On the eve of departing for another Cub Scout camping trip near Joshua Tree, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect a simple fact: I love our Cub Scouts pack.
It took me awhile, but I came around. Being one who is, generally speaking, apprehensive with group activities, recited credos and the like, I was skeptical at first. But the boy wanted to do it, and this was about him, not me.
As with most things Topanga, I soon realized this was not a typical pack — that, despite the rules and formalities, I was among my tribe.
We recently went on a camping trip to Leo Carrillo State Park in Malibu, a very short distance from our home. The first time I camped at Leo Carrillo with the pack, I wondered, “Why are we doing this?” There was the utter trauma of loading the car, unloading at the campsite, setting up our Versailles-like tent for a single night of tortured sleep, packing it all up again in the morning and going home. Then there was the fact that in my humble-but-relevant-to-myself opinion the campsite was less beautiful than our own backyard.
But outweighing those factors was the sheer joy the experience brought to the kids, and the many wonderful friends who joined us there.
For this particular outing, we solved the loading/tent dilemma by just my son, Flynn, and I camping, and my wife and the girls joining us for dinner and S’mores before going home for a good night’s sleep in their own beds. I had volunteered, as I have often in the past, to cook for the pack, and had planned to bring my giant paella pan plus a couple Spanish-style pork shoulders for the grill.
We arrived Saturday mid morning, and it was barely lunch time when things took a turn for the wonderful.
“Do you like double IPA?” Greg, the scoutmaster and visionary brewmaster behind the new Barley Forge brewery in Costa Mesa, asked. It was a leading question — he knew I did. “I’ve got a tap set up in the back of my truck.”
He led my pal, Vic, and I on an expedition to the parking lot, where we were treated to “One Louder,” his just released double IPA. The beer held its own with my favorite IPAs, including Pliny the Elder and Ballast Point Sculpin. And here we had our own tap on a warm and sunny winter day at the edge of the continent.
Round about 4 p.m., I started the fire. Many people do not realize that paella was originally a campfire meal — hunters in Valencia, Spain would strap a paella, the actual name for the pan, onto their backs when they went out hunting. The most original, traditional paellas, therefore, are made with rabbit and snails — some of the most common hunting and foraging around Valencia.
After an hour or so, feeding the flames with fresh wood, I’d achieved the slow, hot burn I was looking for, and set the pan to fire.
Just like in Spain, the savviest of diners realized that the best part was the sofrito — the crispy, slightly burnt rice stuck to the bottom of the pan — and using forks, spoons, spatulas or whatever they could find, they scraped the crunchy goodness straight from the pan, just like you’re supposed to, into their hungry mouths.
The wife and daughters left, and the rest of the evening devolved into a blur of disjointed conversation, Masterson’s 10-year-old rye whisky and Cub Scout-dad C.J.’s don’t-know-how-old moonshine (which was quite delicious and deserves its own review) at a picnic table near the campfire.
It’s been three or four years since I’ve written about paella on this blog. And it’s such an important dish, I figured it worthwhile to revisit with this slightly different version than the previous one.
Remember, it’s better if you cook it outdoors over the open fire. But even in the kitchen on the stovetop, it’s not going to suck. Enjoy!
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Shrimp & chorizo paella
1 lb. Spanish paella rice such as bomba (or other short-grain rice such as arborio)
4-oz Spanish chorizo sausage, sliced thinly
2 lbs. head-on shrimp
2 lbs. live mussels in shell (optional)
4 cups fish stock
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup olive oil
1 white onion, chopped
2 large tomatoes, pureed in the blender
1/2 lb. snow peas
1 cup shelled English peas (frozen is fine)
2 tbsp. pimenton (Spanish smoked paprika)
5 sprigs rosemary
sea salt to taste
Note: This recipe is adapted for the stovetop. If you want, try cooking over an open fire or on the grill with wood chips added for smoke, which lends a lovely authenticity.
Heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium high heat in a 15″ paella pan (or similar). Add sliced chorizo and cook until beginning to brown. Add onions and cook until translucent, stirring frequently (about 4 minutes). Add rice and toast, stirring to coat each rice grain in olive oil.
Turn heat to high. Add fish stock and pureed tomato to pan with rice, stir in pimenton and arrange seafood, snow peas, peas and rosemary on top. Place pan over heat and bring to a boil. Whether cooking on a fire, grill or stovetop, you’ll need to turn 1/4 every two or three minutes to ensure even cooking. Cook for 5 minutes, drizzling with remaining 1/4 cup olive oil and adding chicken stock as needed to sections cooking faster than others.
For paella cooking on the grill: Close lid as much as possible (it might rest on part of the pan), turn heat to medium and cook for 20 or so minutes, adding chicken stock as necessary, until paella is cooked. (Test rice on the top, as rice toward the bottom may cook faster.) Add soaked wood chips to fire for smoke.
For paella cooking on the stove: After 5 minutes on the stove, add a bit more chicken stock, and transfer to a 400-degree oven. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until liquid has cooked away.
Remove cooked paella from heat and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.