My first accomplishment with this dish was learning to pronounce it correctly -- pah-ehl-ya. Americans commonly use the Mexican pronunciation, pie-ay-ya. My second accomplishment was learning to make the regional dish of Spain.
Paella originated in Valencia, on the east coast of Spain. There are many variations of this dish to include seafood, meat and vegetable paella. Whereas, the three essential ingredients in all of them are olive oil, saffron and rice.
Paella is all about the rice, and a simple white rice will not do. The absolute best paella rice is the short-grain calasparra, grown in southeastern Spain. And, don't forget the pan. Although paella can be made in a wide skillet, it is traditionally made in thin steel dimpled pans designed to evenly spread the heat.
For me, paella is the ultimate party dish -- a one-dish entree set up on a buffet or in the middle of a dining table. I usually make a version of the following recipe depending on my guests' preferences and availability of ingredients:
6 cups chicken broth
1/2 tsp saffron
1/4 tsp smoke Spanish paprika
1 small onion (whole, peeled)
Chicken or rabbit (I use 8 skinless chicken thighs or 1 whole rabbit)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 lb chorizo (cut in 1/4" slices)
1/4 lb serrano ham (diced)
1 medium onion (diced)
4 tbsp chopped garlic
2 roasted piquillo peppers
1 lb shrimp (shelled)
3 cups Calasparra rice
5 tbsp chopped parsley
2 bay leaves (crumbled)
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 lb frozen peas
18 clams or mussels (scrubbed)
Cut the chicken or rabbit into small bite sizes. Dry and sprinkle with salt.
In a paella pan, heat the oil. Add the chicken/rabbit and fry over high heat until golden. Remove to a platter. Add the chorizo and ham to the pan and fry for about 10 minutes. Add the chopped onion, garlic and piquillo peppers and saute until onion is cooked. Add the shrimp, saute for about 3 minutes more or until they barely turn pink. Remove the shrimp to the platter with chicken/rabbit.
Add the rice to the pan and stir until it is well coated with oil. Sprinkle in the chopped parsley and bay leaves.
Stir in the hot chicken broth, the wine, rice and peas. Salt to taste. Bring to a boil and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, over medium high heat for about 10 minutes. Bury the shrimp and chicken/rabbit into the rice. Add the clams/mussels, pushing them into the rice with the mouths facing up. Bake at 325 F, uncovered, for 20 minutes.
NOTE: I find that my pan often dries out in the oven before the rice has had a chance to fully cook. If this happens, just add a little more chicken broth to the pan.
When rice is tender, remove from the oven and let sit on top of the stove, lightly covered with foil, for about 10 minutes. Garnish with lemon wedges and chopped parsley.
For authentic Spanish paella ingredients and cooking pans, check out:
Have you had a to-die-for paella you'd like to share? I'd love to hear about it!