My sister was studying abroad in Sevilla, Spain when our family flew across the Atlantic to visit this country full of flamenco dancers, bull fights, and strange Gaudi architecture. But what I didn’t know is that I would fall head over heels for the national dish: PAELLA!
The first time I had it we were in a low-lit café, with live acoustic guitar wafting from the town’s cobblestone central plaza. The waiter brought out a wide shallow pan to our table, mussels still steaming. The presentation looked so elegant, yet had an earthy, rustic feel. That’s probably why I like it so much – this has always been my favorite combination of traits.
Paella feels fun, which makes it the perfect dish for a family gathering or party. Recently I threw a Paella Party for one of my bestie’s 40thbirthday. It was a total hit and several people at the party remarked that they are now going to make it for their summer gatherings.
The combination of red peppers, large shrimp and clams, bright green parsley, and yellow rice make it a show-stopper in the pan. The lemon adds a fresh kick that pops the taste buds when you take a bite. Perfection!
Paella roots go back to a region in Spain called Valencia (in the Eastern region). The most commonly accepted story of paella’s origins is that servants would take the leftovers from Moorish royal banquets, combine them, and cook the mixture over open fires into delicious dishes they would take home to their families.
Paella became popular in the mid-nineteen hundreds when laborers would gather in the middle of the day and combine their leftovers with rice. They used an open fire for their heating element, and the most authentic version of paella maintain this cooking method to this day. It is believed that most paella dishes at the time consisted of snails and whatever vegetables the workers could scrounge up, and meats like chicken or rabbit were only added for special occasions.
There is not “one recipe” for paella. It can be made with rice, chicken, fish, shellfish, eel, rabbit, squid, artichokes, snails, beans, peppers, or any other variety of vegetables. However, it must be seasoned with saffron, an expensive, orange-red spice – the signature, mainstay ingredient to this special dish.
While paella is not difficult to make, it is a multi step process. You put something in, then take something out several times over. It is also a bit messy, so get the apron on! I find it helpful to prep all of the ingredients ahead of time and have them in dishes ready to go. Because paella is such a social meal, have the cooking process be part of the fun.
Paella pans are readily available, but a regular Dutch-oven pot works great as well. If you have a large crowd, use two pots.
For sides, anything mediterranean works! We had arugula salads with kalamata olives, marcona almonds, and goat cheese, tapas, and a greek-style charcuterie board. And of course, for drink – it must be SANGRIA.
Ok it’s time to pull out all the stops… Let’s do paella!Print
The Perfect Paella Recipe
A traditional Spanish dish full of zest, spice, and flavor!
- 1 lb. extra large shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- salt & pepper
- 3 tsp. paprika
- 10 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips
- 8 Oz. Spanish chorizo (or whatever you can find), cut ½ inch on the bias
- 1 whole andouille sausage, cut on the bias
- 1 medium onion, finely minced
- 1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes, drained, minced, and rinsed again
- 2 cups Arborio rice
- 3 cups chicken broth
- ½ c. dry white wine
- ¾ tsp. saffron threads, crumbled
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 lb. mussels, scrubbed
- ½ cup frozen peas
- 2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees and adjust the racks to the bottom so you can fit the pan or Dutch oven.
- Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Sauté the red peppers until slightly blistered and blackened. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
- Pour another 1 Tbsp. oil into the pan. Sprinkle the chicken with salt, pepper, and the paprika. Add the chicken pieces to the pot and brown for 3-6 minutes per side. Set aside.
- Add the chorizo to the pan and cook until the fat renders, about 5-6 min. Add the chorizo to the chicken and set aside. Repeat with the andouille sausage.
- Add another tablespoon of oil to the pot if needed and sauté the onions until translucent. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant.
- Stir in the tomatoes and cook another 3 min. until slightly thickened.
- Stir in the rice and coat all the pieces with the tomato mixture. I like letting the rice brown in the bottom of the pan to give it a more earthy taste.
- Add the chicken broth, wine, saffron, bay leaf, and a sprinkle of salt. Mix well. Return the chicken and chorizo to the pot and bring to a roaring boil, stirring a few times. Put the lid on the pot and put it in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed into the rice. Remove from the oven.
- Uncover the pot and scatter the shrimp across the pan. Place the mussels hinged side down in the rice so they stand up. Scatter the red pepper in a pin wheel type design, and sprinkle the peas. Cover the pan and return to the oven for another 10-15 min. (until the mussels have opened).
- Remove from the oven and let the paella stand covered for 5 min. Throw away any mussels that have not opened and take out the bay leaf. Sprinkle the fresh parsley over the top and serve with lemon wedges.