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Paella

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Serves four.

  • To learn more, read:
    Paella: Rice at Its Best
  • by Norberto Jorge from Fine Cooking
    Issue 33

If you don't have a paella pan, use a 13-inch or larger skillet, or divide the ingredients between two medium skillets. Stainless-steel or anodized-aluminum skillets work best. Don't use cast iron or nonstick.

  • 3-1/2 cups homemade or low-salt chicken broth; more as needed
  • Pinch of saffron (8 to 10 threads)
  • Salt to taste
  • About 1/4 cup olive oil; more if needed
  • 4 skinless chicken thighs, chopped in half and seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 1 small head garlic (remove excess papery skins, trim the top, and make a shallow cut around its equator to speed cooking), plus 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1-inch wide strips
  • 3 artichokes
  • 3 oz. green beans (about 16), trimmed
  • 1 small onion, grated on the largest holes of a box grater
  • 1 ripe tomato, halved horizontally and grated on the largest holes of a box grater (discard the skin)
  • 1-1/2 cups medium-grain rice
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 2 lemons, cut in wedges for garnish

In a saucepan, bring the broth to a boil; reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Put the saffron on a 3-inch-wide strip of aluminum foil, fold up the foil to make a square packet, and set the foil directly on the lid of the simmering broth for about 15 minutes. Unfold the packet, transfer the saffron to a mortar (or a small bowl), add a pinch of salt, and use the pestle (or the back of spoon) to crush the saffron. Add about 1/2 cup of the hot broth to the saffron and let the saffron steep for about 15 minutes. Add the saffron-infused liquid back to the broth. Taste; the broth should be well seasoned, so add more salt if necessary. Remove from the heat until ready to add to the rice.

Set a 14-inch paella pan over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the chicken and the head of garlic; sauté until the chicken is golden, 10 to 15 minutes. The oil may splatter, and you may need to turn down the heat. Transfer the partially cooked chicken to a platter. The head of garlic stays in the pan.

Paella Recipe
"Start by sautéing the chicken until golden. A head of garlic goes in the pan, too.

Reduce the heat to medium low. In the same pan, sauté the red pepper slices slowly until they're very limp, 20 to 25 minutes, adding more oil if necessary; they shouldn't brown too much. Meanwhile, prepare the artichokes. Cut off the upper two-thirds of the leaves and the stem. Pare away the remaining tough outer leaves. Scrape out the choke fibers and cut the hearts into quarters (or eighths, if large).

Paella Recipe
Sauté strips of red pepper until completely limp and tender.

When the pepper is done, transfer the pieces to a plate, cover with foil, and set aside. Slowly sauté the artichokes and green beans in the same pan, still on medium low, until the artichokes are golden and tender and the beans are soft and slightly wrinkled, 15 to 25 minutes. Meanwhile, when the pepper pieces are cool enough to handle, peel off and discard the skin. When the artichokes and green beans are done, push them to the perimeter of the pan where there's less heat (or transfer them to the platter with the chicken.)

Paella Recipe
Sauté the green beans and artichokes together.

If there's more than 1 Tbs. of oil in the pan, pour out the excess. Increase the heat to medium and sauté the grated onion and sliced garlic until the onion is soft (it's all right if it gets slightly brown), about 5 minutes. Add the grated tomato. Season well with salt and sauté until the water from the tomato has cooked out and the mixture, called a sofrito, has darkened to a burgundy color and is a very thick purée, 5 to 10 minutes. If you're not cooking the rice immediately, remove the pan from the heat.

Paella Recipe
Push the vegetables to the perimeter of the pan to make way for the tomato, onion, and garlic sofrito.

About half an hour before you're ready to eat, bring the broth back to a simmer and set the pan with the sofrito over your largest burner (or over two burners) on medium heat, noticing if the pan sits level. (If not, choose another burner or try to create a level surface.) When the sofrito is hot, add the rice, stirring until it's translucent, 1 to 2 minutes.

Paella Recipe
Add the rice to the pan, and sauté for a minute or two until translucent.

