Sunday, October 11, 2009

Seafood paella in the park

My birthday is one of the prettiest days in October, so for the birthday party I usually do a picnic in some interesting place. In the past we've done a wine party in Buena Vista winery in Sonoma, a seafood grill on Angel Island (that wasn't the year when the island burned, sadly, on my birthday), opening the oyster season on Tomales Bay Oyster Farm. This year I was making paella on a grill in China Camp park.
Cooking paella outdoors for ten people can be labor-intensive, because of all the ingredients, the challenge of maintaining the heat in our afternoon wind, and all these good friends walking around impatiently - is it ready yet?

But it's pretty, tasty, serves the crowd (if you have a right pan, and I do, thanks DK who gave me this professional 15-inch paella pan years back), and cooking paella over an outdoor fire is the traditional way. I do cut corners by using canned tomatoes, even in the middle of the tomato season, and by buying the seafood frozen; it thaws on the way to the park, but doesn't require ice to keep it cold.
Some days are windier then others, so I bring my portable gas stove as an insurance. If it's very windy and difficult to maintain the heat on the grill, I'll fire the stove, screen it from the wind with the picnic basket, and cook on the gas heat. This time the wind was moderate by SF standards (15 knots or so, nothing to worry about), so I just started the sofrito on the stove while R. was getting the grill ready, then moved the pan over to the grill.

Most recipes fo paella say that the rice should be ready in 20 minutes. When cooking outdoors, it usually takes much longer. This time, with the pan being somewhat bigger then the grill surface, so I had to rotate it, the wind chill and all, the entire process took close to two hours. Then, when it was almost ready, R. decided that there is not enough heat to finish it - or that he hadn't have enough fun with the charcoal and the lighter fluid, and it's his last chance - anyway, he added more charcoal and made a huge roaring fire right under the pan. I thought it would burn and ruin the dish, but instead it created that wonderful golden crust on the bottom!

While the paella was getting done, the guests were entertained by Portugese green wine, marinated baby octopi, fire roasted peppers, very smelly cheeses that K. picked up in Whole Foods on the way there, and Martin, K's teenage hound, who attempted to eat everything in sight, tear to pieces everything that he didn't eat, and lick everyone to death. No, we didn't eat Martin, but we surely discussed the possibility.

For the seafood stock, every time I buy shrimps in the shells with the heads on, I put the shells and the heads in a pan with water to cover, add salt, pepper, a couple of thyme sprigs and a bay leaf, and simmer for 30 minutes, strain and freeze. Or, if you have a whole fish, do the same with the bones.

Seafood Paella for ten

1/2 cup olive oil
1 extra-large yellow onion, chopped
1 can whole peeled tomatoes
1 cup green peas
1 green bell pepper, cored and chopped
1 lb whole small squid, cleaned
1 lb baby octopus, cleaned and cooked for 30 minutes in salt water, drained
1 lb salmon fillet, cut into bite-size pieces
1 lb cod fillet, cut into bite-seze pieces
10 sea scallops
1/2 kg (a little over a pound, 1/2 bag) Valencia or Bomba rice
1 Tbsp Spanish smoked paprika
1 pinch saffron
1 tsp sea salt

1 whole head of garlic, unpeeled, the top 1/4 cut off
2 cups unexpensive white wine
6 cups seafood stock (or clam juice)
20 medium shrimps, peeled, deveined, tails on
20 cooked green mussels on half-shell

2 red or yellow bell peppers,fire roasted, cut into narrow strips, to serve
2 lemons, cut into wedges, to serve

Make the sofrito: Heat the oil in a 15-inch paella pan over hot coals. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, untill transparent and just beginning to turn color. Add the tomatoes with the juice, break up with the spatula. Cook until almost all the liquid evaporates.

Add the green pepper, the peas, octopus, scallops, salmon, and cod; stir. Add the rice, season with paprica and salt, sprinkle on the saffron, breaking the threads between your fingers.

Add the rice and stir for about two minutes to cover the rice with oil. With a spatula, even out the surface of the rice. Push the head of garlic in the center. Pour in the wine and about 4 cups of the stock. From this moment, don't stir! The goal is to cook the rice while keeping the grains separate, and stirring would loosen the starch on the surface of the grains, making them into a risotto. You can turn the pan, add liquid as needed, carefully taste the rice for donness, - but don't disturb the rice!

Different types of rice will take different amounts of liquid, so see if the rice goes dry after a few minutes, and if it does, carefully add more stock, or water. After about 20 minutes, start tasting the rice. When it's almost done, place the shrimps and mussels on top, pressing them into the rice. Allow the steam to cook the shrimps and warm the mussels. You may have to turn the shrimps over if there is not enough steam to cook them through; or just cover the pan with aluminum foil for the last 5 minutes of cooking.

Now, we want to create this delicious crust of caramelized rice on the bottom of our paella. If you nare cooking on a stove, turn up the heat for a couple of minutes. If it's on a charcoal grill, the heat would be down to meduim by now, so add more charcoal, light it up, and build a serious fire under your pan.

Take of the grill, serve in the pan, decorated with roasted bell peppers and lemon wedges.

R's birthday is the second prettiest day of October, but this time it was cold and overcast, so I just got out for long enough to grill our pork tenderloin and vegetables, and then we ate inside by the fire:


Nataly said...

that was delicious

amarillo said...

Thank you!

I got an impression however that there was not enough food. Next time will bring more appetizers.