What is Paella?
Paella (pai·ei·uh) is a classic Spanish rice dish made with rice, saffron, vegetables, chicken, and seafood cooked and served in one pan. Although paella originates from Valencia, it’s recognized as the national food of Spain and there are several different varieties. The most common types of paella are chicken paella, seafood paella, or mixed paella (a combination of seafood, meats, and vegetables).
The main ingredients in every paella dish are rice, saffron, chicken, and vegetables. From there, ingredients vary depending on the type of paella or region where it’s made. The ingredients in this easy paella recipe include:
- Produce: onion, bell pepper, garlic, tomatoes, parsley, frozen peas.
- Spices: bay leaf, paprika, saffron, salt and pepper.
- Saffron: this may be the most important ingredient, so it’s best to buy high quality. If your grocery store doesn’t carry it, try an International food market, or Amazon. If necessary, substitute 1 teaspoon saffron powder.
- Seafood: jumbo shrimp, mussels, calamari.
- Chicken thighs: I prefer thighs to breasts in the recipe since they don’t dry out as easily during longer cook times.
- Olive Oil: Spanish olive oil , or any good quality olive oil.
- White wine.
- Spanish Rice: See my notes below about the rice, and possible substitutions.
- Chicken Broth: Authentic paella would include making your own fish stock from the discarded shells of seafood. I usually substitute chicken broth, for convenience.
How to Make Spanish Paella:
- Sauté: Add olive oil to a skillet over medium heat. Add onion, bell peppers and garlic and sauté until onion is translucent. Add chopped tomato, bay leaf, paprika, saffron, salt and pepper. Stir and cook for 5 minutes.
- Add white wine. Cook for 10 minutes.
- Add chicken & rice. Add chopped parsley and cook for 1 minute.
- Add broth. Pour the broth slowly all around the pan and jiggle the pan to get the rice into an even layer. (Do not stir the mixture going forward!). Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low. Give the pan a gentle shake back and forth once or twice during cooking.
- Cook uncovered:Cook paella uncovered for 15-18 minutes, then nestle the shrimp, mussels and calamari into the mixture, sprinkle peas on top and continue to cook (without stirring) for about 5 more minutes. Watch for most of the liquid to be absorbed and the rice at the top nearly tender. (If for some reason your rice is still uncooked, add ¼ cup more water or broth and continue cooking).
- Cover and let rest. Remove pan from heat and cover pan with a lid or tinfoil. Place a kitchen towel over the lid and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
- Serve.Garnish with fresh parsley and lemon slices. Serve.
Rice for Paella:
Spanish rice (also called “bomba” rice, calaspara rice, arroz redonda) is traditional in Paella, and it’s what I recommend using. It’s a short grain rice that absorbs more water than regular rice, without turning mushy. You can buy Spanish rice on Amazon, World Market or an international food market.
- Substitution for Spanish rice: If necessary you can substitute medium grain rice, like Calrose rice which can be found at Walmart or most grocery stores. Reduce the chicken stock in the recipe to a total of 3 ¾ cups. (I don’t recommend using Arborio rice or long-grain rice for Paella).
- Don’t wash the rice before cooking because we want to keep the outer layer of starch.
- Don’t stir the rice while cooking! Traditional paella cooks a crusty, flavorful rice layer at the bottom of the pan called the socarrat. The socarrat is a key component of authentic paella. Also, stirring the rice will make it mushy.
Seafood for Paella (What to know):
If you don’t like seafood, leave it out and substitute more chicken and vegetables. You can use any combination of your favorite seafood including clams, scallops and chopped pieces of fish. Frozen seafood is a great accessible option if you don’t live near the ocean. (Costco sells a great mixed seafood bag in their freezer section with shrimp, mussels, clams, scallops, and calamari.) Be sure to thaw frozen seafood in the fridge overnight before using.
When buying fresh seafood make sure to smell it to make sure it’s fresh. It should not have a strong fishy odor. Most of the seafood used here will smell like nothing, or just like the ocean (slightly salty). Be sure to clean it properly (remove “beards” from mussels, if necessary).
Do I need a paella pan?
No, you can us a regular large skillet to make Paella (I use a 12×2 inch skillet and this recipe fills it to the brim). Traditional paella is cooked in a large paella pan because it allow the rice to be spread out into a thin layer and cook more evenly.
- Use different rice: if needed, you can substitute a medium grain rice, like Calrose rice which can be found at Walmart or most grocery stores. Reduce the chicken stock in the recipe to a total of 3 ¾ cups. (Long grain rice or arborio rice are not good substitutes for paella.)
- Substitute pork: Substitute boneless pork loin, cut into ½ inch cubes. Brown the pork pieces in hot oil as step one in the recipe. Then set it aside as you sauté the vegetables. Add the pork back to the pan in step 3 before boiling.
- Substitute Turkey or rabbit: Brown the meat in hot oil as step one in the recipe. Then set it aside as you sauté the vegetables. Add the meat back to the pan in step 3 of the recipe, before boiling.
- Substitute chorizo: Add 1 chorizo sausage cut into ½ inch discs. Brown the sausage in hot oil as step one in the recipe. Then set it aside as you sauté the vegetables. Add chorizo back to the pan in step 3 of the recipe, before boiling.
- Vegetarian Paella: Omit the meat and seafood and add extra vegetables, like artichoke, green beans, mushroom, olives and asparagus. Add vegetables in step one of the recipe along with the bell peppers.
- Valenciana Paella: this version of paella is often made with rabbit, chicken, artichokes and green beans.