Impress your friends this grilling season with this large 15" chicken and ham paella loaded with juicy, crispy-skinned chicken thighs, spicy chorizo, and crispy bits of Canadian bacon.
Paella is a grilled Spanish rice dish that gets its classic golden yellow color from the addition of saffron. This is one of Jimmy's favorite showstopper dinners to make for a crowd — it serves 6 with plenty of leftovers, but can easily stretch to feed 8-10 if needed.
The rice is so tender and flavorful in the center, but gets crisp around the edges and on the bottom of the pan. The chicken cooks perfectly and stays juicy thanks to the chicken broth, and the peas *pop* in your mouth, brightening up the dish.
A fragrant, steaming chicken and ham paella is wonderful year round (and when we lived in LA it was!) but now that we live in Boston which has actual seasons, it is definitely more of a summer-fall specialty.
I had never tried paella until Jimmy introduced me to it, but now it's one of my favorite special occasion dinners. Most paellas are seafood with steaming mussels and clams and lots of shrimp on top, but since I don't like seafood, this chicken and ham paella is the one Jimmy usually makes.
Making this chicken and ham paella does require some specialty equipment and ingredients, but nothing too hard to find. I've linked everything you need below. (And if you end up with extra arborio rice, you can always make these giant stuffed arancini!)
👨🏻🍳 Jimmy says...
One of my most distinct food memories growing up is of a restaurant I went to in New York City with my family. The restaurant had chili peppers hanging from the ceiling, tables literally on top of each other and lighting that made it impossible to read a menu. But you didn’t need a menu, because you knew what you were getting before you sat down.
You were getting a paella made with either meat, poultry, seafood, or vegetables.
I remember the waiters coming out with two huge pans with steaming yellow rice, enveloping me with the smell of saffron. It was one of the best meals I'd ever had.
When Rebecca and I lived in Jersey City, I wanted so badly to take her to the restaurant I remembered. Problem was, everyone in my family forgot the name of it and what street it was on. And trying to find a specific restaurant in NYC is not easy, especially when you only had one menu item to go off of 15 years later.
I kept looking up Spanish restaurants and hoping that the menu or photos would look familiar, but no luck. Finally, one day, I saw a photo of a Spanish restaurant with dried chiles hanging from the awning and doorway. I had found it! The name of the restaurant? La Paella. (To quote Chandler: "Could it BE any more obvious?")
Nothing takes the wind out of your sails like excitedly telling your girlfriend (now wife) that you finally found the paella restaurant of your dreams, only to have her burst into laughter because the name of the restaurant is literally La Paella. To this day she rightfully questions my Googling skills.
The food was just as good as I remembered it, but, sadly, soon after rediscovering it, La Paella closed its doors for good.
In the time between learning the restaurant closed and my birthday, Rebecca must have gotten sick of my complaining, because that year she bought me a 15 inch paella pan so I could make paellas of my very own — truly one of the best gifts I have ever received.
But enough of my personal story. Here's how you make a bangin' chicken and ham paella on the grill.
I recommend prepping the ingredients for this chicken and ham paella all at once before heading out to the grill to minimize the amount of bowls you need to bring outside with you and how often you have to run back inside to prep the next ingredients.
Here's what you'll need:
- Arborio Rice - Paella requires a medium grain rice. Arborio, which is used for risotto, is a medium grain rice that works just fine for paella and is easy to find in most grocery stores.
- Saffron - People love to talk about how expensive saffron is, which is true (in 2009 it was nicknamed "the $10,000 spice"), but you’re not buying a pound of it. You only need 16-20 threads of it to make this chicken and ham paella. Buy your saffron from a reputable source (like Spiceology or The Spice House), because fake saffron is a real thing. You should be able to find a small jar of real, quality saffron for about $10-$15. Store it in the freezer so it lasts longer.
- Bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs - You can comfortably fit about 6 of them in the pan. Estimate one chicken thigh per person eating or per serving.
- Spanish chorizo - The kind that comes dried like a salami, usually shrink wrapped.
