Paella Recipe: what, how & more

Paella

Paella is getting universal and paella recipes are growing while losing its authentic essence and tradition from Spain. Spanish gastronomy is one of the most varied in the European continent and with the greatest recognition in the world.

The climate and the typical products of each province make its dishes varied and of exquisite quality and among them, paella usually steals non-Spanish hearts.

However, there are sometimes big differences between authentic Spanish recipes and what is promoted as authentic all over the web. No worries, though, I will show you how paellas are made in Spain.

I’ve lived abroad and I can assure proper paella and Spanish rice recipes can be cooked outside Spain.

What is Paella? What Does Paella Mean?

Paella is essentially a Spanish dish, easy to prepare but complex as a whole, probably the most iconic one of Spanish gastronomy.

Paella definition

The name comes from the Valencian paella, or the Latin patella that means pan. It refers to the wide shallow container where the food is cooked but also to the Spanish rice-based dish that is extremely popular nowadays throughout Spain.

The meaning or definition of paella is for us even wider, as it can be also the act of gathering with family or friends to cook and eat paella (we only eat it for lunch). So, the name can refer to:

  • A rounded wide shallow pan. Learn what is paella pan.
  • The Spanish typical dish
  • A social act of gathering with somebody to cook and eat paella, preferably outdoors

In this delicious recipe, the short-grained rice is cooked together with olive oil and other ingredients in the pan.

La paella should be done open fire if possible and it can be prepared from a base of fish-seafood, meat, vegetables or mixed. One of its keys is the type of rice chosen.

What does paella mean?
What does paella mean?

Where is paella from? The origin

Spain map with Valencia Region highlighted
The region where paella is from

The paella history started in Valencia, (east coast of Spain) making us, its inhabitants, very proud of it. This is the history of Paella Valenciana per se.

Its history arises in modest and rural areas of the Valencia area but is something adopted all around the whole region, currently known Valencian community.

It happened around the sixteenth centuries, by the need of peasants and shepherds for an easy-to-prepare meal with the ingredients they could find in their fields. Curiously, they used to eat it in the afternoon, unlike nowadays where it is only eaten for lunch.

Authentic Paella Valenciana being made picture

Originally, this quite ancient dish contained as ingredients: rabbits or hare, fowls, fresh vegetables, rice, saffron and olive oil that were mixed in the pan with the water, so it was meat paella. Do you know the Authentic Meat Paella Recipe?

All together but gradually, it was cooked slowly in a pan directly on a fire carried out with wood from orange trees, that in the meantime add flavor and a characteristic scent. 

The origin of the seafood paella recipe is unknown, but most likely was created later on the coast. The essence was the same, but where other ingredients like fish or seafood more accessible for those who lived near the sea. 

Its fame grew throughout the nineteen century in the rest of the country and later internationally that today is a dish that can be found almost anywhere in the world. 

This notoriety has produced the dish in Spain has been suffering transformations from the original Authentic Spanish Paella Valenciana (with chicken, duck, rabbit and snails) appearing variants making a dish perhaps more sophisticated but not losing neither the base or the essence. 

Types of paella

How many types of paella are there? Do you know types of paella and Spanish “rice” you can cook could be endless? Then, basically they can be differentiated by the amount of water added, hence the stock remaining when ready and the type of ingredients.

Based on the water added, paella recipe can be:

  • Seco. The rice is dry, light and not sticking together, perfectly “done”
  • Meloso. Creamy. There is still a bit of dense stock
  • Caldoso. Soupy rice, when rice floats in stock. The pan, then, is a cauldron instead

Considering the main ingredients, they can be:

  • Meat (normally with some vegetables)
  • Seafood (they can contain some vegetables)
  • Vegetarian
  • Mixed (vegetables, meat and seafood)

Both basic kinds can be usually combined, for example:

  • Meat and dry: Paella Valenciana
  • Seafood and dry: Rice aside (A banda) or Black Paella
  • Vegetarian and dry: Vegetable paella (De verduras)
  • Mixed and dry: Mixed paella (Mixta)
  • Meat and creamy: Creamy rice with pork ribs (Arroz meloso con costillas)
  • Meat and soupy: Rice with rabbit (Arroz con conejo)
  • Seafood and creamy: Seafood paella (Paella de marisco)
  • Seafood and soupy: Rice with lobster (Arroz con bogavante)

To end up, we could add another type of dish called Arroz al horno, which could be called baked paella. This is typical of Alicante and it mainly contains pork and vegetables. I can assure it’s delicious. (In my top 5)

Hence, combining ingredients and the stock thing you will never get bored of cooking paella.

