Summer. So warm, so lovely, so very fleeting. What’s a Minnesotan to do but make the most of it? Outdoor entertaining is clearly the key to savoring the season, though I’ll admit that by mid-July I’m pretty much over brats, steaks, and most other grillables. Craving something a little more interesting like me? Paella just might be the key.
Paella is the quintessential Spanish rice dish, a working-class meal named after the pan in which it is cooked. At its simplest, Paella consists of short-grain rice, vegetables, and protein, cooked to sumptuous perfection with rich stock and saffron over an open fire. One of the original one-dish meals of the Western world, it is delightfully humble, adaptable, unique, and perfectly suited for backyard entertaining.
To make a perfect Paella, you’ll need a few things. First and foremost, you’ll need heat. Light up the old charcoal grill, or better yet, put that backyard fire pit to use. The large, flat surface of a true Paella pan is essential if you want to achieve the celebrated golden-brown crispy bottom called socarrat; at Surdyk’s we sell not one but two different models, including the gold standard Pata Negra pan. Next, and perhaps most importantly, you’ve got to have authentic Paella rice. I prefer Bomba or Calasparra, both of which we keep stocked in the Cheese Shop. Invest in some saffron threads. A little pinch goes a long way, and Paella just wouldn’t be Paella without it. From there, you’ve got carte blanche for whatever it is you crave. I like to stop by our seafood purveyor, Coastal Seafoods, to see what they’ve got in stock that strikes my fancy. It could be mussels, littleneck clams, prawns, lobster . . . you get the idea. Stroll through the aisles at Surdyk’s and you’ll find plenty of Spanish treasures to add to the mix: Palacios Chorizo, Marcona almonds, olives, piquillo peppers, smoked paprika, and so much more.
Backyard entertaining calls for food, friends, and of course, the perfect drink. Good timing—it just so happens to be our big Summer Wine Sale, which runs through July 27. Rioja is a no-brainer here; serve Noelle Starr’s catalog pick, the fantastic 2007 Montecillo Rioja Reserva. At $12.49 a bottle, this fruity, spicy, medium-bodied red only tastes like a splurge. Once you’ve got wine in your hand and the fire ablaze, it’s time to relax and let loose. Have your friends take turns adding ingredients, and soon enough you’ll be on your way to enjoying the perfect one-dish summer meal.
—Emily Dunne, @surdykscheese