- Canadian bacon - Sliced into wedges like pizza slices.
- Red bell pepper - A medium sized red bell pepper.
- Green pepper - A green bell pepper, but you can also use a poblano pepper, or a mix of hot green peppers to add some heat.
- Onion - Yellow onion, a nice medium size.
- Seasoned salt - I use McCormick's "Season All" salt instead of kosher salt for seasoning the chicken thighs because it's finer and dissolves faster. The additional spices in the seasoned spice blend also add a lot of flavor to the chicken! If you don't have this on hand, fine sea salt or kosher salt will work fine.
- Smoked paprika - The ideal paprika for this chicken and ham paella is a Spanish smoked sweet paprika, but any smoked paprika will work.
- Rosemary - Fresh rosemary, minced finely.
- Peas - Frozen work great, but you can use fresh shelled peas too.
- Chicken broth - The stuff from the box is just fine or you can use a chicken bouillon situation and make it yourself. Chicken stock will also work!
- Olive oil - For coating the bottom of the paella pan.
See recipe card for quantities.
🔪 Mise en place (aka prep work)
As with any recipe on the grill, the prep work for this chicken and ham paella is just as important as the cooking process itself. If you do the prep work right, you'll have a fun, chill time hanging out by the grill while it cooks.
Here's what you'll want to have prepped before you head out to the grill:
- Combine the uncooked rice, saffron, salt, and rosemary in a large bowl or food storage container with a lid.
- Finely dice the peppers and onion into pieces about ¼" or smaller. You can do this in a food processor, or use the cheese grater. Combine them in a bowl or storage container with a lid.
- Grate the tomatoes to remove the skins. I use Alton Brown's method of slicing the tomatoes in half across the middle (not through the stem), squeezing the juice through a wire mesh strainer into a bowl to remove the seeds, and then grating the open face against the large holes of a box grater until just the skin remains. The tomatoes go in separately so keep them in their own bowl or container.
- Pat the chicken dry and season it well on both sides with seasoned salt and black pepper, making sure to get it under the skin, too.
- Measure the peas into a separate container and leave in the fridge or freezer until ready to use.
Start by heating the grill to about 400F. This is a nice, medium heat. Place the pan on the grill to warm up, then add the olive oil and use the spatula to spread it around so it coats the pan.
Add chicken thighs skin side down to render out the fat, so the skin becomes nice and crispy. Don't move the chicken around too much, just let it cook until the skin is golden brown and releases from the pan. Then flip the chicken over and cook an additional 4-5 minutes.
Remove the chicken thighs to the top rack of the grill if you have one. They'll stay there until you're ready to add them back to the pan. If you don't have a top rack, put them on a clean plate or cutting board off to the side.
Then, add the sliced chorizo to the pan and cook until the fat renders out slightly and the edges look crispy. Stir and flip them frequently. Close the grill lid periodically if needed to help trap some extra heat inside.
Hint: You'll notice a pattern to this chicken and ham paella — add ingredients, cook until no liquid remains. As long as you keep that in mind, you'll be just fine!
Next, add the peppers and onions to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft. Then add the grated tomatoes, and cook down until little to no liquid remains.
Be patient. Grill temperatures can fluctuate wildly, and every time you add a new ingredient the pan cools down slightly.
Add the rice mixture and peas, stir to break up any clumps and coat the rice grains with tomato and the fat from the pan. Flatten the mixture out into an even layer, then add the chicken thighs back to the pan. This time, you'll want them skin-side up.
Nestle the chicken thighs into the rice. They don't need to be all the way to the bottom of the pan, but you don't want them just sitting on top either. The skins should be above the rice, but the meat should be below the surface of the rice.
Finally, add the chicken broth to the pan. You'll add it in batches, pouring until it reaches the top of the pan, then closing the grill lid for about 10 minutes to let it absorb into the rice. Repeat this as needed until all of the liquid has been absorbed.
Usually you can do this in about two batches, adding four cups of broth each time, but depending on the temperature of your grill or how crowded the pan is, you may need to do a little less broth with each addition, or break it up into 3 additions of broth.