Spread out the rice (it should just blanket the bottom of the pan), distribute the green beans and artichokes evenly, and arrange the chicken in the pan. Increase the heat to medium high and pour in 3 cups of the simmering broth (reserving 1/2 cup). As the broth comes to a boil, lay the peppers in the pan, starburst-like, and push the head of garlic to the center. Cook until the rice begins to appear above the liquid, 6 to 8 minutes, rotating the pan over one and two burners as necessary to distribute the heat to all areas. Add the sprig of rosemary and reduce the heat to medium low. Continue to simmer, rotating the pan as necessary, until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is al dente, another 8 to 10 minutes. To check for doneness, taste a grain just below the top layer of rice—there should be a very tiny white dot in the center. If the liquid is absorbed but the rice is not done, add a bit more hot broth or water to the pan and cook a few minutes more. Cover the pan with foil and cook gently for another 2 minutes, which will help to ensure that the top layer of rice is evenly cooked. With the foil still in place, increase the heat to medium high and, turning the pan, cook until the bottom layer of rice starts to caramelize, creating the socarrat, 1 to 2 minutes. You may hear the rice crackling, which is fine, but if it starts burning, remove the pan from the heat immediately. To check for socarrat, peel back the foil and use a spoon to feel for a slight crust on the bottom of the pan.

Paella Recipe
Ad simmering stock, then arrange the chicken and vegetables in the pan and cook the rice until al dente.
Paella Recipe
When the rice is done, cover with foil, turn up the heat, and use a spoon to check for a caramelized crust.

Remove the pan from the heat and let the paella rest, still covered, 5 to 10 minutes. Sit everyone down at a round or square table, if possible. Remove the foil, and invite people to eat directly from the pan, starting at the perimeter and working toward the center, squeezing lemon over their section if they like.

Variations

Seafood paella: Sauté very briefly shrimp, scallops, and calamari (cut in rings), returning the seafood to the end of the cooking. Bury scrubbed clams or mussels in the broth while the rice cooks. Serve with alioli (the Spanish version of aïoli): smash garlic and salt to a paste in a mortar and add olive oil and lemon juice to taste.

Vegetable paella: Sauté green peppers, green beans, cauliflower, and artichokes; make a sofrito of tomato and parsley. Add shelled fava beans with the rice.

Sausage and chickpea paella: Try using chorizo sausage, red peppers, a whole head of garlic, and cooked chickpeas (use the cooking liquid for stock, or combine it with a meat stock). Make a sofrito of garlic, tomato, and paprika and add the chickpeas with the rice.

Drink Suggestions

Spain's best-known red, Rioja, made from the tempranillo grape, is a great choice for a paella with sausage and red meat. It will also highlight the big, rich flavor, caramelized onion, and browned chicken in the recipe here. Bodegas Montecillo and Conde de Valdemar are reliable producers.

If you make the seafood variation, keep the party mood going with cava, Spain's answer to Champagne; try Castellblanch Brut Zero or Segura Viudas' Aria Brut. For still wine, look to dry whites with crisp, dry, apple-and-apricot-fruity acidity, such as Albariño.

Can't decide between white and red? Strike a happy medium with rosé (rosado in Spanish). Spain makes some of the best. Try Señorio de Sarria (Navaraa), Marqués de Cáceres (Rioja) or Jaume Serra Tempranillo (Penedès).

— Rosina Tinari Wilson

nutrition information (per serving):
Calories (kcal): 590; Fat (g): 18; Fat Calories (kcal): 160; Saturated Fat (g): 3; Protein (g): 27; Monounsaturated Fat (g): 11; Carbohydrates (g): 86; Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 2; Sodium (mg): 780; Cholesterol (mg): 55; Fiber (g): 11;

