By John P. Lopez

Texas Paella
By John P. Lopez

If it’s had parents, I’ve probably put it on a grill or a smoker. I’ve mastered (in my mind, anyway) the Texas Slam of barbecue: Brisket, chicken and ribs.

Most folks tell me my brisket is very good, my ribs are better and my chicken could contend against anyone, anywhere. I’m not a professional cook, of course, but over the past 35-years or so of tinkering with this lifelong passion amidst billows of mesquite, oak and cherry-wood smoke, I’ve got some things figured out. I’ve banged out a few decent days with just about anything that once walked, clucked, quacked or breathed through gills.

Cabrito. Salmon. Steak. Duck. Fish. Quail. Whole hog. Barbacoa. Home-made sausage. Menudo. I even make my own homemade barbecue sauce, which has helped buddies win several barbecue cook-offs over the years and is a recipe I’ve shared before with listeners and readers.

One thing you should know about me. I never mind sharing recipes or fishing spots. Why keep such a good thing secret? It doesn’t make sense to me, and I figure it’s good karma.

So here goes: If I had to make just ONE dish in a tailgate party competition, it would be none of the above. It would be what I call Texas Paella.

The versatility of paella, more than anything, is what will help you be the hit of your tailgate. Vegetarians in the group? No problem. Pescatarians?  Check. Hearty eaters? They’ll walk away stuffed and happy. Paella also is not that difficult to make and without question will make your tailgate stand out above all others, with the most unique aroma wafting from your tailgate and the unique way it can be the center of attention. It’s also easy to serve 10, 20 or even 50 people all at once — just grab a bowl, a big serving spoon and get in line.

So here is my Texas Paella recipe.

You’ll need:
Paella pan

  • A large, wide, relatively deep pan. It MUST have a lid. The one I use (pictured) is about 24-inches wide and five-inches deep. It’s not pretty, but has been broken in so nicely I wouldn’t trade it for any other.
  • Large stirring spoon.
  • Propane tank and grill.

Ingredients:

  • One family-pack of chicken breasts (roughly 1.5-pounds)
  • Two rings of raw sausage, cut into 1-inch slices (preferably pork, but beef is fine). I use Southside Market’s Elgin pork sausage, because as it cooks the fat renders and the flavors are amazing with the other ingredients.
  • One-pound medium shrimp, shelled.
  • One-pound small scallops.
  • 12 mussels, de-bearded and cleaned.
  • One teaspoon Saffron threads (this is an expensive ingredient, but my god is it good and it’s non-negotiable in this recipe).
  • Coarse black pepper to taste (you can use regular, but the texture of the coarse makes a difference to me).
  • Sea salt to taste (be careful — a little goes a long way, considering the saltiness of some of the other ingredients).
  • 3/4-cup Olive Oil.
  • 2-cups chicken stock (you may wind up using a bit less, or a bit more — I’ll explain below).
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika (you can use regular paprika, but trust me, alright?).
  • 1 tablespoon red chili powder.
  • 2 red bell peppers, chopped (you can use green peppers, but I like the red color).
  • 2 1/2 or 3 cups rice.
  • 2 bay leaves.
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic.
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges.
  • 1 bag frozen peas.
  • 1 white onion, chopped.
  • 2 tablespoons capers.

Directions:

Open a Coors Light, put more on ice.

Prior to starting the Texas Paella, bring chicken stock to a boil and add all the saffron. Stir until saffron is cooked into the stock, remove from heat and set aside.

Paella: Heat the pan before putting in any ingredients. Add the olive oil, garlic and half the onions. Cook and stir until the garlic and onion are translucent.

Add the chicken and sausage. Stir constantly, browning on all sides, and chicken and sausage is nearly cooked.

Add paprika, chili powder, remaining onions and bell peppers and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Add all remaining ingredients except mussels and lemon wedges. Yes, add the rice — it needs to fry in the fat and oil mix with all the other ingredients for another 2-3 minutes.

Add the chicken stock with saffron. Here’s where you have to use your best judgement. You want the chicken stock and liquid in the pan to be about a half-inch higher than the ingredients. If it’s more than that, the rice likely will be a bit runny. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes on high-heat. If it begins to boil, lower the heat. You want it bubbling just a bit more than a simmer.

Remove lid and spread the mussels around the top of the paella. We’re making it pretty now, OK?

Cover again and simmer for about 20-30 minutes. I know that’s a big window, but you’ll know when it’s done when the rice is fluffy and — most importantly — the mussels open.

Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for at least 10-minutes. I realize the smell is gonna be ridiculously tempting, but the flavors really bind if you let it sit a bit.

Enjoy. This should feed at least 10-12 people, easy.