Tuesday 21 May 2013

The GBYC Paella Cook-Off

My, what tangled webs we weave!

I am not really one for serious competitions. Rather too laid back, I think. Or probably too lazy.

The real reason for a wannabe sea gypsy? Most decidedly. My doctor says my cholesterol levels are where they are because of good eating. I used to think it was due to too much starch and sugar.

However it may be, last Saturday found me competing against the local sailing club Commodore for the best paella. The non-competitor versus the club Commodore. A tangled web indeed!

He decided on a sea food version, complete with all and sundry exotic ingredients. It looked and tasted delicious. The dish was cooked slowly and the fish and calamari parts were done to a T.

My version was definitely more traditional having no sea food whatsoever. Just chicken and a small amount of spicy sausage meat for flavour. Only a little bit of stock, just enough to help the flavours. The cooking process and sequence generates a natural stock.

This one is real cheap to make. And the flavours of this winning dish (wink wink) come from paying attention to the sequence of cooking and what is done or not done.

The paella is very traditional Spanish fare, originating from the Valencia region if I understand correctly. And there is no sea food or fish in the dish. Which is why I chose this route. Tried and tested by time.

Cooking paella over open coals is quite easy. You need a hot pan in the beginning, when you grill the meaty parts.. Later, one needs a cool pan to allow the dish to simmer. Remember, it is a dry-ish dish and will burn easily. After which, of course, you start over.

The rice and tomato added. Lower the heat, now wait.

The rice will absorb fluid ever so slowly in the beginning, then at a rate of knots towards the end, so be wakeful!

And add the ingredients in a sensible sequence, that you do not kill your favourite ingredient by adding it too early.

We used Montsia brand rice from Spain, but any short grain starchy rice will do. Even parboiled long grain rice will work, but may take longer too cook. If you have to use long grain rice or are pressed for time, soak the rice in hot water at the start. then add it later. The rice will swell out and absorb some water, reducing cooking time. A good idea aboard a small boat!

Chourizo is the favourite, but any spicy sausage or meat will do. I have forever steered away from salami, thank you very much. But the German style spicy sausages seem to work. However, this meat is optional in the tradition of Valencia.

Chopped garlic and chillie is OK, but fresh garlic and chillie mashed in salt on your spice chopping board will get the essential oils into the salt and add to the flavour of the dish. And you will not get pieces of garlic stuck in your teeth, like me...

I have written before on the issue of stirring or not and the difference between paella and risotto.

While the ingredients overlap seriously, and the process too, a paella is drier than a risotto and should be stirred less. This one was only stirred a little at the end to prevent burning. The sauce and rice fuse into a sticky mess and then fries a little, which is good. It tastes like heaven and your guests will fight over this. But you need to scrape it off the bottom every now and then, else the dish is ruined.

We used wood from alien trees growing in our region for the fire. They make hot coals for a short period, then the coals die and you have a cool fire. I adjusted the height by putting a brick under the paella pan handles to allow a little air to flow between the pan and the coals. Else the fire dies completely.

As boat food or just something for a camp lunch or, like us, an impromptu al fresco lunch, you will have to go far to beat value for money and the associated companionship of cooking this dish. A small pan of 30 cm (12 inches) will fit on a normal stove in the house, boat galley, or on a camp stove top, or, of course, on any fire. And this 30 cm pan will make food for four to five people, depending on how hungry they are, or the side dishes. You can stretch this to seven people if you add a side dish or two.

And a 30 cm pan is really a give-away at the price. Perfect Paella in Cape Town sells some, but you should easily find them elsewhere in the world. I used a 42 cm pan because I was cooking for a hungry horde of sailors and hangers-on...

So here goes.


2 kg chicken breasts with skin
1½ cup frozen garden peas
200 grams spicy sausage
4 tomatoes, peeled and chopped. Or one can of peeled and chopped tomatoes.
1 red sweet pepper for garnish, sliced into rings, the ends chopped
2 onions, diced
1 kg paella rice
2 dried hot chillies. I used Thai chillies from the garden
4 cloves fresh garlic, chopped and mashed in salt.
2 teaspoons hot smoked paprika
1 small pinch of saffron in a tea (½ cup) of boiling water
2 teaspoons chicken stock in 1 litre boiling water
500ml dry white wine
2 litre hot water  as required
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro (coriander). Keep a sprig or two  for garnish as well.
Salt as required
Some olive oil for cooking

Halfway there. Note low, cool coals


Chop the chicken into two bite size pieces. Keep the skin if you can, you need the fat in the dish.
Start with an almost dry pan, quite hot. Add the chourizo and fry it until it sears a little. Add a little olive oil as required. Remove, then add the chicken to the same pan and sauces. Grill and sear the chicken until it goes brown outside. Remove an keep covered with the spicy sausage to cook in its own juices.

Now add the onions and sweet chilli and fry them till the onions are brown. Remove the chilli rings when they are still al dente. When the onions are almost done, add the mashed garlic and chilli and fry for 15 seconds before adding the white wine.

The seared brown stuff from the bottom of the pan will now become the stock. Simmer the white wine to reduce it somewhat, perhaps five minutes. Now add the tomatoes and simmer the dish until the tomatoes are just cooked through, then add all the rice. Mix this lot thoroughly, then add the chicken stock and paprika mix. Stir this until everything has been properly mixed, then add the saffron tea.
Add water as required to ensure the dish does not burn. Reduce heat until the fire is quite low and the dish is only just simmering. When the rice is about halfway done, add back all the meat and mix. Make sure you scrape the seared stuff off the bottom of the pan. Add water as required to keep this lot more or less fluid.

The runner up. Looking good too.
When almost done, add the chopped coriander leaves and the peas. Check for enough salt. Let the dish simmer for another five to ten minutes, then turn the heat off. Garnish with the sweet pepper rings and cover. Allow the dish to rest for a full ten minutes. Then take the lid off, add the sprig of coriander leaves and dish up. Add some sliced lemon for garnish if you really have time...

Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2013-05-21

Compiled specifically for GBYC newsletter.


  1. I am inspired! Long weekend ahead, much time to try this. If I don't have a Paella pan, will a "heavy bottom" stainless steel pot do?

    1. Hi Rene,
      Yes, your stainless steel pot will do. I normally use an enameled cast iron casserole for cooking at home. Watch the stirring side, as high side walls complicate the efforts.

  2. Ek is absoluut mal oor jou weergawe en soos jy sê dit is waarde vir geld! 'n Mens sal heelwat honger mae kan voed met hierdie heerlike dis!

    1. Weer dankie Zirkie,
      Ja, hierdie ene het die mense nogals laat toustaan vir nog 'n skeppie!