Paella! This famous saffron rice dish is a traditional Spanish recipe, stuffed with seafood and your choice. You don’t need a paella pan to cook paella. Any pan or large pan will do. Incredibly easy to make.
The best food for celebration parties!
If you’ve always wanted to try paella but were too scared to try it, fear not. When you do it right, and I like to keep my recipes as risk-free as possible – you get all the seafood cooked to perfection, in a saffron-infused, flavorful sauce.
No overcooked seafood or soggy rice.
The beauty of paella is that it is very flexible. Don’t worry too much about getting the exact seafood I’m using, says the author who says you should use homemade fish stock or buy very expensive seafood stock.
I learned paella the way Miguel Maestro* and Rick Stein did. As he writes in his cookbook Mediterranean Escape, whether it’s a quick meal on a weekday or a large celebratory gathering, paella should be relaxed and fun, not a stressful set of rigid rules. .
We say this is an easy recipe, but spend a little more time than usual explaining the steps and processing the photos (short recipe videos are very helpful for beginners). To make sure you pull it off! (And you will, I promise – if you follow my steps!)
Best rice to use for paella
The best rice to use for paella is Spanish rice labelled as:
- Bomba Rice – or arroz bomba (“arroz” means rice in Spanish);
- Valencia rice or Arroz de Valencia (pictured below) – the other common name for Bomba Rice; or
- Calasparra Rice -or Arroz Calasparra.
Paella rice packets tend to be very helpful providing clues such as pictures of Paella or “perfect for paella!” splashed across it.
Paella Rice Locations – Here in Australia, Paella Rice is sold at most Woolworths and Harris Farms, some Coles, Delis, Spanish or Mediterranean delis (some Italian), or gourmet shops . For the best white rice sables, see below. Paella rice absorbs more water than other types of rice, making it ideal for dishes such as paella where you want the rice to soak up the flavor without becoming plump or mushy.
The best substitute for paella rice is risotto rice (arborio rice). Ability to absorb plenty of liquids, except that the risotto becomes creamy when stirred. Second best is medium grain rice – the same rice I use for rice pudding. And in anticipation of someone asking – NO to quinoa!!! (a million Spaniards nearly fainted at the thought).
What goes into Paella
I divide the stuff that goes into Paella into 2 groups:
- The Base Ingredients – rice, aromatics (garlic, onion, saffron), stock;
- The Add Ins – chicken, seafood, chorizo
1. The Base Ingredients
- Paella rice – as discussed above. Buy anything labelled as Bomba, Valencia, de Valencia or Calasparra – or simply “paella rice”!
- Saffron – a signature part of paella is the warm yellow tinge of the rice and delicate saffron flavour. Saffron is expensive, even more expensive than gold by weight! So if your budget won’t stretch to real saffron threads, use a pinch of saffron powder (it’s artificial but will provide the same colour hit and some flavour – but don’t worry, we have tons of other flavour in this paella!);
- Stock/broth – just store bought chicken stock is fine here, we are going to get tons of seafood stock from the seafood we use. If you’re in Australia and insist on using fish or seafood stock, get the good stuff from gourmet or fish shops, do not buy supermarket cartons (they are quite nasty). US reads: I can highly recommend clam juice as an option if you want extra seafood flavour;
- Garlic and onion – essential flavour base;
- Tomato – fresh tomato is the traditional method but if you can’t get good juicy fresh tomato (as I couldn’t when I filmed the video), use canned instead;
- Capsicum/bell peppers – also adds to the flavour base, I really recommend using it; and
- Peas – optional, I like that it adds a splash of colour in an otherwise very red/yellow dish!
2. The Add Ins
And here are the proteins I put in my paella – chicken, chorizo*, calamari, prawns/prawns, mussels.
* 45 million Spaniards threw up their hands in protest against the inclusion of chorizo, declaring it untraditional! Outside of Spain, however, it is considered an important ingredient. It adds a lot of flavor to the dish. If I left it out, 25 million Australians would throw up their hands in protest! So it’s in.
How to make paella
Here’s how to make paella in 4 simple steps:
- sear chorizo and squid first, then remove;
- sauté onion and garlic, brown chicken, then cook the rice in the broth with some of the chorizo;
- partway through cooking the rice, squidge the prawns/shrimp and mussels in which will leech a STACK of juices into the rice, adding loads of flavour; and
- pop squid back on top, then cover and rest for 5 minutes before serving!
