The Best Paella Ever

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No dish is more closely aligned with Spain’s image to the outside world than paella (pronounced: pa-AY-ya). The Portuguese try to claim it, but since I’ve never EVER experienced good Portuguese food. The two weeks I spent there back in the 90s; part of the time with a family and part of the time fending for myself in restaurants. I dry heaved after every meal. The food was beyond disgusting. I haven’t had good Portuguese in the US either, so I can’t possibly believe they came up with this. I keep hearing that they have great food, but I’m tired of the continued disappointment. Let’s move on.

A plate of The best paella ever
Exclusive recipe

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It is sad that even in Spain it is incredibly difficult to find a good paella these days. On my last trip to Madrid 12 years ago, even my favorite paella restaurant, La Barraca, was terrible.

Luckily, Señora (the lady I lived with during college) allowed me in the kitchen with her. I was the only student in the house that year she would allow to cook with her, so I learned a lot by her side.

Señora was from Cuenca, a small town about 2 hours inland from Valencia — the birthplace of paella. She made a fabulous paella, even if the seafood came from the frozen section of the supermarket. For those who don’t know, Madrid is in the center of the country, so getting fresh seafood that far from the coast was costly.

It may look complicated, but it is a myth that paella takes all day to prepare. In fact, I can prepare an entire Spanish meal in about 2 hours including paella, tortilla española (a kind of potato frittata or omelette), pisto (a Spanish version of ratatouille) and sherried mushrooms with garlic. I make it for parties and am told by those who know what it should taste like that it’s the best they’ve had in years, if not the best ever.

The trick to making great paella is to approach it like a stew. I don’t mean soupy, but building flavor within the same pot, discarding nothing. This is not a dish one assembles at the last minute from precooked or canned ingredients. Think of its relatives — jambalaya in Louisiana, which is quite literally paella with more locally available ingredients and often soupier; as well as more distant cousins such as the French cassoulet, using white beans instead of rice; Moroccan tagine, where chickpeas replace rice; and it could even be regarded as a hybrid of Italian cioppino made as risotto. Is this making sense now?

Another thing to bear in mind is that paella is in some ways more about the treasures than the rice. In other words, the dish is abundant in meat and seafood. It is not like a pilaf, which is more akin to rice dotted with protein.

The recipe below is my basic recipe. They say “true” Valencian paella has not only seafood, but rabbit is among the meats used. Any other paella is just paella. It can be made with anything you want. Some people even make it without any meat at all. So use what you have on hand and come up with your own recipe.

The only thing you will want to ensure is the use of paella rice, which is a short-grain, non-sticky variety. The Hamonería in Florida sells both Calasparra and Bomba rice. In a pinch, you may be able to get away with Italian risotto rice such as carnaroli or arborio, but I personally haven’t tried it.

Paella as part of a celebration

If memory serves correctly, when I first returned from Spain in the 90s, paella rice was either hard to find or out of my price range. In that case, I was able to successfully replace it with Nishiki or Calrose medium-grain rice. In those days, I probably used the Nishiki brown rice, which isn’t sticky. It was soaked overnight with a splash of cider vinegar, then drained and sautéed in the fats collected in the pot from cooking the chicken and sausage. Soaking added tenderness to the fibrous exterior. Coating the grains in fat helped keep them separate. I no longer use brown rice at all after realizing how much fiber works against my digestion.

I normally make paella in a large cast iron frying pan or in my paellera. Señora’s was closer to 18″ in diameter. Recently, however, I purchased a relatively deep stone pot and decided to try that instead. A large, wide-mouth stainless pot (not a stock pot) should work perfectly fine too.

Got it? Good.

So let’s get started. This is the way.

Ingredients For Making The Best Paella Ever:

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pastured chicken cut into parts with bones, lightly salted
  • 1 lb. no-nitrate chorizo sausage, sliced about 1/2′ thick
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely diced
  • 1 small tomato, finely diced
  • 2 T sherry, optional
  • large pinch saffron, rubbed between fingers
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • small bundle of parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 lb paella rice (about 2.5 cups)
  • up to 6 cups filtered water
  • 1 or 2 roasted, peeled and sliced sweet red peppers
  • 1/2 lb white fish such as fresh cod
  • 1/2 lb shrimp — with or without shells/heads — you do you, but shells and heads build more flavor
  • cleaned seafood such as clams, mussels, lobster tails etc. based upon how much you can fit in the pot comfortably
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • sea salt to taste
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs, shells removed and halved
  • wedges of lemon

Instructions For Making The Best Paella Ever

Heat the paellera or pot over medium heat. Coat bottom with olive oil. Sear chicken on both sides. Add chorizo, tossing to sear in flavor. Lower heat and add onion, garlic and tomato.

