Twenty-five years back, I bought the largest paella pan that Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor sold. When I got it home, I found it was too large for both my apartment–size oven and my Weber grill.
I’ve had the opportunity to use it exactly three times with others’ large kettle grills. I’ve loaned it to friends over the years, happy to see the shallow, round carbon steel pan in use but frustrated I was not using it myself.
That’s about to end. Spanish cooking products website La Tienda offers pans in different sizes at reasonable prices. I have ordered the 17-inch pan that will fit both in my oven and on my grill for $30 plus shipping.
In the meantime, I got to use my large pan during a spring weekend getaway in Northern Michigan.
I had forgotten how much fun it is to make paella (pi-AY-ya), the festive feed-a-crowd dish from northeast Spain near Valencia.
I was off and running after spreading a chimney-full of ash-gray briquets on the grill grid and placed the pan there. I drizzled on a cup of olive oil, which immediately started to sizzle. I spread on diced red onion, diced red bell pepper and chunks of pork belly to brown.
I next spread all two pounds of rice, but not just any rice. It has to be
rice grown in the same region that made paella famous. Starchy Bomba-brand rice holds it shape while absorbing loads of broth. In that respect it is like Arborio rice, but the latter becomes too firm. Trust me. Save arborio for risotto.
I brown the rice in the hot oil and then add a few pinches of precious saffron. I turned to Niki Segnit in “The Flavour Thesaurus” for a description. “Saffron combines . . . sea air, sweet grass and a hint of rusting metal,” she writes. Hmmm. Saffron will tint the rice mustard yellow. Other things, such as turmeric, will accomplish the same thing, but don’t be tempted to substitute.
About this time, I lift the pan and grid to place some grape vines over the briquets. The addition of vines is part of the paella tradition and will add some smoke.
At this point, I stir in green peas and chopped Roma tomatoes and add more broth. I add broth several more times before adding a dozen or so 20-count shrimp and a bag of mussels. These will cook quickly and then you’re set to start dishing up big bowls of paella.
One last thing: Resist the urge to stir the paella any further while it cooks. Only lift the lid to add broth as necessary and don’t even stir then.
My big ol’ paella pan will turn out enough for 6-8 people, so if you’ve got a big Weber grill, invite me over and I’ll whip up a batch. You supply the sangria or iced-cold dry rosé.