Let’s talk paella
The dish paella gets its name from the pan in which it’s cooked. The dish originated in Valencia, an area in Spain is adjacent to the wetland areas where the short-grained rice, essential to the dish, is found. For traditionalists, the term paella is reserved for Paella Valenciana, made with chicken, rabbit, green beans, butter beans and sometimes snail, duck or artichokes. Recipes that follow the classic cooking method, but use different ingredients, are respectfully referred to as “arroz” or simply, “rice”. So really, Paella 101 should really be called Arroz 101 – either way, we’re here to teach the basics after cooking thousands of these dishes each year! Follow along to learn how to make paella from scratch, or maybe with a few shortcuts! A perfect paella will be your best party trick yet!
First, here’s a list of materials needed to get cooking:
- A paella pan or well-seasoned cast iron skillet. If purchasing a paella pan, we recommend something with a nice, heavy base and carbon steel construction. A cast iron pan can be used as a substitute – the most important thing is that the bottom of the pan is flat, so the stock can spread evenly across the bottom. If the pan is new, season it first. Fill pan 3/4 full with water and bring it to a boil. Pour out the water, dry the pan, and rub a bit of oil around the inside.
- A cooking element with controllable heat. Feel free to use the range, a grill, open fire, or whatever makes sense to the situation at hand.
- A long-handled spoon to stir. One with a flat side is even better.
- A sheet pan or foil large enough to cover the pan
- Spanish short-medium grain rice such as Bomba or Calasparra | We love Calasparra for paella, and can always source great quality rice in this variety. While Bomba is more traditional, we consistently have great results with Calasparra.
- Paella Stock | Flavorful stock = flavorful arroz. It’s an easy equation! Here, shoot for something more flavorful than a basic chicken or vegetable stock. Paella stock should be heavily seasoned and more bold in flavor.
- Sofrito | The building block of Spanish cuisine, sofrito is a flavor base that is created by cooking down vegetables like garlic and tomatoes until they are heavily caramelized. Sofrito can also be made by cooking down other ingredients like chopped squid or bell peppers, or mushrooms. We included a recipe for a simple version here. Traditionally, sofrito is made during the process of cooking paella-style arroz, or added to the pan before the stock and rice.
Ready to cook? Take a peek at an overview of the process first.
We’re moving on to flavor + ingredients. That means, stock + sofrito + toppings.
What tastes good together? Basically, seafood stocks go great with seafood-themed arroz dishes, and either vegetable, chicken or pork stocks pair best with everything else. Let’s take a look at a few awesome flavor combinations:
- Prawns, shrimp, or octopus with scallions, cherry tomatoes and green beans
- Butifarra sausage with onion wedges and asparagus
- Chicken and chorizo with white beans and artichokes
Bringing it all together.
STEP 1: Sear vegetables and proteins
Heat paella pan over high heat (turn on the kitchen exhaust fan). Add a few turns of high heat cooking oil. When oil is hot, sear the vegetables and season them with salt. After they are seared and seasoned, remove them from the pan and set them aside. Repeat this process with any proteins, being sure not to crowd the pan. Complete the searing process in batches, if needed.
STEP 2: Make sofrito
After the searing step, the sofrito process begins. The theme here is: don’t rush it. The caramelization of these veggies is going to really impact the flavor of the paella. To watch Chef Katie Button make sofrito, check out the video.
1/4 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped (about 2 teaspoons)
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 small plum tomatoes, grated (about 1/2 cup)
Kosher salt, to taste
Add a little more oil to the pan, to begin the sofrito. Begin by adding the garlic and onion into the pan over medium heat. Cook them slowly, stirring occasionally, until caramelized. Adjust the heat as needed to avoid burning. The caramelization process should take around 15-20 minutes.
Add the grated tomatoes and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until all the liquid evaporates and the color turns deep red, about 20 minutes.
STEP 3: Toast the rice with the sofrito
When the sofrito is caramelized and the oil is beginning to separate from the vegetables, add the rice. Stir frequently to coat the rice in the sofrito, toasting the rice along the way, about 2 minutes.
STEP 4: Add the stock
Buy a stock designed for paella, make the seafood stock recipe ahead, or use another recipe – as long as it’s super flavorful and well-seasoned, the arroz will taste great! Here’s the ratio that we’ve found works best for our Paella Starter Kit:
15’’ or 38 cm pan
1 1/2 cups rice to 1 quart of stock
serves 3-5 people
Add paella stock carefully. stir gently and bring to a simmer. Add salt to taste, the liquid should be fairly salty to season the rice adequately, but not overwhelmingly salty.
Bring the stock and rice up to a rapid simmer. Give the rice a stir, making sure to spread it evenly across the flat bottom of the pan. When the rice is in an even layer, do not continue to stir. Bring stock down to a consistent, medium simmer.
STEP 5: Add the veggies and proteins back in according to cooking time
At this point, place any vegetables or proteins that might have a longer cooking time on top of the rice. This would include things like carrots, turnips, green beans, chicken legs or thighs or butifarra sausage.
Adjust the heat to maintain a medium simmer. Rotate the pan 90 degrees, add any quick cooking vegetables or proteins such as cherry tomatoes, asparagus or prawns. Turn heat down to low, finish cooking – this entire process should take about 18 minutes.
Pull the entire pan from the heat, cover with foil or a large baking sheet and let sit for 5 minutes.
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