4th of july pt 1: grill rigs + open-fire paella improvs

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Every 4th of July, my friend Timothy Chegwidden cooks two huge paellas, Spain’s famous rice dish, for a gathering of friends and their children. Tim makes his paella as they REALLY do in Spain, outdoors over a wood fire — the slight hint of smoke is essential to its flavor — a Spanish-style barbeque that makes for a casual, festive,  celebratory gathering.

For a few years, Tim used Weber grills for his paella; the pan sat neatly on the grill over a bed of coals. Last year, when he upped the size of his pan to suit the ever-expanding guest-list, he rigged a large square frame of concrete blocks to support an old wire mesh fireplace screen. Just as he was heating the huge pan, he discovered the flaw in his design: the screen was coated with plastic which was starting to burn. We pulled it off immediately. What to do? If we pushed the concrete blocks in closer to support the pan, they wouldn’t allow for a wide enough expanse of coals, and some of the pan would be off the heat. I ran to his garage to hunt for something that could support the pan and withstand heat.

I was mulling the two big red saws hanging in the corner when I spied the answer: an old Tuscan grill stand I’d given Tim the year before…left over from days when I had a fireplace to cook in.

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The slotted stand allowed you to place the flat grill at any height you wanted over the fire. Tim’s son Nick and I set it up, using rocks to level the pan. Perfect. Little time lost and a new rig for Tim’s paella.

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So now the adjustable Tuscan grill stand I’d enjoyed for years found new life as Tim’s paella stand. If you have a fireplace or are an outdoor griller, a grill stand is a worthy investment, allowing you to cook over any bed of coals you have, and adjust the height.

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If you’d like to make a paella for your summer barbeque, see my basic recipe for Paella with Shrimp, Mussels and Saffron, below. (It is almost as good done on a stovetop).  A Weber grill will work fine as long as your pan is no bigger than the circumferance. You can also rig concrete blocks as Melissa Hamilton of Canal House does, knowing that the rice at the edges of the pan won’t cook as evenly as the center.

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Simple appetizers are all that’s necessary to stave off hunger while the paella is cooking:  a platter of roasted peppers, drizzled with olive oil and Balsamic vinegar, minced parsley and garlic;  bowls of olives;  anchovies; thin slices of chorizo or dry cured ham, along with some bread.  Since paella is extremely filling, a green salad is the only necessary accompaniment. Allioli, the pungent garlic sauce of Catalunya, is an excellent if somewhat unorthodox embellishment that seems to both mellow and define the flavors of the rice (see recipe below).

Recipe: Paella with Shrimp,Mussels and Saffron

This seafood paella is far different than the busy, everything-but-the-kitchen sink versions most of us are familiar with. The authentically Spanish approach of limiting the seafood to just shrimp and mussels makes it easier to time the cooking and allows the flavor of the rice to come through. You can make a quick flavorful stock by doctoring bottled clam juice with fresh seafood.

Paella is classically made with a rice called granza  which is very similar to the Italian arborio commonly used in risotto. The two dishes share a similar approach as well; the rice is sauteed with chopped onion before the liquid as added. Adding liquid all at once, rather than in increments as in risotto, gives paella rice it’s firm, distinct grains and dryer texture.

Serves 6 (can be doubled or tripled, using a bigger pan accordingly, to serve more).

For the broth:

Four 8-ounce bottles of clam juice

1 pounds clams or mussels, scrubbed or 1/2 pound lean white fish trimmings

Shrimp shells from peeling the shrimp, below

1/4 cup dry white wine

2 cups water

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 medium onion, chopped

1 medium tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped

2 teaspoons sweet paprika

1 pound short-grain rice, such as Spanish granza or Italian arborio or baldo

1/4 pound Italian green (broad) beans or sting beans cut into 2-inch pieces or  baby lima beans (fresh or frozen)

1 teaspoon saffron threads (scant 1/2 gram), crumbled

1 pound small clams or mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded

1 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined (reserve the shells for the broth)

To make the broth (up to 2 days ahead):  In a medium saucepan, combine the clam juice, the clams, shrimp shells, wine and water. Bring to a boil over moderately high heat. Reduce the heat to moderate and simmer for 20 minutes, skimming. Strain and reserve the broth; discard the solids.

About 45 minutes before making the paella,  prepare a charcoal or wood fire in a barbeque grill. Prepare the remaining ingredients and assemble them on a table near the barbeque. When the fire has almost died down and the coals are covered with a layer of white ash, begin making the paella.  Place the grill 2 1/2 to 3-inches above the coals.

Place a 12-13 -inch paella pan or heavy skillet  on the grill (or over moderate heat if you’re cooking on the stovetop). Heat the olive oil until hot but not smoking. Sauté the garlic and the onion until translucent about 4 minutes.

Add the tomato and the paprika and cook, stirring frequently until any liquid has evaporated.

Add the rice and sauté until golden about 2 minutes. Pour in the reserved stock.

Add the beans and the saffron. Nestle the mussels or clams in the rice so they are covered with the liquid. Cook without stirring 20-25 minutes until all the liquid has evaporated and the rice is tender. Halfway through, add the shrimp, pressing them down into the rice.

Remove the pan from the heat and cover it with a kitchen towel. Let the paella rest 10 minutes before serving. Serve the paella directly from the pan, making sure to scrape up some of the crispy layer that has formed on the bottom.

 

Recipe: Quick Faux Alioli

Egg yolks are the traditional base for allioli. Because hot days and fresh eggs can be a dicey combination, I cam up with this ‘faux’ version, which uses commercial mayonnaise as a base rather than egg yolks.  The alioli will keep  3 days refrigerated.

Makes about 1 3/4 cups.

4 or 5 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup commercial mayonnaise

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

A few drops of lemon juice, if desired, to heighten the flavor

In a mortar with a pestle or a food processor, combine the garlic and the coarse salt.  Reduce to a fine puree.  Add the mayonnaise and whisk or process until combined.  Whisking constantly, or with motor running, gradually drizzle in the olive oil until the allioli becomes very thick and smooth. Adjust the seasoning. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.

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