I’m in love with Paella a la Valencia!
I love Spanish flavors but was always so afraid to make paella. It just looked complicated and wasn’t something I could easily make on a weeknight for dinner.
Plus, I thought it was a heavy dish that would leave me so full at the end of my meal. I couldn’t be more wrong on both counts.
With a few shortcuts from the traditional recipe, I could make paella any night of the week and I realized that using the correct rice makes all the difference in the world when it comes to the heaviness of this glorious dish.
Paella Essentials & Tips
When I was in Valencia, Spain last year I took a field trip to El Raco de la Paella, the only remaining wood-fired paella restaurant. I was determined to learn exactly how Spaniards make this traditional dish. Paella means “for her” and it was always cooked by a man for his woman. Well today, this girl was in charge and was entering this extremely hot kitchen risking burns and all to learn this craft with my expert teacher at my side.
Use the right Rice
If there is one thing I know about making Italian risotto or Spanish paella it’s that rice matters. These grains are short and fat and have a little white kernel in the center. Surrounding the kernel is the starch that can only be released as hot liquid is added.
To make proper paella you need to find Spanish paella rice called Calasparra or Bomba rice. Grown in the rich soils of the national protected L’Albufera Park of Valencia, both of these short-grain kinds of rice make perfect paella. Their high absorption rates (Bomba absorbs one-third more water than the traditional) allows them to soak up and hold the abundance of flavors in your paella pan.
My paella teacher at the restaurant said that “Bomba rice is hard as a stone until a moment arises and then it’s perfect.” The key is finding that moment otherwise you could overcook it and it will be gummy.
He said, “The rice should be exactly four grains high in the pan. The first layer is for the burn and the last three are for the dish.” It’s not a dish where you can leave your post, especially near the end. He tells me, “When the rice sings, you hear the moment that it’s ready.” In the last twenty seconds of cooking the paella, the pan is put directly on the fire to burn the lowest grain. Then it rests for five minutes, no longer.
Use a very flavorful broth
My secret to making a great paella and a great shortcut is to simply use Aneto Spanish Paella Bases. Seriously, they have everything in it you need (including the snails, rabbit, and saffron) to cook like a professional paella maker. Plus unlike most cooking bases on the market, Aneto uses no concentrates or powders. It’s the real deal. Just add rice and chicken or fish for the perfect paella every time.
Use the right pan
I know there are some paella recipes out there that say using a large saute pan is okay. I’m going to go out on a limb and say “nay” to this one. I want you to be successful and happy with your dish so you need to use the right pan.
The pan used to make paella, “a paellera,” is what gave the dish its name. It’s shallow, wide and round with slightly sloping sides which ensures that the rice cooks evenly. Little dimples on the pan’s surface help regulate the heat and allow the pan to cool very fast.
A little more tradition
Paella is a lunch dish in Valencia and never eaten at dinner. Plus it’s only eaten once a week to prevent “rice belly,” as they like to call it. And while nearly every restaurant will serve paella on their menus for dinner if you order it that’s a telltale sign that you are a tourist.
Traditionally, the paella pan is placed at the center of a round table with a wooden spoon placed alongside the dish. Each diner takes the wooden spoon and draws through the rice to “marks her territory” and then eat right out of the pan.
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