In every Spanish family there is at least one person who knows how to cook good paella. A regional dish from Valencia, paella can be made countless ways. There is no typical paella recipe, just a method for cooking rice and whatever other ingredients you prefer. The process is inventive, free flowing with few units of measure, the only requirement being that you make enough!
The fact that paella is now considered a Spanish national dish and seen as a complicated one to master probably confuses most Spaniards who make this robust meal to feed a crowd and feed them well. There are only a few things to remember when cooking paella, secrets that my Spanish friend Maricarmen taught me while I was a professor living in Madrid. This is her recipe, and her consejos for making the perfect meal to share with family and friends.
- Medium whole chicken cut into 8 pieces
- ½ lb Baby clams
- 1 calamari, cleaned and sliced
- ½ lb whole shrimp
- 3 small cubanelle peppers, roughly chopped
- 1 jar (7 ounce) roasted red peppers, sliced
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 lemon
- 2 garlic cloves, whole
- 3 tbsp of fresh parsley, roughly chopped
- 1 lb of medium grain rice
- 3-4 threads saffron
- 5 cups reserved cooking water
- Olive oil
- Salt, to taste
- Pepper, to taste
Special Equipment: The best way to make paella is in a paellera, a round shallow pan, over an open flame. If you don’t have a paellera, any wide pan with low sides will do.
Begin by heating enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan in a thin layer. Turn heat to high and brown the chicken pieces, green peppers, and whole garlic cloves. Once chicken is cooked, remove garlic cloves, lower heat to medium and add calamari and tomato paste. While the calamari cooks, bring salted water to boil and add shrimp. In another pot, heat water and cook baby clams until they open.
Lower the heat under the paellera and add the opened baby clams. Stir in parsley and add dry rice to the pan in a cross formation. Mix in the rice and toast for 3 minutes. Juice the lemon over the pan.
After rice is toasted, add 6 ladle-fulls of shrimp cooking water, saffron, cooked shrimp, and roasted red peppers to the paellera. Simmer the paella over low heat for 20 minutes. Do not stir.
After the paella has simmered and the excess liquid has cooked off, turn off the heat and let paella rest for up to 15 minutes. The longer the paella rests, the better it will be. Serve with crusty bread. Salt and pepper to taste.
- Never put onions in paella. The onions will release too much liquid and make the rice soggy.
- Use tomato paste instead of actual tomatoes.
- When the paella is simmering resist the urge to stir! The goal is for a toasted layer of rice to form on the bottom of the pan; the best part of the paella according to Spaniards.
- After the paella is done cooking, take it off the heat and let it sit to thicken. Second helpings of paella are always better because the dish has had time to rest and cool.