Good lord, we are well into Spring already! Fishing season is about to ramp up, and I still need clear some of last season’s catch out of my freezer.
As I begin writing this, it’s national Paella Day. And it’s the perfect time of year to focus on this classic Spanish dish. The beauty of this recipe, aside from the taste, is that whether you’re a fisherman, a hunter, or both, you can use your freezer stores, in combination in this dish, to delicious effect.
Like many great ethnic dishes, Paella began as peasant food, regular folk cooking up whatever they had available with rice and maybe some vegetables. And that is what makes this a perfect dish for using what you have in the freezer. Fish, fowl, meat, shellfish… it all works in Paella. And I’m not saying to select just one, this is an any and all situation. Of course, that does make it tricky to give you a precise recipe, as we all have different proteins that we will want to use, and different amounts of it to use up. No worries though, I’ll give you a solid, basic recipe, and you will just need to adjust a little depending on what you want to put in it.
There are a number of ingredients, as far as protein goes, that are pretty standard for Paella. You can make an all seafood Paella, which is awesome and of course, very Bait 2 Plate. Still, traditional Paella usually includes sausage and poultry, as well as shellfish. If you have ground venison or other game you want to use, I suggest seasoning it with garlic, sage, black pepper, and chili powder, before adding it to the Paella. Chicken is a standard in many Paella recipes, but for our purposes, duck, goose, pheasant, quail, et al. are all excellent options. I had some whole duck that I used this time around.
I separated the legs, wings (leaving a good chunk of breast meat attached to them), took the breast meat off the carcass, dividing each half into two pieces. Obviously leave the skin on, because .. yum.
As far as seafood goes, the sea’s the limit. Salmon, cod, snapper, wahoo.. just about any fish works for this recipe. Shellfish is as close to a must as any protein is for Paella. I strongly suggest getting some clams & mussels if you can. Not only does the essence that escapes them when cooking add a wonderful flavor, but they look really cool on top of the rice too.
Other options include prawns, cut up razor clam meat, squid… I’m hard pressed to think of any type of game that would not work.
There are two specialty spices in this recipe that you might have to locate at a gourmet store, or order from Amazon. You don’t absolutely need smoked paprika in this dish, but it does add a wonderful touch of complexity to the flavor. However, Paella just isn’t Paella without saffron. I know it has a reputation for being an expensive spice, but the scary numbers are based on per pound. A small container is really pretty reasonable, and you’ll only need a pinch of it.
Finally, before we get into the recipe, I should talk about the cooking vessel. Paella is generally cooked and served in a Paella pan. Which is simply a broad, shallow pan. I actually own one, but it’s one of the tools I have yet to locate after the move to the new Sportsman’s Kitchen location.
*Snohomish County represent!!*
Anyway, you can use any good-sized, oven-safe skillet. Although the handle may be an issue if you use the outdoor grill cooking method, as I’ll explain in the recipe. I did manage to locate a deep dish pizza pan of mine. That seemed like a fine option to me.
All right, let’s make dinner.
Wild Game Paella
- 2 oz butter
- 4 oz prawn tails
- 6 oz salmon filet, diced
- 1 duck, cut into sections
- 8 oz elk sausage
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 1/2 large onion, diced
- 6 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 roma tomato, diced
- 1/2 tsp red chili flakes
- a healthy pinch of saffron threads
- 2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 2 1/2 cups short grain rice, such as arborio
- 1 quart of fish stock or chicken broth
- salt & pepper, to taste
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 6 oz of mussels, beards removed
- 8 oz of clams
- 2 Tbs chopped cilantro
Melt butter in a Paella pan, large skillet, or in my case, a deep dish pizza pan, over med-high heat.
Season the shrimp with salt & pepper, and quickly sauté them in the butter until just seared on the outside. This should only take about a minute. Remove from pan and repeat the process with the salmon.
Season the duck, and brown it in the pan on all sides. Remove from pan and set aside.
Add the sausage to the pan, and brown it thoroughly, breaking up any large chunks as you sauté it.
Once the sausage is mostly brown, add in the peppers and onions, and sauté for five more minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften. Stir in the garlic, tomato, chili flakes, saffron, and paprika.
Continue sautéing for another two minutes, the add in the wine. Allow it to come to a simmer, then stir in the rice.
Continue cooking, stirring often, for three minutes, then add in the broth and peas. Simmer the mixture, stirring often for ten minutes. Taste the liquid and adjust seasoning with salt & pepper (or whatever else you think it might need). Arrange the clams, mussels, duck, and lemon on top of the rice. Do not stir the dish any more past this point.
All right, now you have a choice as to how you want to complete cooking this dish. The easy and delicious way, or the a bit more involved, but crazy delicious way.
Option one: Pop her in the oven.
Place the pan in a 325º oven, and cook for 30 minutes, until the rice is cooked. Add the shrimp and salmon onto the the dish, and cook for five more minutes.
Option two: This is actually more traditional, as Paella was originally cooked over an open fire, the smoke adding flavor to the finished product.
So, if you’re feeling old school, fire up your charcoal grill.
As you can see, I used my Weber for this, which is kind of perfect for a round Paella pan. Once you have good, hot coals, move them into a ring around the outer edge of the grill. Then add a pile of soaked wood chips in the center. Obviously, this is to avoid too much direct heat against the bottom of the pan, and also give some good smoke, which is what makes this cooking method AMAZING.
Put the grate back on the grill, and set your pan of Paella in place.
Place the lid on the grill. For this preparation, using a skillet with a handle may be difficult if it doesn’t fit under the lid.
Set the vents on the grill open just enough to keep the heat and the smoke flowing. From this point, the instructions are essentially the same as they are for the oven method. Cook it for approximately thirty minutes, add the shrimp and fish on top, then cook five minutes more. You may need to adjust the cooking time, as the temperature will be less precise on a grill. Just keep tasting that rice, that’s the key.
OK, I’m going to pause here, because the moment you take the cover off the finished dish is really something remarkable. The aroma that comes off the saffron and smoke flavored rice, that has absorbed the juices and flavors from the sausage, duck, shellfish, and everything thing else you’ve included, is quite simply… phenomenal.
Make this for a gathering, and I guarantee the moment the Paella pan hits the table, it will be the center of attention.