Brown Rice Paella

A gluten-free, dairy-free, and soy-free entree to impress.

I was rushing to make this before our guests arrived and forgot to take a photo.  And it was gorgeous.  So let me describe it instead:  A beautiful bed of brown rice, with a perfect crust on the bottom, with roasted orange carrots, green farmshare zucchini, and earthy shiitake mushrooms, dotted throughout with red-ripe farmshare grape tomatoes, topped with golden-brown chicken and spicy chorizo, flecked throughout with smoky Spanish pimenton.  All this served to oohs and aahs after 20 minutes of work.  

I recently completed Mark Bittman’s Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating with More than 75 Recipes.  In it, Bittman explains his turn to a “sensible way of eating,” involving more plants and less meat, in his signature off-the-cuff, humorous, accessible style.  Part part screed against the meat industry, part clarion call to eco-consciousness, part diet book, and part weight-loss memoir, Food Matters does all of these things well, although others have already done this.  The 75 new recipes in Food Matters, all of which showcase little meat and lots of veggies, are all Bittman’s usual top notch.  This recipe is inspired by the paella recipe in that book.

As always on the SGG, this recipe is flexible.  Use whatever fresh veggies you have on hand, setting them gently to roast on the top.  The more colors, the better.  Replace the tomatoes and some of their stock with canned diced tomatoes and their juices.  Use more meat, or less, or substitute shrimp and seafood.  To make it vegetarian, omit the chicken and chorizo, up the pimenton, and add veggies to your heart’s content.   Try saffron instead of pimenton, or use a combination.  Try mushroom stock.  Vary the spices to make it less Spanish and more unique.  Use traditional arborio rice instead of brown rice and cut the oven time by half.  The possibilities are endless, and up to you.

Before braising chicken thighs, I like to loosen the skin when I trim the thighs so that I can season the meat directly.  I leave the skin on to keep the meat moist during cooking, and then leave it up to my guests whether they want to remove it or not.

Prep Time: 20 Minutes
Cook Time: 30-40 minutes
Total Time: 50-60 minutes.
Serves: 6-8

~4 cups stock or water, more or less as needed
2 T Extra-Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO; if you use a good nonstick pan, you may need even less; if your chicken is not fatty, you may need more)
8 chicken thighs, trimmed of all visible fat

1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes
2 zucchini, sliced on the bias into “rounds” 1/4″ to 1/2″ thick
handful of baby carrots
handful of shiitake or other mushroom caps, sliced into thirds, or not slided

2 leeks, white parts only, sliced into rounds, cleaned by soaking and swooshing for at least 2 minutes in a bowl of water; or 1 (Spanish) onion, chopped or diced
1 T tomato paste
1-2 t pimenton (Spanish smoked paprika), plus more for the chicken
Pinch saffron (optional)

12 oz chorizo or other spicy sausage, sliced into rounds of your desired thickness
3 c short-grain brown rice
coarse sea salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
coarsely chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

 1. Heat oven to 450 degrees F.  Warm the stock/water and optional saffron in the microwave or a small saucepan.
2. Place tomatoes in a bowl and the zucchini, mushrooms, and carrots in another.  Sprinkle all veggies with salt and pepper, and toss with 1T EVOO.   Set aside.
3. Season chicken thighs with salt, pepper, and ~1T pimenton (eyeball it and sprinkle it from the container).
4. In a 12″ ovenproof skillet, warm 1T (or less) EVOO over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken thighs, skin-side down, and brown until just golden ~4 minutes per side.  Remove chicken to a plate and set aside.
5. Examine your pan.  You want a nice layer of fat, at least 3 Tablespoons, at the bottom of your pan to ensure a nice crust on the rice.  Pour off fat if desired, or add EVOO as necessary and reheat if needed before proceeding.  Be careful to avoid spatters.
6. Add the (well-drained) leeks or onions, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook 3-5 minutes or until softened.  Stir in tomato paste, pimenton, and chorizo.
7. Add the rice and stir for about 1 minute until well-coated and shiny.
8. Slowly pour in the warmed stock and stir until just combined.
9. Turn off the heat.  Stir in the tomatoes.  Arrange the chicken on top.  Top artfully with the colorful veggies.
10. Bake paella for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, check the rice.  If it is nearly dry and just tender, it’s perfect.  If it’s too dry, add more stock or water. If it’s too wet, return the pan to the oven for 5 minutes and check again.  Repeat as necessary.
12. When the rice is ready, turn the oven off, and let the paella sit for 5-15 minutes.
13. (Optional) Put the pan over high heat for a few minutes, or cover and put on low heat for up to 30 (while you finish your first course), to develop the bottom crust, otherwise known as the best part.
14. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.