Part 1 – sear, make flavour base, add rice and stock
This part is pretty easy. The only important tip here is to only cook the squid/squid for 90 seconds. The calamari cooks very quickly and becomes rubbery in no time!
No paella pan needed. Any large pan works well – or even a wide pan. In fact, paella pans require more advanced cooking skills. Everyday paella pans tend to be very thin and will burn the rice very easily (with a very low wide ring) unless you use a stovetop burner made specifically for paella.
Notice that the cooked chorizo is returned to cook with the rice. It enhances not only the salty taste but also the taste of the dish.
Part 2 – cook rice, squidge in seafood
This is how paella is prepared differently from other iconic rice dishes in the world, such as jambalaya and biryani. First, he cooks the rice for only 10 minutes. At this stage it appears to have absorbed most of the liquid, but is partially cooked.
But wait! More liquid is coming!
Shrimp and clams cook quickly, so add them while the rice is cooking. The idea here is that the shrimp, mussels, and rice all finish cooking at the same time. No one wants gummy shrimp in paella!
Shrimp and clams (especially mussels) will sip a surprising amount of liquid when cooked – about 3/4 cup. Not only does this provide the extra liquid needed to cook the rice, it is essentially a homemade seafood broth that adds incredible flavor to your paella!
Part 3 – garnish and rest!
Home track! After 8 minutes the shrimp are fully cooked and the mussels are open so you know they are done. I know!). And it will still run a little runny, but this is exactly what you want – cover and remove from heat. During this time the excess liquid will be absorbed and you will have a juicy paella rice. serve!
Place the cooked squid and reserved chorizo back on top and cover to allow heat to pass through.
Garnish with lemon wedges and parsley just before serving.
How to serve paella
It’s up to you to have it on the table so that the seafood is fully entwined with the rice, or to mix it up a little so that the seafood swirls a little into the rice.
I tend to loosen the rice a bit, mix the flavors well, and mix a little to spread out the seafood. So I bring it to the table like this:
How much to make per person
Paella is a great gathering meal because you can cook a lot in one giant pan or cook multiple pans at once. Use the recipe card’s scaler feature to increase servings.
Needs 1/3 cup / 60g rice per person, plus about 150g / 5 oz protein and seafood. It’s a little generous, but leftovers store well and no one wants to miss out!
PAELLA COOKING TIPS
- What rice to use for Paella? The best rice for paella is Bomba rice, also labelled as Valencia Rice or Rice de Valencia (Valencia is the region that Paella is said to have originated from). The other common rice is called Calasparra Rice (a region in Spain where it is grown). See above in post for more information.
- Best paella pan / skillet – Paella pans are large and shallow so the rice spreads out thinly and cooks evenly without stirring. But you don’t need a paella pan to make paella! Just use a large skillet. The key is to ensure the rice is not stacked up more than about 2 cm / 3/5″ deep (excluding the liquid & seafood added later, but including onion etc mixed throughout rice), to ensure even cooking.
- The liquid to rice ratio for paella is usually 1 cup of rice to 3 cups of liquid which is on the softer side than ideal. I use slightly less (2.3 cups liquid per 1 cup rice) because seafood drops a LOT of liquid (especially mussels) and you can always add more water/broth at the end to soften / finish cooking rice but you cannot UNDO overcooked, bloated, mushy rice.
- Cook in broth, not water – Fact is, the better the broth, the better the paella. The best is a homemade seafood broth. The 2nd best is a store bought chicken broth dolled up by simmering it for a while with some seafood offcuts, or make seafood paella like I have (so the flavoured seafood juices drop into the rice). The 3rd best is store bought chicken broth. Store bought fish stock doesn’t make the cut in my world – sorry. (Unless of course, you get a gourmet homemade one.)
- Don’t stir!! Unlike risotto, paella should not be creamy. So once you add the broth, do not stir as this will activate the starch and make it gluey. The best paellas have a golden crust on the bottom, called the soccarat, and it’s the best part of the paella.
- Add seafood partway through cooking – Paella takes 20 to 25 minutes to cook. So squidge the seafood in partway through cooking to avoid overcooking it. Even partially submerged, it is enough heat to cook. The only exception is squid – it needs to be cooked super fast (2 minutes or less) or super long to make it tender (60 minutes). Anything in between is horrid and rubbery. For paella, we take the super fast route – cook it first, remove, add back later.