A New Twist on Paella – Squid Ink!

Sepia, or Squid Ink Paella

I’m interrupting my travelogue of Sicily to tell you about yet another fantastic paella party I hosted on Saturday. This was our 4th annual party and my mom and I decided to take it to the next level. “I saw this interesting Garcima Paella Burner at Pata Negra,” my mom said enthusiastically. Pata Negra is our local Spanish food stuffs store and also carries every size of paella pan and accessories to throw a great paella party. I returned to the store with her and fell in love with the concept. Two propane-fueled ring burners attach to a tripod. The paella pan sits on top. No more messy charcoal! Click here to see them at La Tienda.

The knowledgeable salesman saw me eyeing the packages of squid ink or sepia, I so enjoyed in Sicilian pastas. He pointed out a sepia broth that he swore would make the BEST paella ever. How could we refuse? The black broth, from the squid ink, would turn the rice black!

Sepia or Squid Ink broth for the Paella. You can buy it at Spanish Table

Sauteeing the Bomba rice with olive oil. You can see the Garcima Paella Burner setup.

I love inviting guests who are eager to try new and different foods.

Me and my fabulous aunt Barb, who is a fabulous chef herself.

My cousin Ali, who is a master at organizing parties and who helped me more than I can say, and my beautiful mom, the birthday girl.

My co-chef Eva, me and my best friend Jenny!

Me and my dear friend Alan who makes the best cocktails on the planet!

Our guests: Jenn, Joanne, Jan, Barb and Mom

Here I was, trying something totally new on my 11 guinea pig guests! The entire paella prep was reduced by half by using the sepia broth. All we did was chop one onion, sauté it in a fair amount of olive oil, add the Bomba Spanish rice, stir, then add the warmed sepia broth. I stirred in a pinch of saffron (from Palermo!) and about a teaspoon of smoked paprika. Now all that was left to do was to let it steam while we prepped the seafood to top the paella.

Eva and me adding the mollusks. We are having fun!

We tucked clams, mussels, squid ringlets with their tentacles and shrimp into the cooked rice and covered it with foil for about five minutes. Mangiamo!

Finished Seafood Paella before garnishing with roasted red peppers and fresh parsley.

I think everyone agreed, this was the best paella ever. The sepia broth delivered a richness, almost as if I had slaved all day to make the perfect fish broth using fish heads and shellfish. The unusual squid ink that colors the rice black just made the entire dish more interesting and a great conversation piece!

Jenny and her colorful salad.

The perfect crunchy green salad to go with the Paella.

The paella was accompanied by a gorgeous green salad, made by my best friend Jenny, and some chunks of French bread. This was a celebration for my mom’s birthday and every year she craves Pavlova as her birthday cake. The meringue was one of the best I’ve ever made. Thick, soft marshmallow meringue with a lemon creme filling, topped with whipped cream and fresh berries. Always a crowd pleaser and all the prep can be done in advance. Assembly takes about five minutes! My advice for throwing a party – keep it simple. Limit the dishes to one hearty main, a salad, bread and dessert and involve your friends in the cooking and prepping process. Don’t forget the after dinner dance party! Ours lasted until midnight!

Pavlova – a slice of marshmallowy lightness with a tang of lemon creme. Yummy!

My wonderful mom, the birthday girl!

The next time you make paella, I hope you try it with the sepia broth. You will thank me.

“When you hear a Spanish cook describe a paella or a cake, you realize she’s using a much richer repertoire of adjectives than what one of us would use to characterize a book or an important experience.”
Julio Cortázar, Final Exam

Ciao for now!

My Tips for Hosting an Incredible Paella Party in 5 Simple Steps

Seafood Paella made with Love

Step 1
For me, the most important thing is starting with a great guest list. I choose family and compatible friends who have met before. This creates an intimate, comfortable atmosphere for all, and you, the host/hostess, need not worry about guests feeling left out because they don’t know anyone. You will be focused on making layers of flavor with the paella, with fleeting moments of conversation with your guests! Remember to read your guest’s facial expressions. Does everyone feel part of the party?
Oftentimes I encourage interaction between people who might not know each other well by taking photos of them together. This usually prompts a conversation between them and keeps the party moving along.

