Thursday, 17 July 2014

A summer spent outside & a shit-hot paella recipe!

For the last few months I've been plugging away on a new book project. Possibly my most exciting, and definitely most adventurous, book yet - EATING OUT (working title) is a celebration of food in the fresh air. My starting point for the books' pitch was simply this; pause for a minute, and think of the most memorable meals you have eaten in your life. Quite a few of them been outside? Yeah, thought so.

So, EATING OUT the book was born. The true joys of al fresco munching are not necessarily about the food, (although in my world, the tucker is always dead central), they are about the space you're in, the air you're breathing, the friends, human or canine, that you are with. The time and the place maketh the memory.

I'm having the best time ever - every weekend me and my family spark up the fire - quite often in the garden or on some campsite or beach somewhere. And I cook, and they cook with me. Or they gather firewood and pick wild garlic, and get muddy. Muddy kids are happy kids. Sometimes they try to sneak back inside to the TV and the kindle. They can usually be lured back out with the promise of marshmallow toasting. On Monday mornings my clothes smell pleasingly like a woodsman.

So, I may be the worlds worst ever blogger - frankly I'm having too much fun to blog - but by way of small apology, here is one of the recipes that will be in book - a steaming paella, cooked with charcoal and driftwood, on the beach a couple of weeks ago.

Photo credits go to the lovely, and ever patient, Jason Ingram whom I'm very proud to be working with again on this project. Jason worked with me on two of my previous books (Marshmallow Magic & A Good Egg).

Driftwood baked paella with samphire, chorizo, chicken & prawns
In in Spain, genuine paella is always cooked over a open wood fire and is always eaten outside. So, is there are more perfect celebratory dish to make on a beach camping trip? I think not. This version has samphire, for me the thin green strands are the very essence of the sea and add a really pleasing salty crunch. Replace with 2 handfuls frozen peas if you prefer, just chuck them in a food bag when you leave home, where they will keep happily for a few days in a cool box. 

Serves 4

3 red peppers, roughly chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, roughly chopped
1 x 225g chorizo ring, sliced into 1cm discs
4 large chicken thighs, skin on, bone in
3 cloves garlic, chopped
A big handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
A generous pinch of saffron threads
250g paella rice (half a pack)
A large glass white wine (250ml)
2 cups water (500ml)
about 240g raw king prawns, shelled
100g samphire
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
A small bunch of flatleaf parsley, chopped 
Lemon, cut into wedges 

I cook this dish with my portable fire pit, with the tripod and grill hung over it - its a splendid looking beast, isn't it?

Once your fire is ready to cook, set a large (about 30cm) deep frying pan on the grill and add the olive oil, peppers, onions and chorizo. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 20 minutes, over a medium heat, until they are softening and starting to colour a little. Next, part a hole in the veg to reveal the bare pan and put in a chicken thigh, skin side down. Repeat with the other 3 chicken thighs, making sure the skin is in contact with the pan so that it colours nicely. Let it fry for another 20 minutes or so, shaking the pan gently from time to time to make sure the chicken isn’t sticking. After this time the onions and peppers will be beautifully soft and the chicken crisp on the skin side. 

Add the tomatoes, garlic and saffron, stirring through the vegetables and fry for about 5 minutes or until the tomatoes are collapsing. Pour in the wine, and simmer for another 5 minutes, before crumbling in the stock cube and stirring really well to break it up. Add the rice and season well with salt and pepper, mixing it all around thoroughly, and turning the chicken skin side up. Stir in 2 cups (500ml) of water, cold is fine, and push the rice under the liquid. Cover the pan with foil, using tongs to press it around the outside. Leave to simmer over the fire for about 25 minutes, giving the pan a little shake from side to side to check its not sticking, but don’t worry too much, a bit of stuck on rice is the best part of this dish! Remove the foil, scatter over the samphire and prawns, recover and let them cook in the steam for 10 minutes, when the prawns are completely pink all the way through they are done.

Scatter over the parsley, and spoon onto plates, giving everyone a lemon quarter to squeeze over.


  1. About Food Recipes

  2. I was thinking about using my tripod and firepit with chicken thighs tonight. Any suggestions? Was thinking about putting them in standard fry pan but I think they would not brown.

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  4. I have actually read a lot of your blog posts in the last hour. I really enjoy what you are doing here. (And as a writer of fantasy novels, I'm enjoying looking at different aspects of that when you go through them in blog post). And truly, I love world-culture building. bbconnector

  5. What a lovely atmospheric blog post. Your paella looked amazing – thanks for the recipe. I can’t help thinking though that it would have looked even more attractive in a proper paella pan – although a large one might have been problematic size-wise on a beach fire. I’m just a stickler for the right tool for everything. I am a small appliances fiend!

    Lisa @ Westinghouse Small Appliances