Open Fire Seafood Paella

In Recipes/ Special Occasion Dinner Recipes

This seafood paella recipe made over an open fire is perfect for entertaining a crowd! It serves eight; pair it with Spanish cheese and sangria.

Open fire seafood paella recipe | best paella pan

Have you made paella at home? This Spanish dish is perfect for entertaining a crowd, and cooking it over an open fire only adds to the drama. What’s more fun than gathering around a fire, and then eating out of the same dish? It looks showy, but we promise: you can learn to make this at home. And it’s actually pretty simple! Alex and I have a long history of researching how to make paella that goes back to my university days 15 years ago, and ends a few months ago in Valencia. This recipe was born of all those memories. As Americans we can’t claim it’s the best authentic paella recipe, but our years of research paid off when a Spaniard tasted this recipe and gave it two thumbs up. Keep reading for the story, and all our resources for making our seafood paella recipe over an open fire!

Related: How to Host a Simple Backyard Party

Open fire seafood paella recipe | best paella pan

Our love story with paella

The early days…

I ate my first paella 15 years ago in Madrid as a young university student. My host mother beamed from head to toe as she presented her homemade paella to me for Sunday dinner. At the time I didn’t know a thing about food, but I could sense that this was something truly special. Paella is a Spanish dish that originated in Valencia and is now eaten all over the country. As an American, I’ve been happy to see that today, more and more people in my country now know the joy of paella.

After introducing paella to Alex back in the early 2000’s, we started to make it regularly as a celebratory food. Valentine’s Day? Paella. Special visitor in town? Paella. We watched videos of Spanish chefs and learned about paella pans, using saffron, and the right type of rice to use. We cooked from all sorts of recipes from authentic sources. We developed a few paella recipes for this website, and of course, we have a veggie paella recipe in our cookbook, Pretty Simple Cooking. Paella became our special thing (well, that and artisan pizza).

And today

A few months ago, I was finally able to go to Spain with Alex (and our toddler Larson) so he could experience Spanish paella firsthand. So where to go than the birth place of paella itself, Valencia? One of our favorite memories of the trip was eating paella in a tiny town outside of Valencia. Alex searched the internet for what might be an authentic, unassuming paella joint. We stopped in on a Sunday afternoon, and it was full of locals enjoying massive paella pans with their families. We ordered a “paella for 3” with our son Larson, and had a fantastic afternoon finishing up our huge pan. That paella had chicken, meatballs, snap peas, and artichokes: and the snap peas in this recipe are an homage to that paella. Another fantastic paella from this trip was a seafood paella in Barcelona–this recipe is a mashup of the two.

Open fire seafood paella recipe | paella de mariscos

Paella FAQs

This paella recipe was developed using our background knowledge of years of research, interviews with Spaniards and Spanish chefs, and lots of practice. We’ve used most of the textbook equipment and ingredients. With the magic of the internet, most of this equipment and ingredients are readily available for today’s American kitchen. Though it may seem like a lot if you’ve never tried it before, once you’ve practice you’ll find you can hone your paella over time. This is a seafood paella recipe (paella de mariscos) that is similar ones we had in Valencia and Barcelona.

Is this an authentic seafood paella recipe (paella de mariscos)?

Well, what is a fully authentic paella recipe? Spaniards themselves differ on this topic: we’ve eaten paella in Valencia, Barcelona, and Madrid and all of them have been vastly different. If you’re hard core about it, the traditional Valencian paella has chicken, rabbit, garrofó (a variety of lima bean), saffron, and rosemary. But paellas of all flavors are served throughout Spain: it’s a traditional dish that has many variations. This recipe has been honed over years of learning from authentic sources. Of any of the paella recipes we’ve developed, this one is the closest to an authentic paella. We’ve used a traditional paella pan, saffron, pimentón, bomba rice, and an open fire. And hey, our friend who’s an actual Spaniard tasted this recipe and gave it two thumbs up! Which is the best endorsement we could want.

Open fire seafood paella recipe | best paella pan

How should I cook paella over an open fire?

For this recipe, Alex built a custom makeshift paella grill using 8 concrete blocks from our hardware store: and it only cost $10! We then topped it with the grate from our standard grill. This made it easy to cook on our deck. You can also cook it over a campfire using whatever method you have to suspend the grate 8 to 10 inches above the fire. We’ve found it’s nice to use a hardwood like hickory or oak to easily maintain the fire temperature, but you can use any wood.

