Ask people who’ve been to Spain, and they will tell you that paella is on top of the list of traditional Spanish dishes you shouldn’t miss out on. This savoury rice dish is cooked with various green vegetables, meat, beans, and seasonings and is as colourful as it is delicious.
From Valencia, Spain, paella has made its way to modern cuisine. However, few restaurants cook it right (the way Spanish cooks get it just perfect). Somehow the taste isn’t right, or it’s crammed with too many extras.
Cooking paella is easy, you just need to keep it simple. Whatever recipe you choose, if you want to make a great paella then you should follow these 4 essential tips:
1.Use the right rice. Paella cooks will tell you that, ultimately, it is good rice that makes a great paella.
Use short-grain rice only; it absorbs liquid and flavour easily and will stay firm during cooking. The most prestigious choice would be Spanish bomba, although there are other varieties that will do as well, such as valenciano, arborio, or Japanese sushi rice. Long-grain rice is not an option. Paella’s cooked rice must be slightly moist but separate, not creamy like risotto, so absolutely no stirring is necessary.
Tip: Paella is about the rice. One of the common mistakes in cooking paella is overloading with other ingredients. Allow just enough to give flavour, but not too many to smother the rice.
2. Use a real paella pan. Also called paellera, this type of pan is wide, round, and shallow. Valencians agree that the cooked rice must only be as thick as the width of one finger. A paella pan ensures that the rice is cooked in a thin layer. It’s also wide enough to accommodate more paella.
Put only the amount of rice the size of the paella pan calls for. Overloading will result in the rice tasting steamed and fluffy. Also, you might notice that a paella pan doesn’t come with a lid. This is because placing a cover will merely give you steamed rice.
Tip: The flavour is in the bottom of the pan, so it’s best to maximise the amount of rice that touches the bottom.
3. Heat source is important. Traditionally, paella is cooked outdoors in a fire pit with orange tree branches or other aromatic woods as heat source. This gives the rice a light smoky taste. However, this is not always possible and it’s perfectly fine to stay in the kitchen. Just keep in mind that while cooking, the heat should be evenly distributed on the entire bottom surface of the pan. Use a large stove burner. If the burner is smaller than the pan, push the pan around when cooking to cover all areas and ensure that all the rice is cooked.
4. For flavours, use sofrito and good stock. Sofrito is a sauté of aromatics that provides the flavour base of the paella. The contents of the sofrito vary by region. A popular trio includes tomato, onion, and garlic, although others include paprika, fresh herbs, and pepper as well.
Also, a lot of Spaniards believe that a great paella calls for a flavourful homemade stock, preferably low salt, rather than store-bought one. The amount of liquid should be double than that of rice.
Lastly, instead of artificial colouring, stick to the tradition and add saffron, a spice included in every paella recipe. It not only gives a gentle yellow colour but also adds flavour and aroma.
Finally, you know you’ve made a great paella when it has the prized soccarat, the crispy, golden caramelised rice at the bottom, which also adds texture and flavour. Cover with aluminium foil and let stand for at least 5 minutes. Eat paella communal style and serve from the pan.
A lot of mistakes in cooking paella are fairly simple, like using too much rice, cooking with the wrong pan, or adding too many ingredients. If you know these beforehand, rest assured that you can make a delicious paella easily; perfect for gatherings or just something to enjoy on a cool late afternoon with a cerveza in hand.