- UCO Stormproof
A Spanish friend once taught me how to make a Spanish tortilla, a classic egg and potato dish. I, a naive American, had the nerve to suggest adding onions. He became very serious, and replied sternly, “There are never onions in a Spanish tortilla.”
That was my first lesson in understanding how strongly the Spanish feel about their food, and perhaps there isn’t a dish more divisive than paella in the Spanish repertoire. It has humble roots as a dish field workers made with whatever ingredients they had on hand. The paella we’re familiar with on this side of the pond, often garnished with pricey ingredients such as lobster and saffron, isn’t considered traditional. While what makes paella “authentic” can greatly vary, here are a few guidelines:
- The socarrat, the crispy, caramelized rice on the bottom of the pan, is the best part. This is what sets paella apart from other rice dishes.
- Medium-grain rice, also called bomba and often labeled “paella rice,” is essential. This rice absorbs more liquid than other types and is less starchy than its Italian cousin, Arborio.
- Use a paella pan—you won’t get the socarrat without one. The most common are made from carbon steel, which is similar to cast iron. When you’re done cleaning it, dry it thoroughly and rub some oil all around it to keep it from rusting. The smallest pans are usually 13 to 15 inches in diameter, and the biggest will feed dozens.
- Paella is prepared over an open fire or grill.
This last part is what makes paella particularly well suited for campfire cooking. It takes a bit more patience than roasting a weenie on a stick, but it can feed a crowd and easily be adjusted for individual tastes. You can be as simple or elaborate with the final toppings as you’d like, from a mix of poultry and seafood to a classic pairing of snails and rabbit (though not everyone appreciates hare in their food).