To get a nice crust (called a socarrat) on the bottom of your chicken and ham paella, crank the heat on the grill to high for a minute or two before removing the paella from the grill.
Jimmy says: As many times as I’ve made Paella, I can't honestly say I consistently nail the socarrat step. I might do it perfectly one time and slightly burn it the next time. Just know that if you ignore this step, that's okay. You'll still end up with an amazing dish of food. If you do it, and it works, you’ll be so damn pleased with yourself. And if not, well, you tried something new and you still have a delicious dinner to eat.
If you can't find everything on the ingredient list, that's okay. Paella is super easy to customize and there are a lot of other options — except for when it comes to rice.
- Arborio rice - If you can find Bomba or Valencia rice, those are the gold standard for making paella. They're not as easy to find in the grocery store, but you can usually buy them online.
- Bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs - You can use boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cook them the same way as the bone-in chicken thighs, just slice them up after letting them rest and before adding them back to the pan. Add them to the pan when you add the Canadian bacon.
- Canadian Bacon - Cubed ham, pancetta, or any other similar cured pork product.
- Spanish Chorizo - You can use sweet Italian sausage, Mexican fresh chorizo sausages, or hot Italian sausages. Remove the casing and cook the sausage along with the chicken, then remove from the pan and let rest. Slice it into rounds and add back to the pan when you add the Canadian bacon.
- Saffron - It's not quite the same, but you can use 1 teaspoon of turmeric if you can't find saffron.
- Green bell pepper - Omit entirely or sub in poblanos or any other hot green peppers for more heat.
- Chicken broth - Chicken stock or bone broth will work just fine.
Unfortunately there isn't really a substitution for the paella pan itself. The thicker walls and smaller surface area of other cooking pans retain and distribute heat differently than the thin paella pan material, which can dramatically change your cooking time and the outcome of the dish.
Here are some fun ways to customize your chicken and ham paella!
- Spicy - Add 1 or 2 hot green peppers like poblano, Serrano, or jalapeños instead of the green bell pepper. Remove the seeds and ribs for less heat, or leave some intact for more heat. Use a hot Spanish smoked paprika or even add some cayenne or red chili powder to the rice.
- More veggies - Add sliced green beans, edamame, fresh or frozen corn kernels, or even more peppers.
- Surf and turf - Add cleaned, de-veined shrimp to the top of the paella when you add the second batch of stock. Try not to move the rice around too much when you add them.
- 15 inch carbon steel paella pan - A paella pan is made from very thin metal, usually steel or carbon steel. "Paella” is actually the name of the pan, so it is grammatically correct to say, “I’m cooking paella in my paella," and, yes, that means it's redundant to say "paella pan" but since it's less confusing, I'm gonna keep doing it.
- Large liquid measuring cup - At least 4 cups!
- Cheese grater - For removing the skins from the tomatoes.
- Grill - This recipe has been developed and tested using a gas grill. Make any necessary adjustments if using a charcoal grill. For a pan this large, a grill is necessary to evenly heat the entire bottom of the pan at a more consistent temperature. A stovetop burner (or burners) could never with a pan this large.
- Clean cutting board and knife - In case you need to remove the chicken from the grill and don't have a top rack. Do not use the same board for cooked meat that you used for the raw meat.
- Spatula or wooden spoon - You want something that can hold up to the high heat of the grill. I like a silicone spatula, but a wooden spoon would also be fine.
Store in an an airtight container in the fridge with the chicken pieces on top for up to 5 days.
To reheat, place chicken on foil-lined sheet pan in the oven at 350F for 8-10 minutes. Microwave the rice until warmed through.
💭 ⏲️Top tip
Paella is done when it's done. It's done when there's no more broth pooling and bubbling around in the pan. The cooking time for a dish this large on the grill can vary widely. Once you add the chicken stock, the paella should only need about 20 minutes of cooking time, but it may take up to 30 or even 40 minutes total.
