Ann About Town: Fire & Rice Paella at the EL Farmer's Market

Thursday, September 8, 2016, 9:28 am
Ann Nichols

Photo courtesy of Fire & Rice

“And now, I’m going to show you a cool trick with an egg,” he said.

But wait ─ let’s go back to the beginning. In this particular story, the egg comes last.

Last Sunday was a perfect day to walk down to the East Lansing Farmer’s Market in Valley Court Park. The sun was shining, but it wasn’t so hot that my hair turned into a frizzy topiary and my fingernails sweated.

My husband Captain Carnivore and I agreed that I’d walk down with the dog, a big empty bag, and a wad of cash to meet him when he was done with his job as Head Usher at The Peoples Church. The plan was, as usual, that after I bought everything else on my list, we’d buy a loaf of bread from Stone Circle Bakehouse, a chunk of cheddar from Hickory Knoll Farms Creamery and carry it back up the hill to eat with a cup of gazpacho as a rustic Sunday lunch.

On the way from Peoples to the Market, we passed people we knew, people we didn’t, a play structure swarming with children, and then I smelled something so intriguing that I literally stopped in my tracks to find the source. It turned out to be paella, gigantic, fragrant pans full of it near the Fire & Rice food truck. It wasn’t their first week at the market, but I had missed a couple of weeks (see “topiary hair” and “fingernail sweat,” above).

“Want to try a sample?” asked the small, blonde woman behind the makeshift counter.

“We’ll be back in a bit,” I said over my shoulder as the dog pulled me towards an intriguing beagle, and the Captain walked towards a family we knew. I was pretty sure we wouldn’t, actually, be back. The plan was cheese and bread.

As I was buying tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, sweet onions, basil, and cucumbers for a week’s worth of gazpacho and ratatouille, I walked past where the bread should be. “There’s no bread” I alerted the Captain as he joined me near Spoonful of Granola to buy some peanut butter granola for our son, and chat with vendor Sara Beer.

“It’s a holiday weekend,” he reminded me. “I’m not sure there’s any cheese, either.”

“How about paella?” I asked. “It smells fantastic and I could tell just by looking in the pan that their rice is perfect.” Captain Carnivore looked at me as if I were an alien; Sara Beer, who is a really good cook, just nodded.

So we did go back to Fire & Rice, and discovered that there were three serving sizes available, and a choice of chicken and sausage or vegan paella.

“Want to try it now?” asked the woman. I shook my head. If you can get a contact high from Spanish food, I had one.

“I think we just want to eat it,” I answered. We both chose the chicken and sausage, and after it was scooped into containers, the young man behind the counter asked if we “wanted to take it to the next level.” Not wanting to miss whatever was on the next level, we nodded.

First the woman added a few dashes of a green chile sauce, and a generous amount of crumbled bacon to the top of each container. Captain Carnivore picked up a bottle of hotter red sauce from the counter. “I like things really hot,” he said. Obligingly, the young man added a few splashes of the hotter sauce to the larger of our containers.

“Want to add a poached egg?” asked the woman. “It really just adds something.” Again, we nodded. The young man bent down and bobbed up again, with what appeared to be two uncooked eggs in their shells.

“And now, I’m going to show you a cool trick with an egg,” he said. He gently tapped one of the eggs against the counter’s edge, and slid the contents onto one of the fragrant mounds of rice. “I poach them in the shell.”

As we paid for the paella, dressed with bacon and poached egg, I asked the man why they didn’t charge extra for the egg. He shrugged. “It’s not that much, and we really like it to be the best experience for our customers.”

At home, before the veggies were stowed away, or the flowers put in water, we sat on the porch and ate the paella. The rice was tender, separate, not gummy, not clumpy and not hard. Which is my unbiased way of saying “perfect.” And perfect rice is not easy. The chicken was tender, there were smoky bits of sausage, bacon and vegetables, the exotic smell of saffron and the effect of the dish was magnified by the richness of the egg.

“That was really good,” I said.

“It was,” agreed The Captain.

“I could have eaten, like, five times that much,” I confessed.

“Next week,” he said.

Next week it is.


Located in Valley Court Park, the 2016 East Lansing Farmer's Market runs through October 30th. This Sunday, September 11, is the Market’s Spartan Appreciation. The first 100 college students to show their student IDs will receive a free ELFM reusable shopping bag and a $2 coupon to spend at the market.


You might also be interested in these profiles of EL Farmer’s Market Vendors:

·        Droscha Sugarbush syrup

·        Owosso Organics

·        Titus Farms

·        Jenny’s Sweets and Treats

·        Spartan Country Meats

·        Wooden Shoe Herb Farm

·        Applegarth Honey

·        Wildflower Eco Farm