Remove chicken breast so it does not overcook. At this point, you may consider adding sherry to the pot, using the side of your spoon to scrape up stuck bits of chicken and chorizo.

best paella preparation
Chicken, chorizo, onions, garlic and tomatoes sautéed before adding water, saffron, seafood and rice

Add saffron, thyme, paprika and enough water to make roughly 6.5 cups total liquid, noting that the chicken and sausage as well as the fish, seafood and frozen peas you will eventually add will contribute some liquid too. The rule of thumb is to have a ratio of 1 part rice to 3 parts liquid, but I rather err on the side of caution as you can’t remove liquid from mushy rice. If necessary, I’d rather splash a little boiling water on near the end.

Turn up the heat to boil the liquid. Add the rice and half the parsley, giving a good stir to coat it evenly.

When the rice comes back to boiling, lower the heat and start adding your roasted peppers, peas, seafood, fish and previously removed chicken breast starting with whichever takes longest to cook. You really want to nestle them into the rice to cook evenly and build even more flavor into the rice.

The best paella recipe ever
Weeknight paella

I’m rather strategic so that nothing gets overcooked and dry, but the sequence depends on which ones I’m using and whether I have fresh or frozen. I also aim to keep the peas looking bright green in the finished dish, so they are usually last.

The best paella

Paella purists will tell you that you NEVER cover your rice. Instead, they rely on the layer of fat from the olive oil and meats to form a skin on top of the rice, which serves as a natural lid. Señora did not do this. She gently placed an unfolded clean paper napkin or two or three over the top of the rice. On top of this, she put an opened newspaper to absorb excess moisture. Sometimes I do this. Sometimes I do actually use the lid that came with the paellera. I grew up making rice the Chinese way with a lid. What can I say? Old habits die hard.

best paella ever recipe

The Best Paella Ever!

Adriennne Hew
Make the best paella ever with this quick and easy recipe!
Course Main Course
Cuisine Spanish

Equipment

  • Paella pan – optionally, you can use a large cast iron frying pan/deep stone pot or a large, wide-mouth stainless pot (not a stock pot)

Ingredients
  

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pastured chicken cut into parts with bones, lightly salted
  • 1 lb no-nitrate chorizo sausage, sliced about 1/2' thick
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely diced
  • 1 small tomato, finely diced
  • 2 tbsp sherry (optional)
  • 1 large pinch saffron, rubbed between fingers
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 small bundle of parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 lb paella rice (about 2.5 cups)
  • up to 6 cups filtered water
  • 1 or 2 roasted, peeled and sliced sweet red peppers
  • ½ lb white fish such as fresh cod
  • ½ lb shrimp — with or without shells/heads – you do you, but shells and heads build more flavor
  • cleaned seafood such as clams, mussels, lobster tails etc. – based upon how much you can fit in the pot comfortably
  • ½ cup frozen peas
  • sea salt to taste
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs, shells removed and halved
  • wedges of lemon

Instructions
 

  • Heat the paellera or pot over medium heat.
  • Coat bottom with olive oil.
  • Sear chicken on both sides.
  • Add chorizo, tossing to sear in flavor.
  • Lower heat and add onion, garlic and tomato.
  • Remove chicken breast so it does not overcook. At this point, you may consider adding sherry to the pot, using the side of your spoon to scrape up stuck bits of chicken and chorizo.
  • Add saffron, thyme, paprika and enough water to make roughly 6.5 cups total liquid, noting that the chicken and sausage, as well as the fish, seafood and frozen peas you will eventually add, will contribute some liquid too. The rule of thumb is to have a ratio of 1 part rice to 3 parts liquid, but I rather err on the side of caution as you can't remove liquid from mushy rice. If necessary, I'd rather splash a little boiling water on near the end.
    best paella preparation
  • Turn up the heat to boil the liquid.
  • Add the rice and half the parsley, giving a good stir to coat it evenly.
  • When the rice comes back to boiling, lower the heat and start adding your roasted peppers, peas, seafood, fish and previously removed chicken breast starting with whichever takes longest to cook. You really want to nestle them into the rice to cook evenly and build even more flavor into the rice.

Notes

I’m rather strategic so that nothing gets overcooked and dry, but the sequence depends on which ones I’m using and whether I have fresh or frozen. I also aim to keep the peas looking bright green in the finished dish, so they are usually last.
Paella purists will tell you that you NEVER cover your rice. Instead, they rely on the layer of fat from the olive oil and meats to form a skin on top of the rice, which serves as a natural lid. Señora did not do this. She gently placed an unfolded clean paper napkin or two or three over the top of the rice. On top of this, she put an opened newspaper to absorb excess moisture. Sometimes I do this. Sometimes I do actually use the lid that came with the paellera. I grew up making rice the Chinese way with a lid. What can I say? Old habits die hard.
Keyword paella, rice, seafood, spanish

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