The Magic Pan
By Meda Kessler
Photos by Nancy Farrar
It smells wonderful and looks impressive: Chef Juan Rodriguez makes a jumbo-size paella for his guests but it’s perfect for smaller gatherings, too
Despite the warmish September evening, Magdalena’s chef Juan Rodriguez barely breaks a sweat standing over a massive pan of simmering paella. We’re at his outdoor dining and events venue, where a long table is set for a 50th birthday fete. If ever there was a dish perfect for a party, it’s paella, the ultimate one-pot meal.
Rodriguez opened Magdalena’s in 2015 as a Fort Worth catering kitchen and has partnered with wife Paige on expanding the compound into a favorite spot for private parties. He makes the seafood-studded rice dish often; it’s popular with Magdalena’s monthly supper club patrons and a hit at special events such as the Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival’s live-fire cooking demos. He remembers first preparing paella seven years ago.
Today, the chef deftly handles the massive paella pan and propane-fueled setup he uses outdoors for catering gigs. The large wooden paddle he uses to stir the ingredients was made by his uncle. Rodriguez readily admits that his paella isn’t the traditional Spanish version, which might feature rabbit, artichoke and green beans, but like any good cook, he has learned what works for him and uses flavors and techniques that make the dish his own. “I’ve taken some criticism on social media if I post a photograph of my paella,” he says with a smile. “I have been to Spain and eaten both good and not-so-good paella.”
While the dish looks intimidating, making it only requires a bit of chopping and minimal cooking, although getting perfect crust — known as socarrat — on the bottom of the rice requires a deft touch with flame control on your stove.
Which brings us to the ingredients: Paella is ultimately a rice dish that calls for a specific short-grain rice called bomba or Valencia. Fortunately, it’s easy to find at local grocers. Do not substitute long-grain rice. Good-quality Spanish paprika also is key.
If you don’t have a paella pan — World Market sells a carbon steel version for $20; Lodge makes a good-looking version that retails for about $90 — use the widest skillet you have, so you can spread the rice out in a thin layer.
If you’re planning to serve the dish at a party, you might want to follow Rodriguez’s lead and practice at least once. Other than that, add some pre-dinner snacks, pitchers of sangria and good conversation for a guaranteed good time.
Makes 2 cups
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 1 medium red pepper, diced
- 4 cups (28-ounce can) whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 ancho pepper, reconstituted in water
- 2 large garlic cloves, sliced
- 1 teaspoon Spanish sweet paprika
- ½ cup sherry vinegar
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 cup chicken stock/broth
- 1 pinch saffron
- Salt and pepper, to taste
In a large pot over medium heat, saute onions and red pepper in olive oil. Add tomatoes, ancho pepper and garlic. Stir for 2-3 minutes.
Add paprika, sherry vinegar and oregano. Stir. Add chicken broth and saffron. Reduce for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and cool mixture completely.
Puree with a stick blender or regular blender. Return to pot and reduce. If puree is too thick, add chicken stock. Reduce an additional 20-30 minutes as needed to make at least 2 cups.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup Spanish chorizo, diced
- 2 cups chicken thigh or chicken breast, cut into large dice
- 1 cup yellow onion, chopped
- 4 tablespoons garlic, chopped
- 2 cups sofrito
- 2 cups paella rice (bomba or Valencia)
- 8 cups chicken stock or broth
- 20 mussels, cleaned
- 12 shrimp, peeled, cleaned and deveined
- 1 cup green peas (or more to taste), frozen
- 2 tablespoons oregano, chopped
- Salt, to taste
- 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
- Lemon slices
- Garlic aioli
Over medium-high heat, add olive oil to paella pan. Add chorizo and chicken and sear.
Add onions, garlic and sofrito. Saute for 2-3 minutes. Add rice and gently mix with a wooden spoon until combined. Spread in an even layer in the pan.
Slowly add chicken broth, pouring in circles over the pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a medium simmer. Cook uncovered until liquid has reduced by half. Salt to taste. Add mussels, shrimp, peas and oregano, but do not stir rice.
Continue to simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed (if dry, add more broth). Turn up the heat a bit to give the rice a crispy bottom crust but be careful not to burn it. Remove pan from heat, cover with a lid or tin foil and let rest for 10 minutes.
Fluff up the mixture a bit (all mussels should be open; discard those that aren’t), salt to taste and garnish with parsley and lemons. Top with a garlic aioli, if desired.