Fireside Paella

    Moments away from a tasty meal in camp.

    Camping Food Evolution

    I’ll admit, growing up, when I thought of camping food it was the usual fare.  Hot dogs, sandwiches, chips, marshmallows and pop. Basic American crap. Of course we live in the Pacific Northwest, so there was a decent amount of fresh caught fish added to that menu. But, for the most part, crap.

    Occasionally, there would be some cowboy beans cooked over the fire in a cast iron pan, but other than fish and marshmallows, I don’t recall using the fire for cooking. It was pure Coleman stove for this crew. Nonetheless, I have fond memories of the many camp trips our family took throughout the years. Food was just not that important to me then.

    Food With Reservations

    That last line couldn’t be further from the truth now. It took me a couple of decades to change this truth in my life. When I was twenty and moved across the country to attend school in NYC, food was still pretty far down on the scale of importance. I think it went something like; friends, fashion, exercise, water, dance, cigarettes, coffee, sleep, food.

    In an effort to decrease a New York Minute to 45 seconds, I would down Tiger Milk bars and slices of pizza while hustling from work to school. Since my tiny studio apartment in Mid-Town Manhattan didn’t have a kitchen, I would muse to friends that “I didn’t make food, I made reservations”. I bought full on into the idea that The City was my living room and my kitchen. Eating out at restaurants or ordering take-out to consume with friends while watching Melrose Place was standard at that time.

    Evenings would usually bring me in contact with some of New York’s finest dishes, at any number of swanky, hip or old school eateries. Each morning, before dashing into the N/R subway line, I would grab a large “regular” coffee(which means light and sweet) and a toasted bagel with butter on my way to the office. I really didn’t give food much thought. I was living the single girl dream in NYC. As long as I stayed thin, who cared?

    My Oregon Trail Adventure

    Fast forward a few years. I’ve moved back to Oregon. I feel frustrated because I’m an adult, but I can’t prepare food for myself. Well, at least not in the style that seems appealing. So, I start out on one of the biggest and most pleasurable undertakings of my life. I learned to cook.

    Unaware of cooking shows, without a collection of cookbooks, pre-internet recipes and too broke to afford classes; I just looked for whichever recipe was on the box or package and made that. Needless to say, my food standards were pretty low. But, with time, as I honed both my skills and my knowledge of ingredients, my food bar was set pretty high.

    Impress Yourself (and others too)

    And I don’t lower the bar when I’m out and about….anywhere. When we started in on our camping kick a few years back, we brought our love of food with us. Enjoying a delicious, thought-out meal while in nature feels like the perfect expression of my love for those with whom we make camp.

    If your thinking you’re ready to use food to express yourself fireside, a paella is the perfect way to start. Whether out on a multi-day group camp trip or just having a nice family dinner in the back yard. Where there is a fire, a paella can be. Enjoy!


    Print Recipe
    Fireside Paella
    Camping take on the classic Spanish crowd pleaser.
    1. PREPARATION AT HOME Cut chicken thighs in thirds. Devein & peel shrimp. Freeze your chicken and shrimp in separate containers or plastic sealable bags. This gives them a couple of solid days in your cooler. Measure Arborio rice into a quart size plastic bag. Measure sherry into small container with tight fitting lid. Use masking tape and a marker to label each item.
    2. IN CAMP 1 hour before cooking, prepare a fire. Once a fair amount of coals have been accumulated, move the coals to the side of the flame part of the fire. Adding more coals to this pile as time goes by. Place a grate over the coal pile (many fire pits at established campsites have them) or you can bring your own.
    3. Prep all remaining ingredients while fire is burning down some cooking coals.
    4. Chop onion and bell pepper. Trim the ends of the fennel and reserve the tops. Halve the fennel lengthwise. Remove tough outer layer and the base end. Thinly slice. Mince the garlic cloves. Thinly slice sausage.
    5. Brown chicken in paella pan, turning over once, until cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes per batch. While browning, add a sprinkle of salt and some paprika before turning. Transfer to a second plate.
    6. Move all ingredients fire side along with cooking utensils, heat proof gloves and an empty plate. Place a paella pan on the grill and add about a TB of olive oil. Swirl to coat the pan. Add chorizo and sauté until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate with a slotted spoon or tongs, keeping as much oil as possible.
    7. Add another good pour of olive oil to the pan. Toss in the fennel, onion, and bell pepper. Saute' until the fennel softens a bit, 8-10 minutes. Stir in garlic and a good sized dash of salt. Add about 2 tsp. of paprika. Cook, tossing to coat, until fragrant for a couple of minutes. Add the can of tomatoes and continue to cook, stirring until it thickens a bit. About 5 minutes.
    8. Now add the rice and stir it up until it is well coated. Add about a cup of water, the sherry, chicken broth, olives and chorizo. Stir. Add the shrimp. Reduce heat and simmer until the the liquid is almost absorbed, shrimp is cooked and the rice is tender. Maybe 25 minutes, could be a bit more. Add liquid if needed. Stir occasionally to avoid sticking. Add cooked chicken and fold the pieces into the mixture. Taste for salt. Chop up the fennel fronds and serve on top.
    Recipe Notes

    Cook once for two meals:

    Leftover paella makes a great breakfast or lunch the next day. Reheat stovetop in a pan. Stir to avoid sticking. Perhaps add a couple of pan fried eggs, some chopped cilantro and a dash of hot sauce on top. Or serve hot or cold over some greens with a drizzle of olive oil for a lunch time salad option.

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