Arrow-right Camera
Go to e-Edition Sign up for newsletters Customer service
Subscribe now
A&E >  Food

Party down with paella

For $15, paella party guests receive a serving of the signature rice dish along with salad and (not pictured) dessert. (Adriana Janovich / The Spokesman-Review)
For $15, paella party guests receive a serving of the signature rice dish along with salad and (not pictured) dessert. (Adriana Janovich / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

Winemaker Michael Haig has long appreciated paella, the saffron-scented Spanish rice dish that’s cooked over coals or a wood fire in a wide and shallow pan.

Flavorful, versatile and easily prepared in large batches, paella is meant for sharing. The traditional way to eat the entree is straight from the pan, scooping bites with wooden spoons.

“It’s a very social dish,” Haig said. And that’s one of his favorite things about it.

So is socarrat, or the browned layer that forms after the rice and broth have been added and the paella maker steps away from the pan.

No stirring. That’s how you get that rich and crispy coating on the bottom of the paella pan.

“It’s the most treasured part of the paella,” Haig said.

Don’t step too far away, though. Cooks need to monitor the dish to make sure the rice doesn’t begin to burn. Plus, Haig said, “It’s a lot of fun watching it get made.”

He began throwing paella parties on the patio at Lake Roosevelt Wine Co. last summer. This is the first year, though, that he’s been hosting them regularly. Fridays from the end of June through Labor Day weekend, he aims to get his nearly 3-foot, flat, round paella pan on the grill by 4 p.m.

The first part of the cooking process is hands-on: browning the meat, stirring in the onions and other vegetables, and adding the sausage, rice, saffron and broth, then mixing them all until they’re well incorporated. The second half simply requires watching and adding broth as needed.

“You don’t want to bombard it with too much liquid. You want to have that nice simmering action,” said Haig, who adds warmed broth to the paella pan, heating it separately as the chicken thighs and legs brown, skin-side down, in a mixture of canola and olive oils over a grill.

“For the fire, I like to use a mixture of apple wood and charcoal: the applewood for flavor, the charcoal for even heat,” he said.

Haig grew up on a similar dish: arroz con pollo, or rice with chicken. His mom got the recipe from McCall’s magazine, circa 1981. She said she used whatever rice they had on hand, usually S&W.

Today, Haig, 40, swears by Calasparra, which he orders online at

“At the heart of it, paella is about the rice,” he said. “The rice just absorbs everything.”

Bomba or Arborio rice can also be used. But Haig prefers Calasparra because “it’s a very small-grain rice. It holds up in the heat. It doesn’t get mushy.”

He started taking paella more seriously after he received a paella-making kit for Christmas in 2007. He said he “nerded out over it,” even taking a trip to Spain in 2011 “just to eat paella.” He was there five days.

“I think I had paella for lunch and dinner a total of 10 times, and every one was different,” he said.

Today, Haig has three or four cookbooks dedicated to paella-making, and whenever friends are coming for dinner, “we bust out the paella pan.” Haig has three. The biggest, imported from Valencia, the birthplace of paella, stretches 34 inches.

“I jokingly like to say it will feed at least 30 Europeans or 20 Americans,”said Haig.

The winery has long been hosting barrel tastings, barbecues and other special events, but last summer, Haig said he thought, “Let’s do something different.”

In 2015, he hosted four paella parties. This year, he started earlier to be able to hold more of them.

On any given Friday, about 20 people might show up at the winery’s remote lakeside location. Most paella party-goers – about 75 percent, Haig estimated – boat in. Leftover paella – if there is any – is sold the next day for picnic lunches, also popular with boaters who often take servings to go.

For those who drive, it takes about an hour and a half from Spokane. The road passes through Davenport, Reardan and wheat fields, then turns downhill and to dust. But at the end of the dirt road, the view is spectacular.

The Haig family owns about 100 acres, from the edge of the lake to the top of the ridgeline. The patio sits on a bluff next to the yurt that houses the tasting room. Vineyards sit higher up the hillside.