Main types of Authentic Spanish Paella

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What Ingredients Are In a Paella?

What ingredients are in paella? You might wonder. Considering the different kinds of rice dishes we have in Spain, the possible paella ingredients‘ main list is quite large. However, in Spain you could typically find (in English) :

  1. Medium-grain rice
  2. Meat like chicken thighs, chopped pork ribs, rabbit…
  3. Seafood like prawns, calamari, kingfish, cuttlefish, clams, lobster…
  4. Vegetables like butter and runner beans, red pepper, artichokes…
  5. Extra virgin olive oil
  6. Grated tomato
  7. Saffron, fresh parsley
  8. Salt & pepper (just a bit)
  9. Chicken stock
  10. Smoked paprika
  11. Love & good vibes
What ingredients are in paella?

You can find the exact list of ingredients on each recipe’s page, as this will vary sensible depending on the type and style.

How to Make Paella?

Time needed: 1 hour.

Difficulty: easy

How to cook paella is a recurrent question, and depending on the type the making process way can vary. 
However, the core methods are two, based on when we add the water: before or after the rice

For example, the Valencian style requires adding the water first to make the stock in the meantime, while in most of the rest of the types, we usually pour the stock (previously prepared) after sauteing the rice for while.

Furthermore, the steps and timings can vary depending on the cook. I usually let the liquid gets almost totally absorbed by the rice to straightaway lower the heat. Then, it’s just a matter of waiting 15min. As simple as it sounds.

The common and easiest method for a meat-based paella (actually, my family method)

  1. Prepare the stock (how to make chicken stock for paella?)

    You can boil a chicken´s carcass or meat bones, onion and carrot

  2. Heat up the pan

    Over medium heat, add the oil until it gets quite warm

  3. Add the vegetables

    Stir and soften.

  4. Add the meat

    Put aside the vegetables or take them out from the pan. Then, add the meat until browned

  5. Add the tomato 

    Grated or puree, and stir while it soft fries. (Put the meat aside before, if preferred)

  6. Put the rice in 

    Stir until it gets oil coated. The rice should be half of the stock.

  7. Mix everything in

    Stir for a little while

  8. Pour the stock and bring it to a boil

    Including salt and saffron. Stir for the last time

  9. Let it boil (About 15 min)

    Just until the rice absorbs almost all the liquid

  10. Turn the heat to the minimum and cover the paella pan

    So cover and let it cook for 15 minutes

  11. Turn off the heat

    Wait 5 min, serve and enjoy!Paella Recipe

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Paella tips and secrets, do’s and don’ts

Paella Rice

  • Paella rice type is very important in order to succeed. The rice for paella is short and rounded. Long grain rice doesn’t get easily over-cooked, however, it doesn’t absorb the taste of the rest of the ingredients either. It’s not worth being stingy with the main ingredient! What about other varieties?

Paella Pan

  • Use a large skillet pan or better a proper paella pan. Rice in paella is cooked in extension, not in height. The thinner the layer of rice, the better the result. Otherwise, the rice on the bottom can be overcooked and make an unpleasant dough, while the rice on the top not cooked enough.

Paella Burner

  • It is very important that the fire reaches equally to all the bottom of the paella. If your fire is not big enough, use a paella diffuser.
  • Gas is the most comfortable option among what you can find in modern kitchens, but there is nothing like firewood. However, you can cook paella in a vitro-ceramic or induction cooker too.

Pro tip – You can use 2 or more gas burners at the same time to spread the heat evenly. Set the same heating power (as possible) on all of them and rotate the pan gradually to asure all the paella get the same heat. This way, you can use a big paella pan at home.

