Paella has become the national dish of Spain and a symbol of Spanish cuisine in the eyes of many people outside of Spain. However, though you can find paella throughout Spain, it is truly a regional specialty of Valencia.
Now that paella has worldwide recognition and popularity, there are many variations of this rice dish with seasonings and spices that are not part of authentic Valencian paella. Traditionally, the seasonings in paella are simple – saffron, garlic, salt and pepper – allowing the natural flavors of the meats and seafood to shine. But the beauty of this dish is that you can load it with the ingredients of your choice. My personal favorite is paella mixta, made with all sorts of seafood, sausage and chicken.
We had some friends over for a Spanish-themed meal this past weekend. We provided the paella mixta and our friends brought the tapas. Paella makes a great dinner party or family meal because you can place the large pan of paella at the center of the table and let everyone dig in.
There is quite a bit of prep work for paella, such as chopping the veggies and pre-cooking the meats. Fortunately, a lot of the work can be done in advance so that it is quicker to assemble and cook the meal at the last minute. You just need to allow ample time for the rice to cook, especially if you are making a large batch of paella.
You do not need a paella pan to make paella; any large pan will do. You want a shallow pan with a lot of surface area on which to spread out the rice so that the liquid boils away, allowing the socarrat (the rice that sticks to the bottom of the pan and forms a crunchy, browned layer) to form.
The saffron found in traditional paella gives the rice its characteristic yellow color. Due to the high price of saffron, some paellas are colored with other spices (such as turmeric and paprika) and even food coloring is used in some cases.
Authentic paella is made with bomba rice, a medium-grain rice grown in Spain. But you can make it with any medium or short-grain rice. Arborio rice (the Italian rice used in risotto) can even be used for a creamier version of the dish. You can find saffron rice that is already seasoned and colored (Mahatma, for one) but we discovered that it has MSG so we opted to start from scratch and season our own rice.
The following recipe is an adaptation of a recipe that I got from a paella cooking class I took during one of my stays in Spain. I also referenced the great culinary coffee table book: Culinaria Spain.
- 2 cups medium-grain rice
- 2-3 threads of saffron, to color
- ¼ tsp paprika, to taste
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 cup white wine
- 2½ cups chicken broth
- 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 medium-sized onion, chopped
- Salt, to taste
- Black pepper, to taste
- ½ cup green peas
- ½ cup red pepper, chopped
- 1 tomato, chopped
- 2 chicken breasts or chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
- The juice of 1 lemon
- Garlic powder
- 6 mussels
- 8 shrimp, rinsed and de-veined
- 2 links of chorizo or other sausage, cut in chunks
- Chunks of scallop or cod
- Olive oil
- Cut the raw chicken into bite-sized cubes.
- Marinate the chicken pieces with the juice of ½ of a lemon, ¼ tsp salt, ¼ tsp black pepper and ¼ tsp garlic powder for at least 1 hour.
- Rinse the mussels and remove the beards. (If you gently tug on the strands coming out of the side of the mussel shell, pulling out and up, the beards will come right out.) Place the mussels in a large bowl.
- Cover them with cold water and stir in ¼ cup flour.
- Let the mussels soak for 15-20 minutes.
- The flour mixture will help remove the dirt and sand from the mussels.
- Rinse and scrub off the flour and any remaining dirt.
- Lightly coat a pan with olive oil.
- Cook the sausage until it is browned on all sides and cooked through.
- Set the meat aside.
- Once it has cooled enough to handle, slice the sausage into thick chunks.
- In the same pan, cook the chicken until it is lightly browned and cooked all the way through.
- Set the cooked chicken chunks aside.
- Place the shrimp, scallops and cod on a broiling pan that has been brushed with olive oil.
- Sprinkle with a dash of black pepper, salt and garlic powder.
- Broil for 2-3 minutes on each side, until the seafood is cooked. T
- he shrimp will cook faster than the scallops and fish so you will need to flip them and ultimately remove them from the oven sooner than the other seafood.
- Squirt the cooked seafood with lemon juice and set aside.
- Dissolve the saffron threads in 1 cup warm water.
- In a paella pan or other large shallow pan, sauté the chopped garlic, onion and peppers in 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat until translucent.
- Add the rice and stir the mixture until the rice is fully coated with oil.
- Add the wine and stir the rice until the wine is almost completely absorbed.
- Then add the saffron-colored water and the stock.
- Let the rice simmer, allowing it to absorb the liquid.
- When the rice is almost fully cooked but there is still some liquid on the surface, add the mussels, burying them in the rice so that they will fully cook.
- Stir in the green peas, chopped tomatoes and all of the previously-cooked meats.
- Let the paella finish cooking until the rice is done and the socarrat has formed on the bottom of the pan.
- The rice should be al dente - tenderly crunchy - and not mushy.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Garnish with lemon slices if desired.
Click here to view a guide for selecting seafood.