This post has been sponsored by Aidells®. All thoughts and opinions are my own. This post may contain affiliate links from which I may earn a small commission.
Recently, I had the opportunity to work on a campaign for the brand, Aidells®. Have you heard of them? If not, you should DEFINITELY check them out. I was asked to create a recipe using their Aidells® Cajun Link, something that would be appropriate for Fall or tailgating.
The first thing that came to mind was Paella! It’s really a rather humble peasant dish in origin, having been invented in Valencia, Spain. It uses rice as its main ingredient, but it also uses “expensive” ingredients judiciously to maximize flavor and appearance.
Typical Paella uses chicken, shrimp (sometimes clams and/or mussels), other seafoods like squid, and, the most expensive “spice” in the world — saffron. Spanish smoked paprika — pimenton — is also traditional. It’s also traditionally cooked over an open fire, with the result that the rice on the bottom of the pan gets its signature crisp when done! So, this is a GREAT dish for a tailgate picnic using your BBQ grill or even a camping meal over the campfire!
In my version, I wanted to add the extra smokiness of sausage to my Paella, and that’s where the Cajun links came in! Now, Andouille sausage is not a traditional Spanish Paella ingredient, although regular pork or chorizo was frequently added. Andouille can be found in many Cajun recipes, including jambalaya, which, when you stop to examine the ingredients and preparation steps, is really a kind paella already, just more a cooked, broth-based rice dish than the crispy-bottomed Paella.
The rice for Paella is also special. You want to use a short-grain rice like Bomba, that has a nearly round kernel. If you can’t find that (although online sources make it easy to find), you can use a medium-grained rice.
Now, getting to the ingredients for this Paella, I used chicken thighs (they won’t dry out and get tough as fast as breast chunks do), jumbo shrimp, onion, garlic, a good chicken stock, saffron, smoked paprika, tomatoes, frozen peas, and, of course the Aidells’ links.
I’ll walk you through the overall process, but I want to quickly explain something about my use of ingredients: Food is only as good as the ingredients you use in it. And, if you look at what goes into the Paella, you’ll see they are all chosen for their quality and freshness (with the exception of the frozen peas, but you’ve already heard me talk about why frozen vs. fresh). The Aidells sausage is perfect for this dish because it’s made from top-quality all-natural ingredients. I have NO problem bragging about this brand, because it really is awesome. I’ve been a fan for years and there isn’t a product in their line that I don’t love! (yes, this is a sponsored post, but I don’t write about things I don’t believe in 100%!) Oh, one other thing: it’s EASY to find this sausage, which I see as another benefit. I was fortunate to find it at my local Safeway and, for a limited time you can get a $1 coupon by clicking here!
Ok, back to our recipe. Grab your Paella pan, if you have one; if you don’t a large non-stick skillet works and so will a well-seasoned cast iron pan.
Really, there are 5 basic steps in the process:
- Brown your meats. Note I say “meat,” not your proteins! This is NOT the time to toss in your shrimp. You want to brown your meat (chicken first and add the sausage) and get a little crispiness going. The bits will stick to a Paella pan, but you’ll only end up with browned oil if using a non-stick. Remove the chicken and sausage to a plate and reserve.
- Create the Aromatic Base. Now you are going to add onion, garlic and, after a bit, your tomatoes and cook them until reduced and thick. This is the basis of the intense flavor you’ll find in your Paella.
- Rice Time. Add your chicken, sausage, broth, saffron and the rice to the pan. Now, this part is crucial: stir the rice into the mix, bring it to a boil but then DON’T STIR THE RICE ANYMORE. It’s a crucial step in the proper cooking of the rice; if you feel one side of the pan is cooking faster than the other, rotate the pan. DON’T STIR THE RICE! This is Paella, not risotto!
- Add final ingredients and Crisp! Once the liquid has been absorbed, and the rice is pretty much al dente you will add your shrimp and peas to the top of the pan. Now, we’re going to turn the heat back up and, again leaving everything alone, we are going to allow the rice to crisp up on the bottom. Notice I say “crisp,” not “scorch.” The edges of your rice will be slightly dry and you can tell there’s a crust if you use a thin spatula to lift a portion of the rice in the pan.
- Let it rest. When the Paella is finished cooking, take it off the heat, cover it with heavy-duty aluminum foil and let it rest, undisturbed for 10 minutes before serving. Any leftover broth will have been completely absorbed by the rice and the rice itself finishes cooking while under the foil tent.
Before serving, you can top the Paella with some sliced green Spanish olives, minced flat-leaf (Italian) parsley and even a little lemon zest, if you like. You’ll find your Paella is bursting with colors and flavor!
So, you see, while there are specific steps that you must follow to ensure you have Paella success, they aren’t hard. Start with excellent ingredients, put them together in the proper order, pay attention to your dish, and don’t forget the final rest! I guarantee you’ll be making this at your next outdoor cookout. I can’t wait to hear how it turned out for you!
Cajun Paella with Chicken, Shrimp & Andouille Sausage
- paella pan (see notes)
- 1/2 tsp saffron threads, crushed
- 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2" pieces
- 6 oz cooked Andouille sausage, sliced
- 12-16 lg shrimp, peeled, deveined and tails left on
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup roma tomatoes, finely chopped
- 1 Tbsp smoked Spanish paprika
- 6 cups rich chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
- 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
- 2 cups short-grained paella rice (see notes)
- 6 oz frozen peas, defrosted
- 2 Tbsp Spanish green olives, sliced
- 2 Tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley (for garnish), if desired
- 1 Tbsp fresh lemon zest (for garnish), if desired
- Heat 1/4 cup of chicken stock or broth to a brief boil. Place crushed saffron threads in a small heat-proof bowl. Pour boiling stock over the saffron and allow to sit for 10-15 minutes.
- Heat olive oil in a 16-inch Paella Pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add chicken pieces and cook, flipping chicken occasionally until chicken is nicely browned. Add the Andouille sausage and cook briefly, about 2 minutes. Remove chicken and sausage to a plate and reserve.
- Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion and garlic to the pan, Cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes or until fragrant but not browned. Add tomatoes and smoked paprika. Cook, stirring, until tomatoes are thickened, with most of the moisture reduced, approximately 5-10 minutes.
- Place chicken and sausage mixture back into pan, along with broth, saffron broth mixture and salt. Increase heat to high and bring mixture to a boil.
- Add the rice to the pan, stir once to make sure all is well distributed. Cook the mixture, without stirring, until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid and the top is beginning to look dry, about 10-15 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook — without stirring — until the rice liquid is completely absorbed and the rice is nearing al dente. Distribute the shrimp over the top of the rice and top with peas.
- Increase the heat to high once again. Again, without stirring, cook the paella 1-2 minutes more, checking to see that the edges of the dish are looking dry, and a crust is forming on the bottom (use a thin spatula to lift the rice to check).
- Remove the pan from the heat, cover it with aluminum foil and allow it to rest 10-15 minutes before serving. Top with the sliced olives, fresh parsley and lemon zest, if desired.