A Rookie’s Tell-All Guide to Flawless Paella
Whether it’s served with seafood, chorizo or noodles (yep, that’s a thing now), paella is one of those dishes that you can’t say no to. However, heading to the nearest tapas restaurant is not always in the cards, so making the Valencian dish at home feels like the best way to satisfy your Spanish food cravings.
For the uninitiated, though, making paella at home seems next to impossible. Luckily, recreating the iconic dish IRL is easier than you think, and that’s thanks to a handful of easy-to-follow steps. So, if you want to make the best version of paella you’ve ever tasted, these step-by-step tell-all guide will help you get past your fear of ruining a perfectly fine batch of rice.
Choose a High-Quality Paella Pan
While many think the key to a chef-worthy paella lies in the ingredients, the truth is that it’s all in the pan. Unlike regular pans, paella pans are specially designed to distribute heat evenly, making sure you score an ultra-crispy layer of rice (socarrat) at the bottom virtually every time you turn on the stove.
Besides that, this unique cooking tool sports a unique tilted design which forces the rice to cook in extension (and not in height) and, thus, become one with the rest of the ingredients. That’s actually why this dish tastes so good. So, if you want to do the whole thing right, you need to get your hands on a paella pan ASAP. Don’t know where to start? This guide will help you decide which model is the best for you.
Pre-Cook the Meat
Although paella is often regarded as a seafood dish, some prefer to go rogue and use meat as their protein of choice. If you are one of these folks (well, who isn’t?), add your favorite meats to the pan -chicken, rabbit, and chorizo are the most common options- and sear for a little while until they turn brownish. The point here is to tenderize the meat so that it doesn’t take longer to cook than rice.
Herb/Spice Things Up
Once the meat is done, it’s time to take advantage of the pan’s heat and slightly greasy surface. So, remove it from the pan and add some chopped onion instead. Since the meat left some of its juices behind, you don’t need to add extra oil. However, if you think it needs more, add enough to saute the onion. Once the onion turns tender and transparent, stir in the herbs and spices. Some of the most common options include saffron, thyme, paprika, tarragon, and for the most adventurous palates, red pepper flakes.
Focus on the Rice
No matter how many veggies, spices or meat you add in your paella, rice is always going to be the #1 ingredient. That’s why it requires your undistracted attention not just during but also before you start cooking. So, start off by choosing the right type of rice, a.k.a. bomba or calasparra.
Thanks to their short-grain nature and high content in amylopectin(1) (a sticky starch that’s responsible for the creamy texture of the dish), these two varieties are considered the perfect choices for a killer paella. Pro tip: If you have a hard time finding them in the U.S., you can always opt for arborio rice.
So, once you got this aspect down, add the uncooked rice to the pan along with the pre-cooked meat, a serving of tomato puree and the vegetables of your preference (pimento is a must-try). Let the rice toast for a few minutes so that it acquires a nuttiness that’ll make the dish stand out. The surrounding ingredients will also infuse the grains with their juices, upping the dish’s flavor factor.
Drench the Ingredients in Stock
Now that the rice is all warm and toasty, pour a generous serving of stock (preferably homemade) in the pan and let it come to a simmer. Make sure you opt for a broth that complements the rest of the ingredients. So, add chicken stock if you are making a chicken paella, beef stock if you’ve included beef, etc.
Don’t Stir the Rice
That is the part where most people mess up. You see, stirring the rice as it simmers forces amylopectin, the sticky starch mentioned above, to spread throughout the pan and reach all the wrong places. As a result, the overall texture of the dish is ruined, and the rice turns into a mushy pile of goo. To avoid that, stir the ingredients just once at the beginning and let them cook on their own for as long as it takes.
Cook Until the Rice is Dry (But Not Too Dry)
Once the stock/liquid evaporates, the rice will begin to look dry. At this point, taste some of the grains for doneness, but make sure not to stir the ingredients in the process. If the rice is not cooked yet, add a little bit of water and let it simmer once again. However, if it’s done, remove it from the heat and set it aside until all liquid evaporates and a crispy crust is formed at the bottom of the pan.
Pro tip: Another easy way to remove excess liquid from the dish without stirring the rice is to place paper towels on top of the pan for a couple of minutes or until they absorb most of the moisture.
Serve Warm With A Side of Aioli
Your homemade paella is ready to be served, but there’s still one thing for you to do. To begin with, make sure it’s warm when served, and not hot. Also, compliment the dish with a side of garlicky aioli. The condiment’s flavor may be strong, but it will bring out paella’s savory notes, creating a flavor combo that’s made in heaven. For a tangy finish, drizzle the rice with a little bit of lemon juice.
So, what do you think? Will you put your paella-making skills to the test? Let us know in the comments down below!