Step 2
Keep the menu simple. Paella, Green Salad, Plenty of Drink, Dessert. This is not a time to try a new recipe or overload your guests with too many appetizers. I usually ask one guest to bring light appetizers like olives and Manchego cheese. Something to snack on to absorb the alcohol while viewing the entertainment – me singing while stirring the paella! Making the paella on a grill outdoors keeps the party contained outside and creates a side show for the guests.

Involve your friends by asking them to help. Our Fire Man, Bob, kept the grill fire fueled. In between fire duties, he connected the Flamenco music to outdoor speakers and later in the evening switched it to good old rock ’n roll. When it comes to drinks, I have resorted again to keeping it simple. I’ve made Sangria for past parties but have found that most guests prefer their favorite cocktail or variety of wine. Pelligrino is a favorite sparkler to quench thirst between drinks. All beverages are on hand and within easy reach on a dedicated “bar” table. This year, my sister-in-law, Mirna, brought me a bottle of fine Vapor Distillery Rhok gin( formerly Roundhouse), made in Boulder, Colorado as a gift. It was a warm evening and suddenly gin sounded really good! I know this is not a traditional Spanish accompaniment to paella but Mirna started whipping up cocktails with the gin and they were such a hit, several of the guests were requesting her special drinks! This is when you just go with the flow and enjoy the moment.

Bob. The Fire Man

Step 3

Enlist a co-chef! What would I do without Eva who has been my co-chef for three years? Eva is able to co-taste with me and offer suggestions to improve the recipe or technique. Choose someone compatible that you work easily with, does not freak out and understands flavor combining. Discuss each other’s roles beforehand so you are not duplicating tasks. Two people cooking also helps keep the pace moving along so you are not eating at midnight!

Step 4
Prep all ingredients for the paella in the morning. Have them measured out and in bowls in order of appearance to be added to the dish. When you start cooking, there’s no need to look at the recipe. It’s all right there in front of you. Continue to monitor guests for engagement and over dinner, ask them to share a favorite summer food memory.

Step 5
End the evening with one spectacular dessert. I always make a traditional Australian Pavlova. It’s my mom’s favorite dessert and works well for a crowd. The mouth feel of soft and creamy meringue and whipped cream, accented by tangy lemon curd and fresh berries is undeniably one of the best combinations on earth. And, it’s different. Make the meringue and lemon curd the day before. The night of the party, just assemble by spreading the curd onto the meringue, lavishing whipped cream over all and sprinkling with the freshest berries you can find. Done. Your guests will thank you.

All the girls pitched in to help finish off the Pavlova. Such a great group! Love them all!

“He tastes of rice with a touch of saffron. He says I taste of seafood. I guess we’d make a good paella.”
Chloe Thurlow, Girl Trade

Ciao for now,


Party Paella

Spanish Paella. Ole!

Spanish Paella. Ole!

Lately I’ve been having fantasies – of Spain. Spanish tapas, Spanish olive oil, Spanish wine, the people, the music, the romance of it all. My feet have only touched the airport in Madrid and now they dream of dancing the flamenco in Sevilla.

This sudden enchantment was Anthony Bourdain inspired by his visit to bewitching Andalusia on his TV show, Parts Unknown. The spell is cast and perhaps next year I will indulge my fantasy. Until then, let’s explore a Spanish specialty!

Paella, as one version of the story goes, is Latin-named after the shallow, round pan it is cooked in, a “patella.” Farmers and laborers in Valencia, the southeastern region of Spain, created “paella” over a word burning fire to cook rice, a local crop, with whatever was available like rabbit, snails, chicken and white and green beans. The coastal version often incorporated seafood and soon paella emerged as a dish to suit all tastes using a variety of ingredients. nowadays, paella can take form as a “mixta,” a combination of chicken and seafood, a Valencia Paella, like the original noted above or a combination of chorizo, chicken and seafood, which seems the most popular here in America. Many forms of paella exist in Europe and other parts of the world, each infused with the region’s edibles. Spain is a major producer of saffron and it plays a prominent role by adding an earthy rich flavor and deep orange color.

