I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday. Seems I’ve been doing a lot of holiday cooking but not much blogging so in an effort to change that, I’m getting to a post that’s been a long time in the making – how to make paella!
Now, before I just swoop down with a recipe for you, I want to talk about the things that I generally don’t see compiled in a list or talked about that much. The secrets, the little tips, the literal turn of a spoon (or not!) that makes a paella the revered dish it is.
So, here they are. Unfiltered, real, and subject to a lot of controversy the way paella usually is. There’s tons of argument online and off about what it takes to make an “authentic” Spanish paella but I find that if you stick to these tips, you are pretty much on your way. All this to say that authentic in my kitchen may be inauthentic in your kitchen. So take it with a grain of salt…or rice.
Top Ten Tips for Making Paella:
10. Squeeze lemon on top of your paella right before serving.
In the US, you usually only get lemon on the side if you’ve ordered a seafood paella but in parts of Spain we consider lemon on top of any paella a really wonderful way to bring out all the flavors in the rice. Try it!
9. Cook paella in a wide, deep pan – not a big pot!
If you don’t have a paella pan, just use a wide 11 to 12 inch pan. These wide pans are more similar to paella pans and will get your paella rice much more like…well…paella rice.
8. Don’t be afraid of moist rice on top and crispy rice on the bottom of the pan.
Most paellas tend to be a bit on the moist side – and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Also, when you’re done cooking the paella, you’ll find a layer of golden-brown, caramelized (not burnt) rice that in Catalonia, Spain, we call “el soccorat”. This is the most prized part of the rice and it is scraped off the bottom with a spatula or spoon to ensure it’s included when serving. Some cooks and chefs even turn up the heat a minute or two before the paella is done to ensure the soccorat is made!
7. Cover the final paella with a layer of paper towels.
This is an old home cook trick for stove top paella-making. Abuelitas Spain-wide use this trick to finish off their rice. When the rice is almost done (but there’s still a little moisture left), you take the paella off the heat and cover it with paper towels for about 2 to 3 minutes. This lets the rice finish cooking, rest and absorb the water.
6. Don’t cover the paella with a lid when it’s cooking. Yeah, just don’t.
5. Use the right rice.
Bomba or calasparra rice is best but hard to find in the US unless you special order. Using arborio rice will do you just fine and you can find it at most grocery stores.
4. Don’t overcrowd the rice.
Paella isn’t meant to hold a million different vegetables, meats or seafood. A few ingredients, used sparingly is best and will let your rice (the real star) shine through.
3. Add the rice before adding the water or stock.
Some call it toasting the rice. You add the uncooked rice to the pan, cooking it at first with just the sofrito. This allows the rice’s nuttiness to come out, toasting the rice a bit before any other liquid gets added.
2. Use pimenton and real saffron.
Pimenton is a Spanish type of smoked paprika that is really what gives paella it’s unique taste along with the saffron. Pimenton and saffron are essential to paella’s taste. I find it in my grocery store but La Tienda’s online store also sells it through its site or through its Amazon store. Equally important is saffron. Make sure to get the real stuff, not the packaged “paella powder mix” you’ll sometimes find in grocery stores. That contains a lot of colored powder and turmeric that will give paella a fake yellow-orange glow. It’s big on color, low on taste. Get the saffron and your paella will only require a pinch, so it will last you quite a while. Worth the investment.
1. Don’t stir the rice!
When you first add the rice, it’s ok to stir it into place around the pan but after that you must leave it alone to cook. If not, you will get mushy, sad paella rice.