backcountry paella cowgirl in the kitchen cowgirl magazine

Any cowgirl worth her salt—whether on a horse-camping, hiking, or paddling trip or just an overnight campout—can whip up a hearty backcountry paella by packing in lightweight dry ingredients, harvesting available saltwater or freshwater proteins, and foraging for greens such as watercress and wild onion.  Shown here is a paella featuring crawfish and bream; you can substitute any mild-tasting freshwater or saltwater fish and shellfish such as shrimp, mussels, or crab—whatever your “catch of the day” may be.

Along with your dry ingredients, pack in a well-seasoned 10-inch steel camp skillet, long-handled wooden spoon, a metal spatula, your trusty campfire grate, and some foil.

Serves 4


  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried lemon peel
  • 2 tablespoons chopped dried onion
  • 2 teaspoons minced dried garlic
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • Healthy pinch of saffron threads 
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons bacon fat
  • 4 ounces Spanish chorizo sausage (not Mexican chorizo) cut into quarter-inch-thick coins, then halved
  • 2 chicken bouillon cubes
  • 2 ounces julienned dried tomatoes
  • 6 ounces dried whole peas (split ones will just get mushy)
  • 8 ounces Bomba rice (short-grained Spanish rice)
  • Fish and/or shellfish

At home: Seal paprika, salt, pepper, and lemon peel in a small white paper envelope. Seal the dried onion, garlic, and parsley in a second envelope, and the saffron threads in a third. (You can toss the paper envelopes into the campfire when you’re done cooking).  Assemble remainder of ingredients, except the fish and/or shellfish you’ll harvest during the day.

At camp: In the morning, place peas in a hot beverage cup, pour in one cup of boiling water, secure lid and let sit for at least 6 hours.  If you’re having bacon for breakfast, retain the bacon drippings.

To prepare: Sauté chorizo in the bacon drippings over medium heat until it begins to brown.  Remove chorizo, leaving the drippings in the skillet.  Make a sofrito by sautéing the dried onion, garlic, and parsley in the drippings over low heat until fragrant and golden-brown, then add paprika/salt/pepper/lemon peel mixture, retaining a teaspoon or so to sprinkle on the fish.  Add saffron threads and toss gently.  Next, add 2 cups of water, the bouillon cubes, dried tomato, and the plumped peas with their liquid.  Cover skillet with foil and let simmer over a slow fire for 8 to 10 minutes.

Uncover skillet and stoke your campfire to achieve higher heat.  Add one cup of water, bring to a lively simmer, and sprinkle rice evenly over the mixture.  (Note: Do not stir!  The seasoned skillet, along with the chorizo and bacon drippings, has laid down a lovely barrier to prevent the rice from sticking.)  Then sprinkle the chorizo over the rice.

Cover skillet with foil again and move to low heat; it should barely simmer.  After five minutes, lift the edge of the foil and listen: When the simmering becomes a crackling sound, the rice is beginning to form the “soccarat,” that crunchy, caramelized layer on the bottom layer that, well, makes paella paella.  It should take about 10 to 15 minutes.

Remove skillet from heat, add 1/2 cup water, sprinkle fish fillets on both sides with reserved seasonings, then lay fillets and shellfish on top of the rice.  Cover again with foil and place the skillet over a slow campfire for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Let sit covered for 5 minutes before serving.  Some foraging might turn up chickweed, salicornia, watercress, or wild onion for garnish.

To serve: Use a metal spatula to cut and place a quarter-pan section onto each plate, making sure to include the soccarat with each serving.