Photo: Ben Fink

This was good - no question - and it felt very authentic, from the artichokes to the sofrito. There was tons of flavour, and very complex flavour layerings. And it looked beautiful and very impressive. I did a real mix of meats - chicken and chorizo, as well as clams, scallops and shrimp. I think paella looks beautiful with shellfish. That said, it WAS a little complex - and I do not usually shy away from these things. I will put a lot of time into following a recipe exactly and getting it just right, but there were a few aspects of this one that had me either scratching my head or rolling my eyes. I'd never used fresh artichokes before, for example - if you haven't, make sure you read beforehand about what to expect in prepping them! (Such a shame that you cut away about 90% of the object you paid for... is there anything to be done with those outer leaves??) I found the head of garlic confusing... it seems like it mostly just stays in the pan the whole time (though it's not always clear) - and what is its purpose? Just to flavour the paella? Or should we be encouraging guests to add cloves of it to their plate? Lastly, the 'when the rice is done' instructions were a little over the top... al dente would have been clear enough. I also would have liked some clearer instructions about prep that can be done in advance. Next time, I think i will prep the meats and vegetables and even the sofrito earlier in the day, so it's not such a lengthy process once guests have arrived. I suspect I'll need to be careful to have everything at the right temperature before I add the rice and combine, but I hope it won't take much from the flavour. All in all, this was delicious, and I would definitely earmark it as 'my best and most authentic paella recipe' and do it again. But, I would think through some of the prep work and processes a little more beforehand.

I have made this recipe a dozen times and it is always a winner. The trick to this dish is the socarrat. And always use fresh artichokes, never mind what the other reviewer says.

Delicious! My husband, who is Mexican, teased me the whole process . . . but guess who's laughing now??? We devoured the rice! I didn't have everything (when have you heard that before!) but I think the asparagus arranged on top was magnificent! Thanks for the great tutorial and the wonderful recipe!

I first had Paella at a friend's house, and just had to learn for myself. I bought the pan, actually 2 of them, then looked online for a good recipe. I found this one and have been using it for years, and finally took the time to comment on it. I have tried Calasparra, Bomba, and Valencia rice, but I get the best results with Valencia. This is the best recipe I have found, and I always get great praise, even from friends who have had Paella in Spain. I had Paella at a local Mexican restaurant the other day, and it was awful. It is such an easy dish if you follow this guide!

I first had Paella at a friend's house, and just had to learn for myself. I bought the pan, actually 2 of them, then looked online for a good recipe. I found this one and have been using it for years, and finally took the time to comment on it. I have tried Calasparra, Bomba, and Valencia rice, but I get the best results with Valencia. This is the best recipe I have found, and I always get great praise, even from friends who have had Paella in Spain. I had Paella at a local Mexican restaurant the other day, and it was awful. It is such an easy dish if you follow this guide!

Incredible. Have made this recipe many times, and comes out great each time. Preparation is indeed intensive, but the process is lots of fun -- especially with friends. Will make many more times.

the best recipe and technique thanks jorge norberto

I travel to Spain a lot and have become a Paella snob! This recipe is awesome! I used chicken, sausage, mussles and lobster. Substituted Peas for Green beans and no artichokes. Used Bomba Rice. This recipe requires more broth than indicated and a bit longer cooking time. You need to eyeball the rice and keep sampling. Once the rice is just al dente (sp?), cook til rice is still a bit moist then cover with foil and crank the heat until the rice pops a little. Then, remove and let sit for 5 minutes. I started mine on the stove with the Sofrito then moved to the backyard grill for better heating. It was delicious...and I'm no cook!! ps since cooking takes a while I suggest a bottle of Marques de Riscal (rioja) Also, If anyone ever gets to Barcelona...go to the Seven Doors (Siete Portes) for their Paella Parellada...best ever

The result was, indeed, great. However, the tedious preparation of all the ingredients isn't really necessary. The same delicious result can be achieved using frozen artichoke hearts, jarred roasted peppers, and canned tomatoes. Also, forget grating an onion or a tomato; after several frustrating minutes, you'll discover that it basically doesn't work. We've made the dish using both the as-written and simplified approaches, and won't make the as-written recipe again.

We had friends over for dinner on Sunday. The Paella was the featured attraction. I had never made Paella before so this was a from-scratch test. I followed the recipe and the process step by step. The result was a most delicious and spectacular success. Norberto Jorge is right. The rice was gobbled up helping after helping. It was a labor of love and it was worth all of the effort. There is a lot of "process" to read to make the Paella but it is worth the reading. Don't skip any steps and you will wind up with the best Paella you have ever had.

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