I really can’t think of a time when I didn’t want to make some paella. There’s just not that many dishes that are as filling, flavorful, and satisfying as a good old fashioned paella. I’ve been lucky enough to go on a few adventures that resulted in me eating the genuine article, homemade Spanish version of this dish complete with glasses of gazpacho and lively conversation. It’s just an immensely social and gratifying dish and I can’t think of a better way of starting spring than sitting around outside with friends, drinks in hand, and tearing into a big skillet of this crispy rice wonder.
That being said, paella is very easy to make, but kinda tricky to make right. I say that because the actual process of sauteing some veg and throwing some seafood in to cook with the rice isn’t difficult; it’s basically just making a stir fry. A true paella, which it’s crispy layer of rice on the bottom (called socarrat), saffron flavored rice and variety of ingredients takes a little effort to get right. You can literally make paella a thousand different ways, there’s no solid rules on that. But in my mind a big part of the challenge behind this dish properly is getting that rice texture and flavor right.
There’s plenty of easy shortcuts to make a great paella, but the genuine article is really worth the small degree of extra effort. I’ll touch on a couple of shortcuts in the post for those that are just looking to cook a tasty dinner.
One piece of equipment that I really recommend you try to get your hands on is a decent sized cast iron skillet or a thick bottomed pan.
The reason for this is two-fold:
1) cast iron/deep pan transfers heat more evenly so the rice will be cooked and crispy on all sides.
2) a seasoned pan is going to prevent sticking so that crispy rice doesn’t get stuck to the pan. There’s a trick to dodge this, but it requires letting your dish to sit around and cool which isn’t ideal if you’ve got a gang of quasi-drunk, hungry friends.
2 cups white rice
1 green bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
1 onion (diced)
4 cloves garlic (minced)
2 medium tomatoes (deseeded and skins removed)
2 chorizo sausages (outside casing removed)
2-3 slices Serrano ham (or prosciutto)
small pinch of Saffron (5-6 threads)
1 tsp Turmeric
1 Tbsp Oregano
4 1/2 stock of choice
Neil Young assorted tunes
Start a pan on medium heat, a little olive oil and your onion. Saute until tender. Then toss your garlic in there.
Add your sausage after you have removed the casings. You can break the sausage up before adding but i usually just toss the whole thing in there and break it up with the spatula. Cooking for about 5 minutes.
Now toss in the bell peppers and tomatoes and reduce the heat to low. You want to slowly cook your veg here just to accentuate the flavors because they’re going to get plenty of cooking before everything is said and done. About 10 minutes.
Like a risotto, you want to stir in your rice and get everything coated with all those flavors or juices and crank the heat back up to medium.
NOTE: A useful cheat here is to use store bought yellow Mexican rice complete with it’s own pack of spices and mix it in the same way. This way you don’t need to drop $20 on a tiny bit of saffron and you can be sure your rice will be nice and yellow.
After about 5 minutes of stirring, add your broth, salt/pepper, turmeric, saffron, and oregano. Stir and let cook uncovered for about 15 minutes. Most of the stock is going to get absorbed in this time. No stirring required on your part.
Now about 15 minutes have passed, stock mostly absorbed, add your ham/prosciutto and can of drained clams. Stir into the mix continue to cook for about 5 minutes longer or until stock has been fully absorbed (you can check by digging a little hole in the rice and seeing if any liquid is left at the bottom of the pan).
Ok, now the finale, raise the heat to high for about 30-40 seconds to get that crispy socarrat bottom. Some say you should be able to smell the rice burning right before you take it off the heat, i don’t like to take that chance if I’m not using a seasoned cast iron skillet since it can burn so quickly so I will only keep it on high heat for a few seconds.
Keep in mind it’s complete up to you how you want to present your paella. A shrimp paella will get posted sometime down the line that can display that a bit better.