Campfire Paella Is the Best Paella

Campfire paella
4-6 servings

No other outdoors dish says party quite like paella. Paella is meant for feasts, for gatherings, for wood-fired cooking. And if you break it down into steps and pay attention as it cooks, truly great prep-ahead camp paella is remarkably straightforward. This recipe is the showstoppiest of showstoppers — fire crisped rice under a tangle of squid and smoky seared shrimp. It’s a celebration in a pan, and absolutely sublime.

Related: These Campfire Nachos Are the Ultimate Camping Snack

Excerpted from by Chris NuttalSmith. Copyright © 2023 Chris NuttalSmith. Photography by Maya Visnyei and illustrations by Claire McCracken. Published by Penguin, an imprint of Penguin Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.



At home prep

oz cleaned squid, both tubes (bodies) and tentacles
garlic cloves, peeled
medium yellow onions, coarsely chopped
red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and coarsely chopped
small ripe tomatoes
cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
tsp pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika)
pound green beans, trimmed

At camp

cup extra-virgin olive oil
bunches green onions, trimmed of roots and any mangled ends
Kosher salt
pound raw wild shrimp or prawns
cups paella rice
tsp saffron threads
4 ½
cups water, plus ⅓ cup
tsp peperoncini piccanti (optional)
lemons, cut into halves



This recipe requires a 13-inch fireproof skillet.

Step 1

At home, coarsely chop half of the squid tubes and set aside for the sofrito. Slice the remaining tubes into ¼-inch rings. (Leave the tentacles whole.) Pack the rings with the tentacles into a resealable bag, and freeze. (The squid will keep for 1 month, frozen.)

Step 2

Prep the sofrito: Put the garlic in a food processor and pulse to coarsely chop. Add the reserved chopped squid tubes, onions, and bell pepper and pulse to make a fine mixture. (Alternatively, finely chop the mixture with a sharp knife.) Place a box grater over a medium bowl. Using the coarse side, grate the tomatoes. The pulp will fall into the bowl while the skin and stems (which you’ll discard) stay in your hand. Set aside the tomato pulp.

Step 3

Slow cook the sofrito: In a large, nonreactive skillet over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion-squid mixture and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid evaporates, about 10 minutes. Decrease the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is tender, fragrant, and beginning to color, 5 to 10 minutes more. Add the tomato pulp and pimentón to the skillet and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sofrito is sizzling and the vegetables are richly brown in spots. Remove from the heat. Let the sofrito cool and then seal it in a leakproof container or reusable bag and freeze. (It will keep for 1 month, frozen.)

Step 4

Bring a medium pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the green beans and let simmer until they’re mellow-tasting and tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Drain the beans, transfer to a clean kitchen towel, and let them cool and dry. Roll the beans in paper towels before packing in a resealable bag.

Step 5

At camp, build your paella fire. The ideal paella fire has a deep bed of orange coals, with a few small burning logs at its center and off to the side. It’s medium-hot when your cooking starts. But in the 30-odd minutes it’ll take to make the dish, the embers should fade to medium-low. Place a sturdy grill 6 inches above the coal bed and make sure it’s level.

Step 6

Sear the paella toppings: Place the paella pan on the grill and add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. The pan should be very hot and the oil should shimmer. Add the green beans and green onions to the pan and sear, stirring occasionally, until they char in spots, about 2 minutes. Adjust the pan’s position if it’s too hot or cool. Remove the vegetables to a clean plate, season with a large pinch of salt, and keep warm. Add the squid to the pan, season with ¼ teaspoon salt, and sear until it becomes browned and charry in spots, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove to the vegetable plate and keep warm. Add the shrimp to the pan, season with ¼ teaspoon salt, and sear until it becomes pink and slightly charred in spots, around 2 minutes. Remove to the veg/squid plate and keep warm.

Step 7

Add the remaining ¼ cup olive oil and sofrito to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until the sofrito is sizzling and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the rice and saffron to the pan and stir well to coat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the grains turn translucent at their tips, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the 4 ½ cups water, peperoncini piccanti (if using), and ½ teaspoon salt to the pan, then stir once and give the pan a shake to distribute the ingredients in an even layer.

Step 8

Depending on your fire’s heat, the paella will take 15 to 30 minutes to finish cooking. Watch the pan closely and rotate or shift it on the grill as needed so it’s bubbling evenly, but do not stir. Once most (but not all) of the liquid has cooked off, taste a few grains of rice. They should be tender on their outsides but still slightly firm in their centers. If the rice is still very firm, add up to the remaining ⅓ cup water.

Step 9

The final stage of cooking will require your senses. The sound will progress in the last 5 minutes from a busy burble (the residual liquid) to a snappy sizzle (the olive oil) to a somewhat alarming but completely normal sizzle-crackle (the rice crust–forming stage). When the sizzle-crackling starts, arrange the seared vegetables, squid, and shrimp on top of the rice. Give your paella a few additional minutes on the heat, using your eyes and nose (or a look under the rice with the tip of a spoon) to ensure it doesn’t burn. If you like a crisp, golden crust where the rice touches the pan, this is the stage to be brave. When you can’t stand the suspense any longer, remove the pan from the heat, cover with aluminum foil or a clean kitchen towel, and let the paella rest for 5 minutes.

Step 10

As the paella rests, add the lemon halves (flesh-side down) on the hottest part of the grill and grill for about 5 minutes; a bit of char is nice. Serve the paella with the grilled lemons.

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