Open fire seafood paella recipe | best paella pan

Can I use my grill to cook paella?

If your grill is big enough you can cook paella on a grill. However, it can be hard on a charcoal grill to maintain the correct temperature for the paella. We do have a grilled seafood paella recipe — it uses a smaller paella pan and serves 4: Simple Grilled Paella.

Open fire seafood paella recipe | best paella pan

What is the best paella rice type?

The most authentic paella rice type is called bomba rice; it’s a white short grain rice. In the past in our paella recipes, we’ve “cheated” and used Arborio rice, which is easy to find and similar. However, for this recipe we tried bomba and felt like it had more consistent results. Luckily these days, you can purchase bomba rice online.

Order it: Bomba rice!

Open fire seafood paella recipe | bomba rice

What is the best paella pan?

A paella pan is a large round, shallow pan with handles used for cooking paella. Since it’s so shallow, it allows the rice to cook consistently instead of becoming watery and gummy as it might in a skillet. The best paella pan for this recipe is one that is 16 to 18 inches. Do not attempt to make this recipe in a smaller pan! It is customized for this size of pan and will serve 8 people. Here’s the paella pan we ordered: we love it!

Note: Paella pans are made of carbon steel and will rust. Make sure to dry the pan completely after cleaning it, and rub it with a bit of vegetable oil to prevent rusting.

Do I have to use saffron and pimentón in paella?

Well…yes, if you want it to be close to authentic paella. Saffron brings an earthy flavor and a beautiful color to the dish. Smoked paprika, called pimentón, gives the dish more color and a smoky undertone. Saffron is one of the most expensive spices, so it’s a bit of a splurge. However, you’ll only use small bits at a time: this recipe only uses 1 pinch. Pimentón is a fantastic addition to your spices: we actually use it in many recipes on this website to bring a smoky flair in vegetarian dishes. You should be able to find both at your local grocery store: if not, we’ve linked to a saffron you can find online below.

Order it: Saffron

Open fire seafood paella recipe | paella de mariscos

What is socarrat?

One of the unique things about paella is that once all the ingredients are added to the pan, you do not touch it! No stirring is allowed. This allows the broth and spices to boil through the rice, leaving everything perfectly cooked. Traditionally, there should be a lovely crust formed on the bottom of the rice called the socarrat. It’s difficult to achieve the perfect socarrat because so much depends on the exact timing and the hotness of your fire. If you don’t get the perfect socarrat, never fear! Each time you cook this seafood paella recipe, you’ll learn new things about perfecting your paella technique.

Open fire seafood paella recipe | paella de mariscos

What should I serve with this seafood paella recipe?

We recently had a paella party where we invited 3 other couples to eat this open fire seafood paella recipe with us! Here’s what was served: we started with a cheese plate featuring Spanish cheeses (like Manchego) and cured meats, and some marinated olives. During that course we enjoyed some Spanish white wine (Albariño), but sangria would be another great choice! We then served the seafood paella with a green salad, and finished with churros (takeout style from a nearby restaurant). It could not have been a more perfect meal!

Open fire seafood paella recipe | best paella pan

Any questions?

Making open fire seafood paella has a few specific techniques and tools, but once you have the general idea it’s also “pretty simple” to make. We enjoy cooking over an open fire and enjoying time with our guests eating appetizers, then all digging into the pan together. Let us know what kind of questions arise as you read this recipe: we’re happy to help!

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Open fire seafood paella recipe | best paella pan

Open Fire Seafood Paella


1 Star (2 votes, average: 5.00 out of 1)

  • Author: Sonja
  • Prep Time: 1 hour
  • Cook Time: 1 hour
  • Total Time: 2 hours
  • Yield: 8
  • Category: Main Dish
  • Method: Open Fire
  • Cuisine: Spanish

Description

This seafood paella recipe made over an open fire is perfect for entertaining a crowd! It serves eight; pair it with Spanish cheese and sangria.


Ingredients

  • 2 medium yellow onions
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups snap peas
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 pound large shrimp, raw, deveined and peeled
  • 1/2 pound bay scallops, or large scallops cut into quarters
  • 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 very large pinch saffron
  • 2 1/2 cups Spanish bomba rice (it’s easiest to find online, so order here!)
  • 1 quart vegetable broth
  • 1 quart fish stock
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Lemon wedges, for serving
  • 16 to 18 inch-paella pan (here’s our paella pan)*
  • *To replicate our open fire setup (available at your hardware store):
    • 8 concrete blocks
    • Hickory or oak logs (made for grilling or smoking)
    • The grate from your grill

Instructions

Set up the grate: The paella can be cooked over any open fire, with a grate placed about 8 to 10 inches over the fire. For our open fire paella, we built a makeshift paella grill on our deck (for just $10!). To make the same grill: buy 8 concrete blocks from hardware store and place them in the configuration shown in our photos. Then place the grate from your standard grill over the top of the blocks.

