I don’t believe in trying to recreate dishes exactly as I had them in other countries. Good cooking is always practical and highly adaptive. So searching out expensive, hard to find ingredients doesn’t fall in line with the day to day reality of cooking and eating. That idea is what spawned Paella Santa Maria.
Paella Santa Maria is a meal inspired by the agriculture of the Santa Maria Valley. Cooked over a fire fueled by the wood of red oak trees and pine cones fallen by time and weather. Composed of ingredients born of the Earth, such as, rice, vegetables, red wine, sausage, fresh herbs, and poultry, this dish is a reflection of people present and past and the climate that influenced their eating.
Paella Santa Maria is simple to prepare but not quick to make. Invite good friends over to help you relax and keep you company with a glass of good wine while you cook.
Equipping yourself for this dish is pretty simple. You need the following: A 15 inch paella pan, a pair of tongs, a wooden spoon with a flat edge or stiff heatproof rubber spatula and a large plate or cookie sheet that will act as a catchall for cooked food and utensils.
Paella is traditionally cooked over an open wood fire which I think is the most fun way to do it but probably the most challenging. You’ve got a few options when it comes to setting up your fire.
1. The Tuscan Grill. A Tuscan grill is a small grill set on short legs that is placed over a fire typically built on the ground. Some Tuscan grills have an adjustable grate that can be raised or lowered as the fire changes. This is one of the more challenging setups so I would practice this a few times before you serve this at a dinner party.
2. Santa Maria Style BBQ Pit. This is my favorite way to cook paella outdoors because the fire can be left alone to do it’s own thing. On a Santa Maria Style BBQ you can raise and lower the cooking grate instead of adjusting the fire which I think is easier to do than constantly making adjustments to a small fire.
3. The Stovetop. This method is definitely the easiest one of all. The heat is easily adjusted and there is no wood to burn and fire to evenly maintain. If you’re not feeling like an outdoor cook then go for the stovetop method.
4. Outdoor Pizza Oven. Although I’ve never tried this it can certainly be done.
BUILDING A WOOD FIRE
Red oak is the most accessible bbq wood here on the central coast of California so that’s what I’m using to make this paella. Building a good hot fire isn’t as hard as many think as long as you have the right tools and you are using nature to your advantage. We’ll use a Santa Maria style bbq to demonstrate this.
These types of bbq pits are shaped like rectangles and that helps take advantage of the wind. The wind where I live blows form South to North so the pit is situated to where the length of it runs parallel to the wind.
Lay two large logs, preferably limbs parallel to the length of the pit in the center about 6 inches away from each other. These two large pieces will create a stable base for the fire and a channel for the air flow that will feed the fire.
Then lay some smaller pieces across leaving space in between for air to flow.
Then stack three large pieces across the smaller ones then three more large pieces in the other direction on top of that. You will have about 11 pieces stacked like Lincoln Logs. Have some small logs ready on the side to feed the fire as necessary throughout the cooking process. Adding large logs to an existing fire drastically lowers the heat and extends the cooking time.
PAELLA SANTA MARIA
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive
1-5 lb chicken cut into 10 pieces
12 ounces of linguiça or hard chorizo sausage cut into 1/4 inch half circles
8 cloves chopped garlic or 3 Tbsp. chopped
1 1/4 cups red bell pepper diced 1/4 inch (about 1 large pepper)
1 cup carrots diced 1/4 inch
1 1/2 cup onion diced 1/4 inch
1 cup celery diced 1/4 inch
2 tsp. smoked paprika
4 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 1/2 cups dry red wine
2 1/2 cup short grain rice
6 cups no sodium or low sodium chicken broth or stock, keep 2 cups extra on hand just in case
1-2 inch piece of fresh rosemary 1 large sprig of fresh thyme
10 leaves of fresh parsley cut into chiffonade
Kosher salt, to taste
Black Pepper, to taste
Start your fire about 20 to 30 minutes before you intend to start cooking and let it burn down to the point where it becomes approachable and you can cook without catching yourself on fire. While the fire is going season your chicken with salt, pepper and smoked paprika. Bring all of your prep to the cooking area.
Put the paella pan on the fire and get it hot. Add 2 Tbsp. of olive oil and get that hot so it ripples across the surface when you tilt the pan. Place your chicken in skin side down and cook for about 20 minutes. Flip the pieces over The chicken should be nicely browned. Cook for about another 20 minutes on that side and set aside. THE GOAL OF THIS STEP IS TO COOK THE CHICKEN NINETY PERCENT OF THE WAY, NICELY SEAR BOTH SIDES AND NOT BURN THE CHICKEN FAT AND DRIPPINGS THAT HAVE CARAMELIZED ON THE BOTTOM OF THE PAN.
You should have some nicely seared chicken with dark brown pan drippings. Remove the chicken from the pan and throw in your sausage. Give the sausage a good hard fry in the chicken fat until caramelized. Remove it from the pan and put it with the chicken.
Add the diced vegetables and garlic to the paella pan and sweat on low heat until almost tender. The water from the vegetables will deglaze the sausage and chicken drippings from the bottom of the pan. This will take about twenty minutes.
Stir the tomato paste into the vegetables and cook until the mixture turns brown and caramelized.
Add the red wine, thyme and rosemary and bring it to a boil. Turn around and pour yourself a big glass of that wine. Season the mixture with salt and pepper and simmer until very thick. Taste it. It should be well seasoned and delicious.
Stir in the rice. Stir in the stock and bring to a boil. Add the chicken pieces and sprinkle in the sausage. Taste the broth and season with salt and pepper mindful of the fact that it’s going to reduce and pick up some seasoning from the chicken and sausage. Adjust the heat so it’s bubbling very gently. If the heat is too high the stock will evaporate away before the rice is cooked. The rice should not be gluey or pasty but separate and moist. Lower the pan to high heat for 1 minute to develop what is called the soccarat; the golden brown crust at the bottom of a properly cooked paella. Remove from the heat and garnish with the parsley chiffonade.
COOKING NOTE: If wine isn’t good enough to drink then it’s not good enough to cook with. For this recipe I used the 2012 Field Blend from Bedford Winery Shhhhh, don’t tell Stephan. He doesn’t like it when you use the good stuff for cooking.