Cooking paella without a proper paella burner
The proof that big paella pans can be used with standard kitchen stoves

Paella Timings

  • Be careful with the times: they vary depending on the size of the paella, the thickness of the rice layer, the hardness of the water…
  • There are many rules on timings, but the easiest one I’ve found is: let the stock disappear (usually 15 min max heating), turn min heating for 15min, then heating off and wait for 5 min to let it rest.
  • You should turn off the fire when the rice has lost its central hardness but is still a little whole.

Paella stock

  • The proportion of paella stock: Usually, 1Kg of rice needs 2Kg of stock when using paella rice. When the recipe is not “dried rice” or when using bomba rice, we need a little more liquid.
  • When you make seafood rice, use the shells of the shellfish, fishbones, heads… to make the seafood stock.
  • If you are going to use mussels, strain them in advance, leave them in their shell (remove the shell that covers) to fatten, and then strain their liquid and add it to the rice stock.
  • Chicken stock for paella is easier to make and I recommend using a chicken carcass.

Paella oil

  • It is necessary to be generous with the oil but not exceeding the limit, of course, because it can be too heavy. The approximate measure is 0.3l. of oil for each liter of rice. And minimum, Virgin Olive Oil.

Paella mates

  • Fresh salad
  • Gazpacho
  • Tapas such as padron peppers, serrano ham…
  • Desserts such as flan or crema catalana

Learn what to serve with paella

The magic touch

  • A little rosemary or thyme is not a must at all. However, add it before covering the pan to get a spectacular result. Another trick is to add a head of unpeeled garlic, simply cutting the base or just saute it. It gives a delicious taste.
  • Another way to enhance the flavor is with fresh crushed garlic and parsley, or a chopped dry red pepper. Just add it before the tomato. Yummy
  • Use real saffron. It really makes a difference. And if you’re one of those who like yellow rice, use just a little coloring (but without abusing, and always after having used good saffron), or better yet a little paprika. Enjoy the natural colors of your paella.

In order for the saffron strands to transmit all their flavour, we must toast them inside an aluminium foil, before adding them in pieces to the broth.

The sins

  • Lemon. Lemon juice helps mask rice flavors and fragrances of a paella recipe. As a cook, I understand someone doesn’t like my rice when they squeeze lemon on it. I like it for decoration on seafood rice, though.
  • Never stir the rice after the moment the stock starts boiling. Paella is not risotto.
  • Don’t add cold stock if the water has evaporated too quickly, just try it as much as it makes you confident.
  • The rice is the main character, don’t saturate the paella with more pieces of meat, fish or vegetables than rice. I’ve seen lots of paella pictures where you can barely see the rice, that’s unacceptable.
  • Be careful with the tomato amount, you can easily ruin a paella by adding too much tomato.
  • Rice cooked in a saucepan will never be a paella but a rice dough unless the rice depth is no larger than 4 cm.
  • We love wine in Spain, but we never pour wine to a paella, not even white whine.
  • Egg??!! 🙁
  • Spanish chorizo: no, traditional paella don’t have chorizo

How do you pronounce the word paella in Spanish? Paella Pronunciation

Paella pronunciation might be difficult for many non-Spanish speakers, as it includes sounds a bit demanding. Then, how to pronounce paella?

(/paɪˈɛlə/ py-EL-ə, Valencian: [paˈeʎa], Spanish: [paˈeʎa]), So, say pah:EH:yah, not pah:EHL:lah.

How to pronounce paella

Furthermore, there is something worth to be aware of, when pronouncing ‘paella’:  if you see a word spelled with ‘ll’ in Spanish, don´t forget that it is not pronounced like the English ‘l’. The right sound is the ‘y’ in ‘yet’.

4 thoughts on “Paella Recipe: what, how & more”

  1. Pro tip – You can use 2 or more gas burners at the same time to spread the heat evenly. Set the same heating power (as possible) on all of them and rotate the pan gradually to asure all the paella get the same heat. This way, you can use a big paella pan at home.

    Good one, love this

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