Frugal Foodie: Jaleo's Ramon Martinez

Cooking on the grill doesn’t have to burn up your budget. Ramon Martinez of Jaleo shows us how to make a paella dinner for six for less than $30.

By: Kelly DiNardo

>>For more photos of Martinez grilling paella and making gazpacho, click here. 

Americans routinely flip burgers and rotate ears of corn on the grill. But pans of paella? Not so much. Jaleo, José Andrés’s trio of Spanish tapas houses, is trying to change that. So we challenged chef Ramon Martinez, who mans the kitchen at the Crystal City outpost, to make a paella dinner for six on the grill—all for less than $30.

At the grocery store, we picked up mushrooms, onion, chicken, plus strawberries and tomatoes for a gazpacho. Staring at several shelves of rice, Martinez searched for bomba rice, the short-grained Spanish variety that absorbs more liquid—and flavor—than other rices, but stays firm. When the search turned up dry, Martinez admitted to bringing a cup of his own bomba rice, but said that Valencia or Arborio rice work as substitutes.

Back at my apartment, Martinez de-boned the chicken thighs, chopped the mushrooms, and diced the onion while a small pot of mushroom broth simmered on the stove. When the grill was very hot, he took everything outside.

He placed a paellera, the wide pan used to make paella, on top of the red-hot coals (a stainless steel or aluminum skillet works, as will a gas grill). He sprinkled it with oil and browned the chicken. While we waited, Martinez explained that in Spain, paella is traditionally cooked outdoors over an open flame.

After only 16 minutes, the paella was done. At dinner, my guests and I stirred a teaspoon of aïoli into each serving. We dove in and happily agreed that the grill should be fired up for more than just burgers and dogs.

Recipes serve six.

Mushroom Stock

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound mushroom stems
2 cups chopped carrots
1 cup chopped celery
2 cups chopped onion
3 garlic cloves
1 bay leaf
8 cups water

In a pot set over high heat, add the olive oil and sauté the vegetables, garlic, and bay leaf until soft and golden. Add the water. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 3 hours. Strain and cool.

Aïoli

1 egg
1½ garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups olive oil

Place the egg, garlic, water, lemon juice, and salt in a blender. Start the blender and slowly drizzle in the olive oil until the mixture emulsifies. If the aïoli gets too thick, add a bit of water.

Sofrito

1 14-ounce can whole tomatoes
1 cup olive oil
2 cups onions, cut into very small dice
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Process the tomatoes in a blender until they’re a smooth purée. Heat the oil in a large pan set over medium heat. Once the oil is hot and nearly smoking, add the onions and bay leaf. Cook for 1 hour until soft. Add the tomatoes and cook for another 2 hours. Strain out the oil. Add the paprika. Set aside until ready to use.

Chicken-and-Mushroom Paella

2 tablespoons olive oil
7 chicken thighs, with bone, skin, and extra fat removed, and meat cut into bite-size pieces
1 portabello mushroom, chopped
1 pint shiitake mushrooms, chopped
½ pint button mushrooms, chopped
2 garlic cloves, sliced
3 tablespoons sofrito
1 cup bomba rice
1 bunch asparagus, peeled
5 cups mushroom stock
1 teaspoon aïoli for each serving

Place a paella pan over a very hot grill. Add the olive oil. When the oil is hot and slightly smoking, add the chicken. Cook until the chicken starts to brown and caramelize. Add the mushrooms to the chicken and cook until soft and golden brown. Add the garlic and stir in the sofrito. Mix well so the chicken and mushrooms are coated with sofrito. Stir in the rice.

Meanwhile, grill the asparagus for 2 minutes.

Add the stock and asparagus to the paella and cook until the rice has absorbed the liquid, about 16 minutes. Serve with a teaspoon of aïoli and the pipriana salad (recipe below).

Pipriana Salad

1 large tomato, peeled and seeded, then diced
½ cucumber, peeled, with no pulp
¼ onion, diced
2 to 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix the tomato, cucumber, and onion in a large bowl. Before serving, add the vinegar to taste and season with salt and pepper.

Strawberry/Tomato Gazpacho

6 medium tomatoes, quartered
¼ green pepper
1⁄8 onion
1 clove garlic
1 pound strawberries, quartered
2 tablespoons vinegar, preferably Pedro Ximénez or balsamic
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup olive oil

Mix all ingredients in blender and process until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

See all Recipe Sleuths here

Subscribe to Washingtonian
Follow Washingtonian on Twitter

Follow the Best Bites Bloggers on Twitter at twitter.com/bestbitesblog

More>> Best Bites Blog | Food & Dining | Restaurant Finder