Paella was originally considered a peasant’s dish, cooked by farmers or laborers over a wood fire fueled by orange and pine branches. In addition to rice, any other leftovers remaining such as tomatoes, onions, snails, beans, chicken or rabbit were added to the dish.
I learned how to make Paella from a Spanish business associate. In December 1998, California had a freeze which damaged the entire citrus crop. I was working for an export company and citrus was one of the primary crops we sold to our retail customers in Hong Kong. Since the California crop was frozen, we had to look for an alternative citrus source to supply them for the upcoming Chinese New Year holiday. We quickly learned that Spain produces citrus and within a few weeks we were exporting Spanish navels to Hong Kong. At the end of the season, our citrus supplier visited us in the U.S. and brought me a paella pan.
Paella has become one of my favorite dishes to make when I entertain friends and family. It is an engaging meal from start to finish. I usually cook this on my grill allowing our guests to watch the entire process. The smell of the garlic, chicken, Spanish chorizo and saffron will make anyone’s mouth water and before long, everyone is congregating near the grill.
I belong to group of food enthusiasts in Dallas called Diverse Food Cooking and Exploration. We will often get together to try new cuisines at various restaurants or have member hosted cooking classes. I volunteered to host a Paella cooking class at my home. This was the first time any of them had eaten paella.
I set the table with a citrus theme since paella originated in Valencia Spain. Valencia is a citrus producing area so it seemed apropos for a Spanish theme dinner. If you like to decorate your table for special occasions or for a sophisticated dinner party, I highly recommend you check out Hester and Cook. They have unique tabletop décor perfect for entertaining.
The weather that day was exceptionally warm and since paella is cooked outside, we set up a canopy over the grill to keep our guests out of the direct sunlight. Everyone arrived at the house and we promptly started the paella cooking demonstration. Paella takes about one hour to cook from start to finish. During this time, we enjoyed the fragrant smell of the paella cooking on the grill while we drinking some fruity sangrias.
Suddenly, we started to notice cloud cover quickly moving over us which was a welcome relief from the heat. As the Texas saying goes “If you don’t like the weather, wait just a minute”. Soon after, the rain started. This was a typical Texas rainstorm which means heavy rain, thunder and lightning. My guests quickly retreated inside the house. Unfortunately for me, the paella was well underway on the grill and I needed to stay outside to monitor it. So, my friend Virginia and I braved the weather under the canopy and finished the paella for the group.
Paella is typically eaten with the pan placed in the center of the table so the guests can eat directly from the pan. Since we were all crammed around my table, we dished the Paella up on our plates. I usually serve paella with a green salad and bread on the side. For dessert, I made the traditional Spanish flan. Despite the unpredictable weather, the cooking class was a huge success, and everyone loved the food.
There are many variations of Paella recipes, but my favorite is Paella Valencian found on the Spanish Table website. . I do not use rabbit, instead I substitute boneless chicken thighs and/or legs. The flan was a little trickier to prepare but if you are an adventurous cook, here is the recipe. It was delicious!
Here are some tips I have for making Paella:
- Don’t be intimidated by the directions. This is an easy dish to make especially if you know how to make a rice pilaf.
- Read through the recipe directions first.
- YES, a paella pan IS necessary. This specially designed pan cooks the rice evenly. You can buy one at the Spanish Table or on Amazon.
- YES, you need to buy Spanish rice. I usually buy Bomba rice and it can be bought online at Amazon or at the Spanish Table. Sometimes World Market carries it as well.
- Saffron and Smoked Paprika are a must! I buy both online at Amazon.
- Prepare and measure out your ingredients so everything is ready once you start to cook this.
- Depending on the size of your pan, it will take about 45 minutes to 1 hour over medium heat on the grill. DON’T RUSH IT. This is a good time to enjoy a couple of sangrias while you are cooking it.
- I add the seafood during the last 15 minutes of cooking. This is usually when almost all the liquid is absorbed by the rice.
- Here is the final secret to success …….as soon as all the liquid is absorbed turn off the heat. Securely cover the pan with aluminum foil – watch out the pan is very hot so be sure to use an oven mitt! Let it rest for 20 minutes. If you try to eat the paella before doing this the rice will be hard as it is not finished. Learn from my mistake here.
** I do not get paid from any retailers I mention in an article or on my blog. I share them because they are my personal favorites. **
- Paella Pan
- ½ cup uncooked Valencian Rice per person or 1/3 cup if using Bomba
- 1 cup chicken stock per person
- 5 threads saffron per person dissolved in a little white wine
- 4 tablespoons or more, olive oil, to cover bottom of pan
- 1 piece of chicken such as a thigh, per person
- ½ to 1 soft chorizo such as Bilbao or Palacios, per person
- ½ teaspoon Spanish sweet pimenton paprika per person
- 1 clove garlic per person minced
- ¼ cup chopped onion per person
- ⅛ cup grated tomato cut in half, grate and discard the skin per person
- 2 shrimp or prawns per person
- 2-4 small clams and/or mussels per person
- red piquillo peppers cut in strips
- artichoke hearts green beans or peas
- cooked white Spanish beans such as alubias de la granja or judion
- lemon wedges for garnish
- salt to taste
- Heat stock in a separate stock pot. Crush saffron and add it to stock or a little bit of white wine.
- Heat paella pan over medium heat, add olive oil and fry chicken until it begins to brown.
- Next add garlic and onions and saute until translucent. Add chorizo and cook until heated.
- Add the rice, stirring until well coated with oil. Add the paprika and grated tomato. Stir while cooking for a few minutes. Add saffron flavored wine and hot stock. Bring to a boil while scraping the bottom of pan. Now the rice should be level and you will not need to stir from this point on.
- Adjust heat to maintain a nice simmer.
- When the rice has absorbed a good amount of liquid but still has a soupy appearance add the mussels or clams.
- Once the rice is cooked add the shrimp or prawns tucking them down into the rice, then the piquillo peppers, artichoke hearts, green beans, beans and peas.
- During this time the rice should be caramelizing on the bottom of the pan or creating what is called the socarrat. It will make a faint crackling sound and smell toasty sweet but not burnt.
- Set aside to rest for 20-25 minutes.
- Sprinkle with chopped parsley, garnish with lemon wedges and serve.