The beginnings of a delicious dinner.

The beginnings of a delicious dinner.

I love paella but have been overwhelmed by what seems like a big deal. Well, paella is now more fun than fear thanks to my sister-in-law Mirna who showed me her secret to simplicity. All you need to do is to prep a few things before hand and the rest can take place while your guests sip a refreshing Sangria or cool Pinot Grigio on the patio. This is a great party food!

We love this flush of paprika's heat on her cheeks!

We love this flush of paprika’s heat on her cheeks!

Our imitation of the Paprika Girl!

Our imitation of the Paprika Girl!

The grill is the secret weapon where we literally cooked the entire paella. A real find was a large “paella-type” pan at Ikea that can comfortably sit and bake on the grill. Once the onions, garlic and peppers are chopped, just measure out the rest of the ingredients and have them handy. That’s it!

A sprinkling of parsley adds the final flash of color.

A sprinkling of parsley adds the final flash of color.

We made a few adjustments to the traditional paella and that’s the beauty of the dish. You can add or subtract ingredients to suit your liking. We like the flavor smoked paprika contributes. I adore artichokes and red peppers, other traditional Spanish ingredients. Paella can be your ticket to wherever you feel like traveling that night. Pick a destination and build your dish around ingredients indigenous to that locality. Make it fun!

Paella at the Vaison la Romaine market in the Haut Vaucluse region of France. Yummy!

Paella at the Vaison la Romaine market in the Haut Vaucluse region of France. Yummy!

I must mention that in the olden days, the farmers would sit around the fire and eat the paella straight out of the pan with a wooden spoon. No plates to clean up. It might be a fun way to share a dinner with family and friends!

A toast to family forever!

A toast to family forever!

“You should conduct yourself in life as at a feast.” Epictetus

Paella for a Family Reunion, serves 8
  • 3 chicken thighs
  • 2 sweet Italian sausages
  • 1 spicy Italian sausage (next time I will use Chorizo)
  • ¼ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 large or 2 small sweet red peppers, cut into 1” pieces
  • Salt to taste
  • pinch of saffron
  • 4 cups (or more) chicken, vegetable or clam broth
  • 2 cups rice – we used Arborio but the Spanish use Bomba. Be sure to use a short grain rice to absorb all the liquid
  • 3 Tablespoons Smoked Hungarian Paprika
  • 1 ½ cups frozen or canned artichoke hearts – no oil
  • 1 package Trader Joe’s Seafood Blend OR shrimp, clams, mussels, calamari to suit your taste
  • ½ cup frozen or fresh peas

  1. Heat a grill to medium heat. Grill chicken thighs and sausages until brown but barely cooked. Remove from grill. Cut into 1” pieces. Set aside.
  2. Place paella pan on grill and add olive oil. Stir in onions and sauté until soft. Add garlic and peppers and cook another two minutes.
  3. Crush saffron and combine with broth. I read a recipe where Bobby Flay toasted the saffron before adding to the broth. I will try this next time.
  4. Stir in rice and coat well with oil and veggies. Cook for one minute.
  5. Stir in liquid and artichoke hearts. Sprinkle paprika on top and stir in.
  6. Cook over medium heat until liquid is evaporated, about 20 minutes. If rice seems dry, add more liquid. Try to refrain from stirring rice so it doesn’t get sticky.
  7. When rice is firm but tender, stir in cooked sausages, chicken thighs, seafood and peas and cook just until done, another couple of minutes. Give a generous sprinkling of parsley and voilà! Your party is a success!

If I’ve peaked your interest about paella, check out these great websites: www.lapaella.net, www.orceserranohams.com, www.lapaella.co.uk

Ciao & Adios!