If you're still seeing lots of broth in the pan after 20 minutes, cover and let it keep cooking in 5-10 minute increments as long as it needs to absorb and reduce the broth. You know what cooked rice looks like — use that as a gauge for doneness rather than a timer.
chicken and ham paella (on the grill)
- 3 cups arborio rice
- 8 cups low sodium chicken broth
- 6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
- 6 slices Canadian bacon (cut into wedges)
- 2 chorizo sausages
- 1 medium onion
- 1 red bell pepper
- ½ cup peas (use more if you want more!)
- 3 cloves garlic
- 3 medium tomatoes
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary (minced)
- 18-20 threads saffron
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1½ teaspoons seasoned salt
- 1 teaspoon diamond crystal kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Combine uncooked rice, rosemary, saffron, paprika, and salt in a medium mixing bowl or container. Set aside.
- Finely chop onion, red, and green peppers, and garlic (or use a food processor). Combine in a bowl and set aside.
- Slice the tomatoes in half and squeeze the juices through a strainer into a bowl. Run the open side of the tomato up and down the large holes of a box grater to remove the skin.
- Pat chicken thighs dry with a paper towel, then season both sides with seasoned salt and pepper, making sure to get it under the skin.
- Set your grill to 400°F, about medium heat. Place the empty paella pan over the grill grate to warm up, then add olive oil and spread it around so it coats the bottom of the pan.
- Place the chicken thighs in the pan skin-side down. Cook chicken 4-5 minutes on each side, undisturbed. Then remove chicken to the top rack of the grill (if yours has one) or to a clean plate off to the side.
- Add sliced chorizo to the pan, and cook, stirring frequently until the fat renders into the pan and the slices are crispy around the edges.
- Add pepper, onion, and garlic mixture and cook down until soft and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 4-5 minutes.
- Add tomatoes and stir frequently to cook off most of the liquid, about 4-5 minutes (it may need longer, depending on your grill temp).
- Once the tomatoes have reduced, add the Canadian bacon wedges and stir to break them up, about 1 minute.
- Add the rice mixture and peas, and stir well to completely coat the rice grains. Spread the rice out into a nice even layer, moving things around in the pan if needed. This is the last time you will touch the rice while cooking!
- Add the chicken back to the pan, skin-side up, nestling it into the rice.
- Pour 4 cups of chicken broth into the pan (hold back if the pan is at risk of overflowing). Everything should be submerged except for the tops of the chicken thighs — you want the skin to stay crispy. Close the grill lid and let it cook for 10 minutes.
- After 10 minutes, the liquid level should drop as it absorbs into the rice. Add four more cups of chicken broth, cover, and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Again, you may need to adjust how much broth you add each time — don't overfill the pan or submerge the chicken skins. Add liquid, let it absorb into the rice, then add more liquid, until all the liquid has absorbed.It should take about 20 minutes total to cook, but grilling is rarely so precise — if there's still broth bubbling around or lots of liquid, let it keep cooking as long as it needs to absorb and reduce the broth. You know what cooked rice looks like — use that as a gauge rather than a timer.
- Bonus optional step — SOCARRAT! Once the liquid has absorbed, crank the heat to high for 1-2 minutes to get a nice socarrat on the bottom of the paella.
- Remove paella from the grill, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let rest for 10-15 minutes before serving.
- This recipe was adapted from Alton Brown's paella recipe which uses a charcoal grill.
- Cook time provided is an estimate — it will fluctuate based on your grill temperature! Paella can sit for a while before serving, so give yourself an extra 30-40 minutes before you need it to be done just in case, if you can.
- Store leftovers in airtight container with chicken pieces on top. To reheat, place chicken on foil-lined sheet pan in 350F oven for 8-10 minutes. Microwave rice until warmed through.
- Cook chicken to a minimum temperature of 165°F (74 °C)
- Do not use the same utensils, cutting boards, or plates for cooked food, that have previously touched raw meat
- Wash hands after touching raw meat.
- Don't leave food sitting out at room temperature for extended periods
- Never leave cooking food or open flames unattended.