Learn To Cook Paella At Home
Paella started as a humble countryside meal, cooked by farmers and herders in the fields and mountains surrounding Valencia and Alicante. Now it is world-famous, a symbol of Spanish cuisine so recognizable that it has even become its own emoji. Making paella is an art but it’s not impossible for a home cook – it just takes some care and patience.
What You'll Need
The Pan: The proper cookware for making paella and other arroces is a round flat pan called – you guessed it – a paella. The best paella pans are steel; stainless for minimal care, carbon steel for something more traditional – which ensures that heat is evenly distributed. Pans can range in size from 10 inches, which will serve two people, to more than a meter, for serving the masses. Check out paella pans here.
The Rice: One of the keys to great paella is using the proper rice – not just anything will do. Two Spanish varieties – bomba and calasparra – are favored for their unique ability to expand to 2-3 times their size, absorbing flavorful liquid as they grow, without getting soft or mushy. Buy our favorite Calasparra rice here.
The Ingredients: Get creative – start with meat if you want, layer in evenly-cut vegetables, and you can even add a healthy amount of sofrito for extra depth. Garlic, saffron, rosemary, pimentón, bay leaves – all will help add flavor to the rice, if used in balance.
The Liquid: Water is oftentimes the best for making a good paella, if you've built up enough flavor with your ingredients. If you happen to have a good homemade vegetable or meat stock on hand, use it – you’ll get a deeper flavor in the rice, but be sure to balance out adding salt. This is our favorite broth for making paella.
The Heat: Traditionally, paella is cooked over a wood fire outdoors – oftentimes starting with logs of wood and ending with a burst of high heat from dried vine clippings. This gives the paella a wonderful wood smoky aroma which complements the addition of pimentón, and the final kick of high heat helps ensure a crispy socarrat. In the absence of an outdoor cooking space, gas or electric heat will do – just make sure it’s even under the pan.
The Timing: Once the rice is in the pan, it’s time to set a clock and wait. This is both the easiest and most challenging moment of the process: patience is key. Every rice is different, based on its variety and its age, and oftentimes the best way to tell how long it should be cooked is to read the instructions on the bag.
Get that soccarat. Near the end of cooking, with just a few minutes remaining, crank the heat up – that’s how you’ll get the delicious crunchy soccarat at the bottom of the rice.
Get Creative In The Kitchen
There is a time and a place for the traditional Valencian paella, made with rabbit, chicken, two kinds of beans, rosemary, and saffron. And then there’s a time and place for everything else – there are unlimited ways to construct an arroz, none of which are wrong. Get creative – start with meat if you want, layer in evenly-cut vegetables, and you can even add a healthy amount of sofrito for extra depth. Garlic, saffron, rosemary, pimettón, bay leaves – all will help add flavor to the rice, if used in balance. Here are two of our favorite recipes.
For the Salmorra:
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, preferably José Andrés Extra Virgin Olive Oil
12 cloves garlic, peeled
3 ñora chile peppers (or any other dried sweet chile pepper), seeded
One 16-ounces can plum tomatoes, drained
1 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
Heat the oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté until soft, about 2 minutes.
Add the chile peppers and toast, stirring, for about 3 minutes, then add the tomatoes and sugar.
Cook until the liquid evaporates and the mixture is a dark red-brown color, about 15 minutes. Stir in the paprika.
Transfer the mixture to a blender and purée. Pour into a bowl, and season with salt, to taste.
Notes: Salmorra may be kept in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap, for up to 10 days. Drizzle the top with olive oil to keep sauce from drying out.
For the rice:
Extra virgin olive oil, preferably José Andrés Extra Virgin Olive Oil
8 large whole shrimp, peeled with heads and tails intact, deveined
4 ounces monkfish, cut into ½-inch cubes
2 ½ ounces fresh tuna, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 ounces fresh squid, cleaned and cut into ¼-inch rings
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
¼ cup Salmorra
1 cup Spanish bomba rice
Pinch of saffron
3 cups hot, high-quality seafood stock
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a 13-inch paella pan over high heat.
Add the shrimp and sear for about 1 minute on each side. Transfer shrimp to a plate. Pour 2 more tablespoons of the olive oil into the paella pan, add the monkfish, tuna and squid and sauté for 2 minutes.
Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the salmorra and rice and cook for 1 minute more, stirring to coat the rice with the sauce. Set a timer for 5 minutes, increase the heat to high and add the hot stock.
Bring to a boil, add the saffron and season with salt. Stir the rice during the first 5 minutes while boiling, then lower the heat and simmer for an additional 11 minutes. Do not stir the rice again as it may cause it to cook unevenly. After about 8 minutes, lay the reserved shrimp on top of the paella to finish cooking for last few minutes. The paella is finished when the rice has absorbed all of the liquid.
Remove the paella from the heat, cover with a clean kitchen towel and let the paella rest for 5 minutes before serving. Serve with spoonful’s of aioli (garlic mayonnaise) and a green salad, if you like.
¼ cup Spanish extra virgin olive oil
2 yellow squash, cut in ½” cubes
1 medium eggplant, cut in ½” cubes
1 cauliflower, broken into florets
¼ pound wild mushrooms, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tomatoes, diced
¼ cup Sofrito
1 cup dry white wine
Pinch of saffron, crushed
3 cups vegetable broth, like Aneto
1 cup Spanish bomba or calasparra rice
¼ cup fresh or frozen green peas
Sea salt, to taste
Allioli, for serving
In a 13-inch paella pan, heat the extra virgin olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the squash to the pan and brown it on all sides. Add the squash and cauliflower and cook for another 2-3 minutes, then add the mushrooms and garlic and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Stir in the diced tomatoes and the sofrito and cook for a minute, then add the white wine and reduce everything by half.
Add the crushed saffron to the pan and then the broth. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil, then let it boil for 2-3 minutes. Add the rice and peas and stir until everything is combined, then add salt to taste. Check the box or bag the rice came in – you’ll want to cook the rice as long as is recommended (timing can vary by rice type – always keep the bag!) You want the rice to be slightly al dente, with a nice firm center. Set a timer, and then don’t stir as the rice is cooking. When you have 2 minutes left, increase the heat to high to get the crunchy soccarat at the bottom of the pan. When the rice is done, remove the pan from the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes before serving.
Serve with allioli and share the soccarat with everyone – no matter how much you want to save it exclusively for the chef (yourself).