Paella isn't that hard to make; it's just a bit of a time commitment.
The key to tasty paella is tasty stock. Bomba rice, the traditional rice used in paella, is somewhat miraculous because it absorbs three times its weight in liquid. Hence, the more flavorful your liquid, the more flavorful your paella.
Some other time, I'll talk you through making a simple, delicious fish stock. But since most of us have chicken stock on hand, or know how to make it, let's start with a chicken and chorizo paella.
This paella served 12 people with abundant leftovers, and took 15 cups (just shy of a gallon) of chicken stock. I made a stock the night before with chicken wings, bones, vegetables and herbs. I added some canned tomatoes, two cups of white wine, a couple of dried chilies, and a pinch of saffron because I knew I'd be adding those flavors into the paella anyway.
I cannot overstate the importance of using homemade chicken stock here. If homemade is simply not an option for you, buy some of the good stuff from your local butcher shop. Frozen is fine. Just do your best to avoid the stuff from a can or box. It just doesn't taste as good, and here, the flavor of the stock is paramount.
I also made a chile paste by rehydrating about 8 dried chilies (any kind that is not too spicy is fine--espelette, ancho, New Mexico). First, I seeded and stemmed them, then covered them with boiling water and let them sit for about 20 minutes. Then I strained the chiles and pureed them with a few spoonfuls of the chile water and some olive oil.
I cooked mine over a live fire. If you have a grill or firepit, build a fire using charcoal or wood at least an hour before you plan to start. The paella should go onto a fire at its peak, and then cook over a dying flame. You could also cook it over a gas grill, or even inside over a gas burner on the stove.
Summer Chicken & Chorizo Paella
For the chicken & chorizo:
6 chicken thighs, skin on
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon fresh coriander seed
1 teaspoon cumin seed, toasted lightly
2 teaspoons ancho chile powder (or any dried chile powder)
1 tablespoon smoky paprika
1 pound fresh chorizo, sliced into 1-inch pieces
For the stock:
5 cups homemade chicken stock
2 cups dry white wine
1 head garlic, halved
4 ounces canned tomatoes
2 dried chiles
3 bay leaves
For the sofrito:
1 large or 2 medium yellow onions, peeled and diced
3 garlic cloves, sliced
8 ounces canned tomatoes
Pepper paste, as described above (or just use some store-bought harissa from the tube)
2 cups arroz bomba, or in a pinch, arborio rice
1 pound romano or green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
abundant chopped parsley
The night before (or as early as possible), marinate the chicken:
Combine chicken, bay leaves, coriander, cumin, ancho chile, and paprika. Season with salt. Make sure everything is evenly coated and refrigerate overnight.
To make the paella:
If you're going to cook the rice over a live fire, go build it now.
First, gussy up the chicken stock. Combine in a large pot with the wine, garlic, tomatoes, chiles, bay leaves and saffron, and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 30 minutes to let the flavors come together. Strain, season with salt, and set aside. You should have six cups of stock.
While the stock is cooking, make the sofrito. Saute the onions and garlic with the bay leaves until tender. Squish in the tomatoes and cook down until jammy, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and set aside.
About an hour before you start cooking the rice, roast the thighs: lay them skin-side up on a cookie sheet in an oven set to 500°F for about 30 minutes, to brown the skin and give them a head start.
To cook the paella:
If cooking over a live fire, you'll want to set the grill at least 8 inches from the coal bed. Use some bricks or cinder blocks to achieve this if you don't have a way to raise and lower the grill.
You can also just as easily cook it over a gas grill or indoors on the stove. And you don't need a special paella pan, though it makes for a good show and they aren't very costly. I made a back up at the same time as the one in the photo, in a ten-inch cast iron pan, on my stove, using the proportions in this recipe, and it turned out beautifully.
First, preheat the pan. Get it really hot, and then drizzle in enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Add the sofrito and a heaping spoonful of the pepper paste. Add in 6 cups of the stock, and let it come to a boil in the pan. Taste the liquid. It should be very highly seasoned--this is your only chance to get the rice salted properly from within, so season it a little more highly than you might be comfortable with. Add more chile paste to taste.
Add the rice, give it a stir, and let everything return to a boil. Carefully lay in the chicken pieces, chorizo, and romano or green beans. Let the pan boil for about five minutes, and then turn it down to medium high heat. After ten more minutes, turn it down to medium. Cook it over medium heat for 15 minutes, and then reduce the heat to low for 15 more minutes. The idea with paella is that it's cooked over a dying fire, so you're trying to simulate that on the stove here.
After about 40 minutes, check the rice for doneness. When you're satisfied that it's cooked, pull it from the stove and let it rest for about 5 minutes, then sprinkle with abundant chopped parsley and serve with aïoli.
Don't forget to scrape the bottom. The soccarat, or burnt crust, is the best part.