Seafood Paella on the Grill with Aioli

Paella is always a lusty, rustic dish, but never more so than when cooked over a real fire.  Since firewood is in short supply in Key West, I’ve settled for this version cooked over a hot charcoal grill.  Adding a drizzle of saffron aioli gives it a powerful, rich finish.

For the aioli:

  • 1 whole egg plus a egg yolk
  • 1 garlic clove finely chopped
  • 1 teaspooon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of Spanish saffron threads
  • ¾ cups good extra virgin olive oil

 For the paella:

  • 4 rosemary springs, soaked in water
  • ½ pound squid, bodies whole and tentacles skewered
  • ½ pound Key West pink shrimp, peeled and skewered
  • ¼ Spanish chorizo
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 medium Spanish onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 fresh tomatoes, finely diced, and their juices
  • 1 Anaheim, Cubano or other mild pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 cup Spanish rice, either bomba or medium grain
  • 4 cups shrimp stock (see note below)
  • 8 littleneck clams
  • 8 Prince Edward Island mussels
  • ½ cup fresh or frozen peas
  • ¼ cup parsley, chopped
  • Squeeze of fresh lime juice

Note:  To make a simple shrimp stock, put shells from the shrimp into a medium sauce pan.  Add about 6 cups salted water, and a carrot and celery stalk if you have them, and cook over low to medium heat for about 20 minutes or until you have 4 cups left. Strain and keep warm or reheat when ready to cook.

To make the aioli, combine egg and egg yolk, garlic, lime juice, Dijon mustard, salt and saffron in a small bowl.  Place a kitchen towel under the bowl to prevent it from slipping and begin adding olive oil drop by drop while whisking furiously.  When the aioli starts to emulsify, add the remaining oil in a steady stream. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Start a charcoal grill using a chimney starter.  When the coals are hot, scatter them evenly over the bottom grill grate for direct cooking.  Scatter damp rosemary springs over the hot coals.   Place skewers of shrimp and squid as well as the squid bodies and the chorizo over the fire.  Cover and cook until the squid bodies are nicely grill-marked and the shrimp starts to firm up.  Flip and cook for a few minutes more until shrimp are opaque.  Remove the seafood and chorizo.  Cut the squid bodies and chorizo into 1-inch pieces, remove the tentacles and shrimp from their skewers and set aside at room temperature. 

Next, make the sofrito, or the rich aromatic mixture that is the base of the paella.  Make sure your fire is still very hot.  If not, add more coals.  Place a large, heavy paella pan or shallow round pan over the hottest part of the coals. Heat olive oil in the pan and add onions and garlic.  Cook until just soft, about 10 minutes.  Add tomatoes and juices, pepper, paprika and bay leaves and simmer, with the grill covered, until the paste is dark red and very thick, about 10 or 15 minutes. 

Now stir in the rice, cook for about 2 minutes, and add the shrimp stock.  Stir to evenly distribute the ingredients, cover and cook until the liquid has cooked down to the level of the rice, about 15 minutes.  Nestle littlenecks and mussels into the mixture, cover and cook just until the shellfish have opened and the liquid is absorbed.  Add peas, reserved grilled seafood, chorizo and cook for 2 minutes to heat.

Remove the paella from the grill and let rest 5 or 10 minutes covered with foil or a top.  When rested, spritz with lime, sprinkle with parsley and serve with aioli for drizzling.

Comments are closed.