Lake Roosevelt Wine Co., established in 1992, specializes in merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. Grapes were planted in 1994, the year Haig graduated from Gonzaga Preparatory School in Spokane. Today, he’s the winemaker, viticulturist and chef. His parents, Judy and Walter Haig, 64 and 66, are the proprietors.

They closed their downtown Spokane tasting room when their lease expired at the end of July. Their plan is to open a tasting room in Wilbur, much closer to the winery.

When boaters arrive, they use a walkie-talkie on the beach to call for a ride up the bluff in a golf cart. “We call it the vino express,” said Judy Haig, chopping six red onions for a recent paella party. To them, her son added nearly 5 pounds of rice.

At home, for smaller groups of friends or family, he uses smaller pans: 18 or 15 inches. In winter, he uses a 12-inch cast iron skillet and starts the dish on the stove top, then finishes it in the oven.

Whenever he cooks paella, Haig uses a recipe “we created ourselves. It evolved over years of cooking and trying.”

But, one of the pleasures of paella, he said, is “once you learn how to make it, it’s incredibly easy.”

Haig loves the familiar yet exotic flavor of the dish. “You recognize it, but it’s a little bit different,” he said. “It’s grilled chicken and andouille sausage. It’s onion. It’s peppers. It’s rice.”

It’s also saffron, the costliest spice in the world. Haig buys as much of it as he can when it’s on sale. “A lot of grocery stores will do, buy-one-get-one-free spices, and I always buy them out of saffron.”

Haig uses whole saffron threads, which he soaks in a small bowl of hot – but not boiling – broth before pouring it into the paella pan.

He usually adds Spanish chorizo, mild Portuguese linguica or spicy andouille along with the chicken.

“I want a sausage with a little paprika in it,” Haig said, adding, “When we do seafood, I usually do mussels or clams. I’m a big fan of mussels because you don’t have to worry about sand or grit. For vegetarians, I’m a big fan of doing a mushroom medley. I want to do squid ink, but I don’t know if people would go for that here.”

Once the dish is done, he tents it with towel and lets it rest. Waiting that last 15 minutes is the hardest part of making paella.

“I’m such an impatient cook,” Haig said. “I set a timer for 15 minutes, and it will take all of my self-control not to dive in.”

Lake Roosevelt Wine Co.’s House Paella

From Michael Haig

3 to 4 tablespoons cooking oil

1 1/2 pounds skin-on chicken thighs and legs

1 onion, chopped

1 red pepper, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 pound Portuguese linguica or andouille sausage, sliced

Small pinch saffron

6 cups chicken broth, divided and warmed

1/4 cup canned artichoke hearts

1 (16-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 tablespoon smoked paprika

Salt, to taste

2 cups Calasparra, Bomba or Arborio rice

Clams or mussels, optional

Lemon wedges, optional

1/4 cup green olives, sliced

Heat the oil in a paella pan or cast iron skillet, then add the chicken, skin-side down and cook for about 4 minutes. Add the onion and cook for another few minutes until the onions start to become translucent. Add the peppers, garlic and sausage to the pan and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring everything together and making sure to flip the chicken so it cooks on both sides.

Mix saffron with ¼ cup of the chicken broth and let it sit for a few minutes to infuse. Then, add the artichoke hearts, tomatoes, paprika and saffron mixture to the paella pan, and stir all together.

Season gently with salt. Add the rice, and mix well before adding any chicken broth. Once everything is well mixed and spread evenly, slowly ladle warm chicken broth into the pan. Add broth every few minutes to any dry areas in the pan, but do not stir.

When the rice is still a little underdone, add a few more scoops of chicken broth, and – if doing clams or mussels – add them, along with some lemon wedges. When the rice is al dente, pull the pan from the heat, garnish with green olives, cover with a towel and let it rest 15 minutes before serving.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the Spokane7 email newsletter

Get the day’s top entertainment headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.