Backyard Cooking: Paella and Jambalaya

This year for Father’s Day, we got Steve all kinds of equipment so that he could do some gourmet backyard cooking. Steve loves to cook, and we have such wonderful weather here year round, cooking out doors can be a fun activity for him to enjoy with the kids.

To give you a little back ground, the whole family has recently discovered the Food Network show “Throwdown! with Bobby Flay”. If you are not familiar with the show, producers find the “Best of the Best” in all genre’s of cooking and Bobby tries to perfect his own recipe and then challenges the cooks to a “Throwdown!”. Episodes have included everything from Blueberry Pancakes to Red Velvet Cake to Falafal and Crab cakes. The contestants are told by the producers that they will be featured on some mythical Food Network show, and then Bobby surprises them and challenges them to cook-off. The show is very educational as the best cooks in each genre of cooking share their tips and tricks. Bobby also shows his process of perfecting his recipe and all of his mistakes as well. Two shows that really got us interested in learning how to prepare the recipes were the Paella show and the Jambalaya show. We love the big family style preparations. Steve spotted two things on those shows that he was sure he wanted for Father’s day: A party size paella pan and cast iron jambalaya pot. He also needed a heat source. I had been trying to figure out what to get him for fathers day, and the pan, pot and gas out door cooker struck me as perfect. I actually had Steve go online and pick out the exact items he wanted, and it seemed like every day the UPS man was coming to the door with another item.

Our first item that we got to try was our stainless steel paella pan. Before we could use the pan, we had season it with peanut oil over the stove. The idea is to get a permanent non-stick coating on the pan. I coated the pan with oil and heated it up on the stove several times until I got a nice coating the pan. That weekend we were ready to try out our paella recipe. For our basic recipe I visited the Spain Recipe’s website.. We also used to tips and tricks we learned from the Food Network show. One of the most important tips in cooking authentic paella, is not to stir the dish once you’ve added the rice. This actually creates a char on the bottom of the rice, which is actually part of the flavor of the dish. The other surprising tip is that you don’t cover the dish once you’ve added the rice. You just pour in the rice and it cooks up with out a lid. We weren’t sure how the dish would come out the first time. Just as we started to see that the dish was going to turn our well, our neighbors walked by with their dogs. We invited them to come an join us in about 20 minutes when the dish would be ready. Needless to say the dish was delicious.

For 4th of July, we decided to tackle the Jambalaya. Not surprising, the dishes are very similar in ingredients, however the spices and preparation methods are vastly different. Both dishes have rice, chicken, sausage and bell peppers. However, where the paella uses saffron as it main spice, jambalaya uses chili powders and hot sauce. Also when cooking the paella rice, you leave it uncovered on high heat, where as in the Jambalaya, you leave it covered with-out peaking once you’ve added the rice. Also you leave the heat on for 5 minutes then you turn it off completely and let the ambient heat from the caste iron pot slow cook the rice.

Steve based his recipe and cooking method on the techniques demonstrated by the expert, Emile Stieffel. He is an award winning Jambalaya cook, and owner of his own catering company, specializing in Cajun and Creole food. It is his technique of only cooking the rice for 5 minutes and then turning off the heat that guarantees his rice to come out perfect every time and ultimately lead to Bobby Flay’s Throwdown! defeat. During the TV challenge Bobby kept peaking at his rice, wanting to taste, stir and added spices. Consequently, his rice never cooked completely through.

Steve started by sauteing onions and celery in the big pot. He added chicken, sausage, tomato paste, chili powder, hot sauce and peppers. Then he added stock and rice. We covered it for the requried time, sure enough the dish turned out perfectly. This was the perfect way to celebrate 4th of July. After we ate the kids had some fun playing with the garden hose and a bucket of water while we watched another beautiful Arizona sunset.

We’ve created a gallery with pictures of both cook-out events.