Start the fire: About 1 hour before you want to start cooking, start the fire. We recommend using a hardwood such as hickory or oak to help the fire burn consistently (we picked up some packaged logs made for grilling or smoking at our local hardware store). While cooking, add small pieces of wood to maintain the fire.

“Mise en place” the ingredients:

  • Small dice the onion and bell pepper and add them to a bowl. Mince the garlic and add it to the same bowl.
  • Cut off any hard ends from the snap peas and place them in a bowl.
  • Measure out the remaining ingredients and place them on a tray. Then take the tray to the fire for cooking.

Cook the shrimp: Warm the olive oil in the pan and cook the shrimp for about 1 to 2 minutes per side until barely pink. Remove to a plate and set aside.

Cook the “sofrito”: Add onion, garlic, and peppers to the pan and cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook for 10 to 15 minutes until the tomatoes are thickened and almost caramelized.

Add the remaining ingredients: Add the rice and stir into the tomatoes and toast for about 2 minutes. Then add the wine, smoked paprika, saffron, and salt, and stir until everything is evenly coated. Pour in the broth and stir so that rice is evenly distributed. Add the scallops and snap peas evenly over the top of the dish.

Wait, add the shrimp, and wait some more: At this point, do not stir the dish at all! Letting it cook slowly without moving allows the desirable crust to form on the bottom of the paella, called socarratTry to maintain the fire so that the paella simmers evenly across the pan without boiling (if it is boiling heavily, spread out the coals to reduce temperature. The rice should cook a total of 30 to 40 minutes after the broth has been added. Rotate the pan every few minutes to ensure even cooking. Make sure to maintain the fire so that it does not burn out during the cook time.

When the top of the rice is beginning to show through the water, press the snap peas lightly into the rice using tongs. Add the shrimp to the dish, also lightly pressing them into the rice. Once the broth is mostly cooked out and the paella is slowly bubbling, rotate it more frequently. Remove it from the fire just before the last of the broth has been absorbed. You may even hear a “crack” of the socarrat forming on the bottom of the dish. Allow to rest 10 minutes to firm up before serving.

Note: Paella pans are made of carbon steel and will rust. Make sure to dry the pan completely after cleaning it, and rub it with a bit of vegetable oil to prevent rusting.

Notes

*The best paella pan for this recipe is one that is 16 to 18 inches. Do not attempt to make this recipe in a smaller pan! It is customized for this size of pan and will serve 8 people.

Keywords: Paella, Open Fire, Open Fire Paella, Seafood Paella, Paella de Mariscos, Seafood Paella Recipe, Spanish, Gluten Free

About the Authors

Sonja Overhiser

Cookbook Author and writer

Sonja Overhiser is author and recipe developer of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the “best vegetarian cookbooks” by Epicurious, and a recipe developer and healthy & sustainable food advocate behind the award-nominated food blog A Couple Cooks.

Alex Overhiser

Cookbook Author and photographer

Alex Overhiser is photographer and recipe developer of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the “best new cookbooks” by Bon Appetit, and a recipe developer, photographer, and technical expert at A Couple Cooks.

3 Comments

  • Reply
    Amanda
    September 13, 2018 at 3:18 pm

    Ahhh, this paella looks & sounds amazing, Sonja!! And all of these tips are SUPER helpful! I’m bookmarking this post & will definitely be referring to it the next time I make paella! And I totally want to try making it over an open fire! Thanks for such a thorough post! You guys ROCK! :)

    • Reply
      Sonja
      September 14, 2018 at 7:59 pm

      Oh thank you so much! There’s a little learning curve to get the right equipment, but once you read through our (long) instructions, we’re confident you’ll have a delicious paella at the end. GOOD LUCK!

      • Reply
        Amanda
        September 17, 2018 at 12:49 pm

        Oh, I’m sure! Your instructions are very thorough! I will keep you posted… although our “outdoor cooking” days are numbered here in New England! Hopefully I will get to make this before the cold weather arrives! :) (And if not, I’m sure your tips will come in handy the next time I make paella *indoors*! :) )

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