Anyone can grill a hot dog. Everyone can make a burger. And even the most inept can order delivery.
But cooking paella over an open flame... that's a different situation altogether.
Partly because it's a time-consuming enterprise, but also because what the hell goes into paella?
To find out, we consulted Chef Luis Montesinos from Jaleo by José Andrés in Las Vegas. He knows a thing or two about this traditional Spanish dish, and he's a proponent of making it for the 4th of July. Because, while it might not be American in origin, it's a shareable feast that'll really impress your party guests before the fireworks begin.
Below, the good chef shares some pro tips for making your own. You'd be wise to listen to him.
Use the right wood: “Orange wood catches quickly when you light it on fire, which is exactly what you want when cooking over an open flame.”
It’s all about the rice: “Use Bomba rice. It holds three times the amount of liquid, meaning it won’t break like other rice.”
Bless the pan: “Pour the rice into the pan in the shape of a cross. This is an old tradition that symbolizes blessing your meal, while also making sure the rice is evenly distributed.”
Control the fire: “This is the most important part of making paella. Watch the bubbles as the paella cooks, stir occasionally, and make sure the fire is evenly distributed. If not, add, move or remove the wood to redistribute the heat.”
Be patient: “It takes 45 minutes to make a fresh pan of paella. Once you get down to 13 minutes, let the rice sit without stirring it to get that nice crust on the bottom.”
Now that you're an expert at paella-making (well, more so than you were two minutes ago), it's time to try cooking some for yourself. You can do that with this recipe for vegetarian paella from José Andrés’ new cookbook, Vegetables Unleashed. If you'd like to make it un-vegetarian, just toss in your favorite meat and seafood.
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
12 cups chopped vegetables (1/4-inch pieces)
3/4 cup sofrito, homemade or store-bought
2 pounds Bomba rice
7 to 8 quarts water or vegetable stock, homemade or store-bought
2 sprigs rosemary
Herbs such as thyme, oregano, parsley and/or basil for garnish
1. Heat the olive oil in a large paella pan over a high flame. Add any harder vegetables (root vegetables, etc.) first and cook until lightly browned (3-5 minutes). Then add the softer vegetables (such as green beans, peas, mushrooms and/or leafy greens) and cook until all the vegetables are tender and lightly caramelized.
2. Stir in the sofrito until it evenly coats the vegetables. Add the rice, stirring so that the grains are coated with the sofrito, and spread it evenly across the pan. Add the water and rosemary, stirring just enough so that everything is evenly distributed across the surface of the pan. Season with plenty of salt, taste and adjust as needed.
3. Set a timer. Bomba rice has a narrow window, between 18-20 minutes, when it’s cooked through but still just slightly al dente. That’s your target. Taste the rice often throughout the cooking process and add more liquid as necessary. In the last few minutes, increase the heat to crisp the rice at the bottom of the pan, forming the socarrat that Spaniards value so much.
4. Bring the paella to the table. Sprinkle dramatically with the herbs. Let your guests bask in the beauty of your creation, then dig in! In Valencia, they would eat directly out of the pan with wooden spoons, but forks and plates are acceptable.
Excerpt from VEGETABLES UNLEASHED by José Andrés and Matt Goulding. Copyright 2019 by José Andrés. Excerpted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Photographer: Peter Frank Edwards.