I can already feel the end of summer. Rather abruptly, with a dump of summer snow. Luckily the snow was short lived but it is getting cold out, cold enough to turn the furnace back on, cold enough to want to wear jackets outside. My summer has been total overload this year and I’m sorry I haven’t had a chance to write more on Food for Architects. For me its been a busy season of weddings (4 weddings and me a bridesmaid for 2 of them!) along with wedding showers, parties, hotel nights, birthdays and hundreds of people. Thankfully the season is slowing down, the wind has shifted and things have calmed down.
It’s time to be a hermit for a bit. Thankfully there is still a bit of time left to do a bit of outdoor cooking. I found this fantastic paella pan, made in Spain, at a thrift store for $7 and took it out into the countryside for a test run on a camping trip. Paellas are meant to be cooked on a real fire and eaten outdoors. The smoke from the wood fire flavors the dish beautifully. There is a long history of paellas, which I’m sure you’re familiar with, where field workers in Spain would cook their lunch of rice and bits of whatever they could find out in the field. Bits like snails and rabbit, a handful of beans in someone’s pocket….There are so many types of paellas now like this stunning black number I made previously. This time the challenge was not finding cuttlefish ink in the supermarket but cooking over an open fire, learning the nuances of logs and flames, guessing at the heat of the fire.
Camping is a lot of prep work and list making. A paella is a no fuss meal that is easy and a good camping activity. And it is a meal that can feed a crowd, just use a bigger diameter pan and you can feed more people. The things you need are a basic understanding of how to build a wood fire (or bring someone who knows how to build a good fire), a shallow frying pan or paella pan, decent rice, and time.
Tip 1: Make sure that your pan is level. Paella pans are shallow and so to get the proper amount of liquid in your pan you need a fairly level surface. The fire pit at the campsite didn’t have a grill so we rigged a stand with 2 large rocks which worked really well.
Tip 2: Use the right type of rice. I like bomba or calasparra rice. You can sometimes find “paella rice” at the grocery stores too. These rices will stand up to the cooking without going mushy.
Tip 3: Make sure you have pot holders or oven mitts with you to take the pan off the fire when you are ready to eat. The oven mitts are also helpful if your spoon is short, they will shield your arms from the hot hot fire.
Tip 4: Check out this video and pay attention to the fire. Notice how little wood you actually need to cook over, pretty rad.
I didn’t follow a recipe exactly but improvised and it still turned out tasty. The following quantities will feed 2-3 people. I used a 35 cm enameled paella pan and pre-weighed the rice at home. I’ve also seen a trick where the old master just poured the rice in a line across the pan to measure… but I’m not that good yet.
Campfire Paella *
5 chicken drumsticks
2 spanish chorico sausages cut into pieces
1 small spanish onion (or 4 shallots), diced
1 red mild pepper, sliced into wide strips
1 tomato, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
250 g calasparra or bomba rice
1 small glass of white wine
1 liter of water
1 bullion cube ( seafood or chicken)
1 package paella seasoning (you can also make your own mix)
2 pinches ground saffron
mussels or shrimp (optional)
salt and pepper
1) Heat your pan over a medium fire. Pour in a liberal amount of olive oil and add the chicken and sausages. Season with salt and cook until your chicken is browned. Then push the pieces to the side.
2) Add the bell pepper pieces, garlic, tomato, and onion to the pan and lightly cook.
3) Add the wine, water, and seasonings and bring to a boil. By this time the wood should be starting to turn into glowing red coals.
4) Add the rice when the liquid is boiling. Arrange all the meat and veg in the pan so that it looks pretty. Taste the liquid and add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until all the liquid has evaporated.
5) When most of the liquid has evaporated you can arrange your seafood on top. At this point you want to slow down the fire to avoid burning your rice, so if there are too many red hot coals you should remove some.
6) The paella is done when you hear a slight sizzle as opposed to a bubbling noise. Pull the pan off the fire with mitts and let it rest for 5 minutes. This allows the remaining moisture in the rice to equalize. Decorate with lemon wedges.
7) Eat communal style out of the dish. Everyone gets a spoon and digs in. With any luck you’ll have a crunchy crust (Socarrat) to enjoy.