Paella is a rice dish that has ancient roots. Its modern form originated in the mid-19th century in the area around the east coast of Spain adjacent to the city of Valencia. Paella is also the name of the specialized shallow pan used for this dish.
There’s not much of a consensus regarding how this delicious dish, perhaps Spain’s most famous, should be prepared. Also, what should, or shouldn’t go into it is an issue. The original recipes went from being relatively simple to including a wide variety of seafood, meat, sausage (including chorizo).
The Cooking Method
The cooking method formerly involved a dish forged over open fires. This endowed it with all the advantages such cooking confers—crisp, flame-licked edges, smoke-tinged meat. But then paella became something that was made indoors in a restaurant setting. Today you can find the odd wood-fire holdout at rural Spanish restaurants, at family gatherings, and local festivals. It seems the heyday of the traditional vine-wood-fired paella has passed.
To echo the woodsy taste formerly imparted by smoke, cooks will often toss in some smoked paprika or a few sprigs of rosemary (which appeared in many traditional paella recipes anyway). Sometimes cooks start their paellas on the stove and finish them over a wood-burning fire or grill.
The longer it cooks, the darker and more intensely flavored the paella will be. Also indisputable is this: once you’ve stirred the rice with the stock, you leave it alone, uncovered. When the rice is cooked through, after 20 minutes or so, some cooks blast heat to the bottom of the pan. This creates a flavorful crust, called socarrat, on the bottom of the pan.
Most Valencians seem to follow a well-thumbed script. The paella pan is set on the table and diners scoop up their portions with wooden spoons. You want to make sure to get plenty of pieces of burnished meat or vegetables and to scrape up some of the chewy, caramelized socarrat. The tradition is to start at the perimeter and work your way to the center. It’s a convivial way to eat, no matter what’s in your paella.
8 ouncesChorizo sausage
1 1/2 cupsArborio rice
1 cupWhite onion chopped
4 clovesGarlic chopped
1Shallot small chopped
1/2 teaspoonSaffron strands crumpled
1 teaspoonSmoked paprika
1/4 teaspoonCayenne pepper
8 cupClam juice bottled
16 ouncesChicken broth
16 ounce canStewed tomatoes sliced and drained
4 ouncesWhite wine dry
16Shrimp jumbo fresh raw peeled deveined
To tasteSalt and pepper
1 cupPeas frozen
(IMPORTANT – PLEASE READ) I like to buy the mussels the same day I cook them. First I remove all of the ones where the shells have opened. It generally means they are dead. If there is a question about this, tap the shell, and if it closes, they are alive. And we do want them alive.
Rinse and scrub them and remove the beards from the mussels. Place them in a bowl covered with a damp towel and place them in the refrigerator until ready to be used.
After the mussels have cooked, remove the ones that are still closed. This is another indication they are dead. You can become very sick from eating a dead mussel. Symptoms can vary and are too awful to describe here. No amount of cooking will protect you from dead or contaminated shellfish.
Littleneck clams can also be added. I haven’t used clams in this recipe because I didn’t think they added much in the way of flavor or color. If you decided to add clams, add about 12 and then reduce the number of mussels to 12.
AHEAD OF TIME: mince garlic, chop shallot and onion, and add to a small bowl. Cut the sausage into 1/2 inch rounds and add to small bowl. Chop tomato and add to another small bowl. Scrub mussels (remove beards). Shell and devein shrimp and add to a bowl.
Time: 65 Minutes
Heat 3 tablespoons of butter in a paella pan or skillet over medium heat. Add peeled shrimp and saute’ until they turn color. Salt and pepper to taste. Remove to plate.
Heat 1 tablespoonful of oil in pan or skillet over medium heat. Add sausage and cook until brown. Remove to a plate.
Stir rice, onion, garlic, shallots, smoked paprika, cayenne, and saffron into pan drippings. Cook until onion is tender. Stir in clam juice, broth, colatura, and wine. Heat to boiling, then reduce heat and simmer 22 minutes.
Arrange sausage and tomato slices evenly on top of rice. Do not stir. Sprinkle peas over the top and gently press mixture with the back of a spoon. Do not mash it, just press slightly to push peas and sausage down into the rice a little.
Cover the pan and let simmer for 8 minutes.
If using shellfish, arrange the mussels evenly on top, inserting the hinged side down into the rice. Arrange shrimp on top. Cover the pan and let simmer for 3 minutes or until shellfish open.
If you want the socarrat, now is the time to flash the bottom of the pan over high heat. Be careful not to overdo this and burn it.
Remove the pan from heat and keep covered. Let stand for 3 more minutes or until the rice has absorbed all the liquid. Discard any shellfish that haven’t opened.
Cooks’ Notes: Traditional paella uses saffron but turmeric is far cheaper and provides the same beautiful yellow color.
The contents can be transferred to another serving vessel, or simply served from the skillet or paella pan.