Paella is a food that is steeped in tradition. The dish has been around longer than the United States has been a country! One of the most traditional ways to cook paella is over a wood fire with a paella pan. In this article, we will go over the best method for cooking wood fire paella. Paella is a simple dish when you think about it. Unlike complex recipes that require you to cook part in the oven, some in a pan, or transfer food to another pot for additional cooking, you can cook paella in a single pan. At Machika, you can purchase both traditional carbon steel paella pans and enameled steel. Both are authentic Valencian paella pan from Spain, so you know you are getting the best quality.
When cooking paella over wood fire, there are a couple things you should keep in mind. First is that you should not use just any wood. You should also consider how large the flame is and if you are cooking it directly on the flame and wood or using a paella stand. Paella stands can fit a wide range of pans and keeps your cookware the right distance away from the fire. This prevents the dish from getting too hot and reduces the chance of ash flying into your pan. With these tips and tricks, you will feel more confident when cooking paella outdoors in a firepit or campfire.
Which Pan is Right for Cooking Paella Over Wood Fire?
When deciding to cook paella over an open fire, the first thing you will want is the right pan. Unlike cooking paella on a stovetop or burner, the pan matters a lot more with wood fire. The heat of the fire can reach extremely high temperatures and damage certain metals. You will also want to avoid pans with plastic handles. Certain pans, like carbon steel paella pans, have high heat resistant coatings that are fine in open fires. Others that use plastic handles will melt when exposed to high heat for long periods of time. Both carbon steel paella pans and enameled steel paella pans are great choices for cooking paella outdoors.
Which Type of Wood Should I Use for Cooking?
When it comes to cooking with wood, not every log or twig you find will be safe to use. You will want to avoid pine, redwood, fir, cedar, and cypress. These types of wood contain sap and terpenes that will burn. Burning sap contains carcinogens (contains cancer causing compounds) that can be toxic when inhaled. The terpenes in these types of wood can also leech into your food and change the flavor. While the smokey wood flavor infused in dishes cooked over wood fire is delicious, the flavor from burning terpenes is not. The flavor can be bitter and turn your paella from a delicious meal to an inedible mess! So, which types of wood should you use for cooking over wood fire? Some of the most common safe dried wood to use include:
Why the Wood Matters
Besides being much better health and flavor wise, there are other reasons the wood matters when cooking paella outdoors over a wood fire. Regardless which one of the previously listed types of wood you use, you will have a good wood fire cooking experience. However, depending on the type of wood, the flavor of your paella will differ! That’s right, the wood you use will be part of the flavor and aroma of your paella so the particular kind matters. For example, apple tree wood is sweet and aromatic. People often use it for smoking because it is very flavorful. On the other hand, oak is nuttier in flavor. Oak wood burns slowly and has a milder flavor compared to apple wood. Most dried non-resinous hardwood will work well when cooking outdoors.
Tips and Tricks for Cooking Paella Over Wood Fire
Besides choosing the right pan and wood, here are some tips and tricks for cooking paella over an open fire. For one, you will want to correctly position your wood. There are a couple ways to set up your wood, but I will focus on two easy layouts. The first is the traditional teepee design. You will want to place your wood upright and leaning against each other in a cone pattern. This will allow the heat to converge in the center and cause the wood to burn more evenly.
The other way to layout your wood is in a square, or box shape, design. This set-up is like jenga or the logs that make up a log cabin. Stack the logs in a square and place a couple in a teepee formation in the middle. The top of the wood may hold your pan while also keeping it a safe distance from the flames. The center wood will burn faster than the outside, which means the wood structure will stay standing for some time. This makes it easier to cook your paella without a stand. However, the easiest way for beginners is going to be to use a stand. If you are not familiar with stacking wood for fires, you risk an unstable log causing your paella pan to fall over. Some other tips for cooking paella recipes over an open fire are:
- Pay attention and manage fire
- Keep wood dry before use
- Check the weather forecast beforehand
- Use a pit (either dug or metal) to make it easier
Manage Your Fire
Managing your fire is simple when you pay close attention. You should always have an eye on the flame to make sure it is not too strong or growing out of control. A couple of logs go a long way so do not place so many that it grows too large when it ignites. Keep a poker or fire tongs for moving around wood to better manage the flames. If you want to be safe, keep a bucket of water to extinguish the fire in case of an emergency. You can also throw dirt on the fire to lower it.
Keep Wood Dry
An important part of cooking over an open fire is keeping your wood dry beforehand. Wet wood is not only difficult to light but may become unusable. Keeping your wood in a dry place will make it easier to get started and cooking in the future. No one wants to wait a day just to have their wood dry out before use. Moldy firewood can also be a hazard. Mold spore in the air can cause lung issues and trigger allergic reactions. Mold spore can irritate eyes and even cause asthma attacks. Burning slightly moldy wood is typically not a problem but very moist and moldy wood should be avoided.
Check the Weather
A key tip to key in mind that is easy to forget is checking the weather! It sounds simple, but it's easy to see a sunny morning and think cooking outdoor later will be fine. It is best to check the forecast a day in advance and the morning before cooking outdoors if you do not have any open outdoor shelter. You should not cook with an open fire in a closed off space without proper ventilation. If you find it is going to rain, it is better to cook indoors on a stove or wait for the rain to pass.
Use a Pit and/or Stand
While you do not need a pit or stand, they go a long way to making the open fire cooking process easier. Paella stands are great for keeping your paella pan stable and from getting ash in your food. You should also use a pit. You can either create a pit yourself by digging a concave hole or you can purchase a metal pit. Open fire pits cause the wood to fall inward on themselves instead of outward. Using a pit is safer, contains the fire, and moves heat upwards so more hits the pan.
Find More Cooking Articles and Recipes at Machika Today
Cooking over an open fire is easy when you know what to do and look out for. If you wish to cook paella the traditional way, then over an open fire pit is the way to do it. Get the rich flavor of wood smoke and paella all in one by cooking with the right wood. You can even experiment with different recipes and which type of wood gives the dish the right flavor. Check out some of our other articles and recipes at the Machika blog today!