In the best of times, food can transport and connect us. These days, when we are both stuck and disconnected, food has its work cut out for it. If we can’t get out, the right dish can at least give us the feeling of escape. That’s why I’m making paella on my Facebook Live webcast May 1. It transports me far away, through memory, to Spain. Stuck inside, it forces me outside.
Years ago, I rode my bike along the pilgrimage route to Santiago, Spain. I saw men on the side of the road, nonchalantly cooking paella over small campfires for their picnicking families. I wanted to capture that flavor, those memories– and that nonchalance. Much more recently (though it seems forever ago), we visited Mercado Little Spain in Hudson Yards, and I got to sample Jose Andres’ perfect paella. I want those feelings, those times, back.
I adapted this recipe from Chef Omar Allibhoy, whom you can watch make it on YouTube. He makes it on a stove. But because we’re all spending so much time inside, I decided to start it on the stove then go full valenciana and make it over almond and oak wood, outside.
Traditional paella features chicken and rabbit. In this kosher one, I added more chicken and more artichokes. Years ago, I ripped out our front lawn, because you can’t eat lawn, and replaced it with artichoke plants. They budded this year, just in time for quarantine paella.
The more this pandemic separates us from friends, family, travel, and the outdoors, the more I look to food to connect me to all those things I miss.
Wood-fired Paella with Chicken and Artichokes
2 whole chickens or 10 pieces (legs and thighs are best)
3 T. olive oil
2 pinches saffron*
1 T. smoked paprika
3/4 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 3-inch lengths
1 cup peas or fresh fava beans
3 large medium artichokes, trimmed
4 cloves garlic
1 large tomato (grated or pureed)
1.5 quarts water
9 ounces paella rice or short grain rice*
3 sprigs of rosemary
salt and pepper
Cut chickens into 8 pieces. Cut each breast in half. (You might not fit all this in your pan, in which case, reserve some pieces for later).
Heat a large flame-proof skillet or paella pan over a medium high flame. Add a teaspoon of salt and the olive oil to your skillet and, when hot, add the chicken pieces, skin side down. Don’t crowd the pan. Cook until brown, flip and brown on the other side. This may take a while, but don’t settle for less-than-browned chicken.
Move the chicken to the skillet’s side. Add the vegetables to the pan and cook until they begin to brown. Add the garlic, cook for 3 seconds and add the smoked paprika. Add the tomatoes and stir for 3 minutes.
Add the water, give a small stir. Crush the saffron in your palm and sprinkle over the other ingredients.
Drizzle the rice all over the mixture, and give a light stir to distribute. That’s your last stir.
(At this point you can move the pan to your outdoor fire or, let’s get real, just continue with your stove).
Bring to a boil, and let boil for 10 minutes. Lower the heat and leave at a simmer for six minutes. Add the rosemary sprigs, cover with a tight fitting lid or foil, and continue to simmer for another 5 minutes (on a wood fire, move the wood to lower the heat). Remove from fire or flame and let rest, covered, 5 minutes.
Serve, making sure to include some of the bottom crust, or soccarat, in every serving.