It feels like ages ago now, when my girlfriends and I were gathered around a beautiful bright orange fire, cooking a massive paella dish, on one of the final hot summer evenings of the year. It was about 30 degrees Celsius this evening, which felt like 200 degrees as I stood over the fire, tending to the paella.

Over the years, wood-fired paella has become a well loved dish of my family’s. My Dad carved the open fire cooking path for me; his passion for it is infectious and something I couldn’t resist trying myself. I love being in nature and of course cooking and eating, so combining these felt like a natural fit and a likely enduring endeavour. Being in nature sitting around the fire – watching, waiting, anticipating the food that smells absolutely amazing – is such a wonderful and fun experience. My girlfriends, I think, have also become quite in love with this experience and it makes me so happy seeing them enjoy these times around the fire together – eating, drinking, laughing, and relaxing.

Cooking over fire is a process that requires particular attention, care and some intuitive cooking ability. What I mean by that is you can’t control the flame as you would on a stove. There is no “med-high” setting on the fire. As well, I could never write out the exact directions for this recipe, because it will inevitably be different for everyone; but that’s the fun and excitement of it. It’s a constant dance between rotating or moving the pan in accordance with the heat, monitoring the wood and flame, stirring, flipping and so on. Although my friends around me may be chatting away, I’m in a deep concentrated “zone” and completely in the moment while I am cooking. I can’t help it and I love it.

To create your own paella masterpiece, you will need a fire pit, fire-wood, paper, a rack to place the pan on, heavy duty heat-proof oven mitts, a wooden spoon, tongs, and a paella pan. The utensils and equipment can be found locally at Cabela’s. Begin by building your fire; stack small pieces of wood with crumpled paper nestled in between the wood. If space permits in your fire pit, leave some room between the stack of wood and the edge of the pit. This is helpful when the flame gets too hot and you need to move the pan over to avoid burning the ingredients. Once your fire is burning bright with the flame touching the bottom of the pan, you can begin cooking. As I said earlier, this dish requires your full attention and care, constantly moving and rotating the pan to ensure even cooking. Keeping an eye on the wood and flame size is important too – you will have to replenish the wood while cooking. Larger pieces of wood can be used once the initial fire has been started.

Besides the overall experience of wood-fired cooking, you will also end up with a wonderful smokey flavour to your meal. If you can avoid stirring the paella at the end, the high heat will create a great crust with the rice on the bottom and outer edges of the pan. This paella dish can be modified with different ingredients according to your preferences. During our paella night, we sipped on Sangria and snacked on veggies with a herb dip and hummus, and cheeses with a fig jam and crackers while the paella cooked away. I served the paella with a starter simple green salad topped with orange slices and pickled onions. We were able to enjoy the salad outside but the mosquitoes forced us into the screened-in room for the paella feast. You can top the paella with hot sauce or a squeeze of grilled lemon.

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I hope you feel inspired to partake in your own outdoor cooking adventure with family or friends. If you try the paella, I promise, it will be the next best thing to being in Spain. Maybe. And as the weather continues to get cooler, spending time bundled up around a fire accompanied with delicious food and drink, may sound more and more appealing.

Ciao,

Sarah

Wood-Fired Paella

Serves: 8
PrepTime: 1 hour; Cook Time: 1 hour

INGREDIENTS

6 – 8 chicken thighs (skin-on, bone-in)
Salt and pepper
Garlic powder
Sweet paprika
¼ cup (60 ml) olive oil
8 oz (250 g) chorizo, sliced and halved
2 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Saffron soaked in 1/4 cup warm water
1.5 lb (750 g) mussels, cleaned (see note)
10 oz (300 g) shrimp
4 bay leaves
1.5 tsp (7 ml) turmeric
1 tsp (5 ml) smoked paprika
1 tsp (5 ml) sweet paprika
½ tsp (2 ml) cayenne pepper
2 tsp (10 ml) kosher salt
6 tbsp (90 ml) dry sherry
8-12 cups (2-3 l) chicken stock (low sodium)
3 cups (750 ml) arborio rice
3 oz (100 g) black olives, halved
5 oz (150 g) marinated artichoke hearts, sliced
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
Handful chopped parsley

Note: 1. If mussels are fresh, first run under cool water and remove the beard (the stringy piece attached to the shell). Lightly tap any opened mussels, if they don’t close then discard. 2. You will need a large pan, approximately 14 inches.

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Season both sides of chicken thighs generously with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and sweet paprika.
2. Prepare fire: use small pieces of wood and rolled paper underneath cooking rack. Light the fire and let it burn until you have a medium sized flame.
3. Place pan with olive oil on the rack over the fire. Let the pan heat for approximately 5 minutes. Quickly brown chorizo and remove from pan.
4. Brown both sides of chicken thighs and remove from pan.
5. Sauté onions, garlic, and pepper until softened. Add rice and spices and toast slightly. Add sherry and saffron with soaking liquid.
6. Cook briefly. Add 6 cups stock and salt, cook rice, adding more stock as necessary.
7. Add chicken pieces and chorizo back into paella.
8. Simmer for about 20-30 minutes or until rice is al dente. When rice is almost ready, nestle mussels and shrimp in rice.
10. Continue cooking until seafood is done. Then add olives, artichokes, tomatoes and parsley. Allow to heat up slightly.
11. Remove from fire, cover with foil and allow to sit for about 10 minutes.