nature of the dish and the number of people it can feed relatively quick to make – easier than a barbeque in fact as there are no hot coals involved and you are also working with stock which helps prevent burning. The paella is a great dish to cook outdoors as after the initial stages of frying off the vegetables and once the rice and stock are in the paella needs no attendance whatsoever, a dish that essentially can be left to its own devices.

One important piece of equipment when cooking paella over a naked flame is a metal tripod. The tripod stands around 8 – 12 inches above the base of the fire depending on its circumference and houses the paella pan on top. This simple set up allows a small fire to be lit beneath the pan. The paella pan itself is up to personal choice and there are many different designs available. By far the most popular design however are the stainless models which commonly come with green or red handles. These pans are fully designed for the purpose, are tough, durable and cheap to buy. One main and very important aspect of buying a stainless steel paella pan is that after washing the pan will need seasoning otherwise it will form a surface rust, seasoning is done simply by drying the pan then smearing a little olive or vegetable oil over the surface.

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The Fire

Besides from the ingredients the fire itself is the most important part of cooking paella over naked flame. Your fire can be set up safely using stones, bricks or even lit on the metal based barbeque itself (or whichever design you may have providing it is not gas fired). No hot coals are required meaning that your paella can start to be cooked almost immediately, kindling sticks or small thin dry branches are ideal to create a steady flame but be sure to have a good supply as these sticks don’t tend to last long. Tending the fire should be a constant process throughout the 20 minutes or so of cooking (depending on the size of your paella). The trick is to maintain a relatively constant flame just licking the underside and outside edge of the pan – be prepared for those new colourful handles to turn black, a good sign of a well used and enjoyed paella party!

The Ingredients

The Spanish paella is a very versatile dish and a number of ingredients can be used, pork and chicken is a popular combination as is seafood and for the more traditionalist among you chicken and rabbit which, when cooked with the right vegetables to a traditional recipe from the region an authentic Valencian paella can be created. A good stock is essential, chicken stock is a good all rounder even for seafood paellas although for a stronger flavour fish stock is even better. Paella mix is readily available in sachets and also jars – a handy ingredient which usually contains colourant and the all important saffron, you can of course just use saffron on its own. Start off your paella with a good olive oil to gently fry the diced garlic and onions and you have a good base for a tasty paella.

A word on mussels: Mussels are delicious in a seafood paella and be cooked two different ways. One sure way of creating an impressive display of mussels on your rice is to steam them separately, this will ensure that most of the mussels open over a higher heat. The alternative is to cook to mussels towards the very end of your paella, just when the stock has almost been absorbed by the rice, throw in the mussels and cover immediately with kitchen foil, (tightly wrapped around the edges of the pan) your mussels will then cook on top of the paella. Both methods work well and of course a display of mussels in their shells over your paella is great for presentation and the whole eating experience.

Serving

There is nothing quite like taking your freshly cooked Spanish paella off the flame and placing it center of the table, steaming, bubbling and looking delicious! A paella does need to rest though so before the guests tuck in the pan will need to be covered. This can be done with a tea towel or kitchen foil allowing the paella to cool slightly and for the last of the stock to be absorbed by the rice. Once 5 – 6 are up remove the cover, garnish with a generous handful of flat leaf parsley and enjoy. Paella is typically eaten directly from the pan and is rarely served in individual dishes, being a friends and family affair everyone just digs in and enjoys.

Flame vs Gas

Paella can also be cooked outdoors on gas by use of a ring burner. Ring burners are suitable for a multitude of pans and cooking and of course can be regulated with the turn of a control knob. Although the burner has its place it is a modern piece of cooking equipment and will serve you well if you prefer to cook on gas. The main advantage with cooking over the fire is that you create that natural smokey flavour where as on a gas burner the flavour is very much the same as a paella cooked over the hob. There is no right and wrong whish method you choose but a nice fire will always deliver a few extra points on a delicious rustic flavour and aroma.

Socarrat (the crispy bit)

Socarrat is something that is achieved when cooking a paella over the fire, it is when the rice sticks to the base and around the edges of the pan. The rice is not burnt but more of a crispy layer that forms as a result of the natural heat from the fire below whilst cooking. Socorrat can be recreated over gas by turning up the heat during the latter stages until the rice at the bottom of the pan turns crisp. The flavour from this crispy layer of rice really does enhance the overall paella and many a Spaniard will tell you that for a good paella it is absolutely crucial!

Paella Outdoors ~ Typical Equipment

  • Metal tripod (for pans up to 38cm)
  • Stainless steel paella pan
  • Kindling sticks, good bundle (20 minutes burning)
  • Newspaper/firelighters & matches
  • Kitchen foil or tea towel
  • Brick/stone surround/metal BBQ

If this has whetted your appetite for cooking an outdoor paella for friends and family then why not pop into the rustic ‘Paella & BBQ’ page on the Orce Serrano Hams web site where you will find a range of Spanish outdoor cooking equipment available direct from Andalucia.

View Paella Equipment >>>

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