If you’ve never heard of paella, allow us to acquaint you. Though widely regarded as Spain’s national dish, it was truly born in the community of Valencia. It’s made by cooking rice and various additives in a shallow pan, either over an open fire or flat cooking surface, until the whole affair is steaming hot and scrumptious. Sounds delicious, doesn’t it? Enough to make you want to make some yourself? Well, if you’re planning on it, you might want to know these handy tips on how to make it turn out perfect, too.
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The Perfect Pan
“Paella” refers not only to the Valencian dish, but also the shallow pan it’s traditionally prepared in. These are easily identified by their flat steel surfaces, as well as a pair of side handles. Naturally, these pans are ideal for paella, allowing for large amounts of rice to be spread out and cooked evenly. If you don’t own one, there’s no need to worry; a large skillet can work just as well if you know what you’re doing. Note the emphasis on “large,” though. When it comes to paella, the last thing you want is an overcrowded pan.
The Right Rice
When you’re putting together a paella, you can’t rely on just any old rice. Ideally, you’ll want to get your hands on some bomba or Calasparra. These short-grain varieties are the gold standard, distinguished by their ability to absorb large quantities of liquid without becoming mushy. In a pinch, medium-grain rice like Calrose will do the trick, though not without a few adjustments. Whatever rice you choose, it’s important to leave it unwashed, else lose that crucial outer layer of starch. And don’t even think of stirring it as it cooks; doing so will prevent the development of socarrat – the scorched crust found on the bottom of any good paella.
There’s more than one way to make paella. The difference lies in the ingredients. Paella valenciana, widely considered to be the original recipe, calls for rabbit, chicken, and duck, as well as a slew of green vegetables. You aren’t limited to this classic combo, though. If you’re a sucker for seafood, then paella de marisco is right up your alley. For the best of both worlds, whip up some paella mixta, made with ingredients from the land and sea. There are even vegetarian and vegan-friendly versions. Choose the recipe that’s right for you, and don’t be shy about packing the rice full of goodies.
At a glance, making paella can seem like a daunting task. In reality, all it takes is a keen eye and a little preparation. Start by ensuring your pan sits flat, so the ingredients get even exposure to the heat. Speaking of ingredients, consider prepping them in advance, so you’re not left dicing and measuring on the fly. When you’re sautéing the meat and vegetables, keep an eye out for telltale signs of burning. Then, after the stock and rice join the party, resist the urge to fiddle around with them. As scary as it may feel in the moment, your paella will turn out better with minimal interference in the final stages.
If you’ve ever seen a paella pan, you’ll know the dish was meant to be made in bulk. In other words, it’s a perfect choice for a get-together, sure to put smiles on all your guests’ faces. Of course, there’s no rule saying you can’t make paella for one. If you do, though, don’t scale down the recipe, and deny yourself the joy of savoring that crispy socarrat for days to come. As long as you’ve got the fridge space to spare, it’s worth going the extra mile.