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How-To

Yes, You Can Pull Off A Paella

Just think of it as the ultimate one-pot meal.
A pan of seafood paella Recipe and Food Styling by Eshun Mott; Produced by Aimee Nishitoba; Photography by Christie Vuong; Prop Styling by Nicole Billark.

Whether in a sun-soaked locale or at my neighbourhood farmers’ market, the sight and smell of a giant pan of paella cooking outdoors always draws me in. There’s something about the mix of saffron and tomato-tinged rice and meat or seafood that just feels special—but the truth is, it’s easy enough to make at home.

Making a delicious pan of paella is about slowly building flavour. It’s not complicated, but it does take a bit of attention. The first step is to make a batch of sofrito, a thick, tomato-based vegetable sauce that’s used widely in Spanish cuisine and can be made several days ahead. (In fact, I recommend it.)

I've developed a recipe for a simple seafood paella to get you started. It makes double the amount of sofrito you’ll need, so freeze the leftovers for a quick paella another day. There are more vegetables in this version than you might find in a traditional recipe, making it a satisfying, one-pot meal. And don’t sweat the timing on the seafood: Let it cook in the liquid with the rice and remove it as soon as it’s done, adding it back in for serving. Achieving the soccarat—that coveted crunchy layer of rice on the bottom of the pan—takes some practice. You don’t have to aim for the socarrat on your very first try. Remember that an almost perfectly cooked paella is always going to be better than a burnt one!

Yes, You Can Pull Off A Paella Photography by Christie Vuong; Prop Styling by Nicole Billark.

Building your own paella

Sofrito: It’s hard to find the time and patience you need to make a good sofrito on an average weeknight, so we highly recommend making it ahead of time. You want all the vegetables to achieve maximum sweetness and softness and to build a real depth of flavour—this is only attainable through long, slow cooking.

Pan: Traditional paella pans are wider than frying pans to give rice maximum heat contact and lots of top surface area for cooking add-ins—but they are often too wide for the average stovetop. For most home cooks, a 10-in. pan is the best everyday option. If you have the opportunity to use a 13- or 14-in. paella pan, we suggest getting creative with a barbecue, experimenting with cooking in a 500F oven or even splitting the pan over two flat-top heat elements.

Stock: Traditional paella is often made with water, but using stock adds extra flavour. Avoid using one rich with meat proteins, as it will caramelize quickly and may lead to your rice burning on the bottom instead of crisping up. If you can’t find fish stock, you can add a bit of bottled clam juice to vegetable stock to get a decent substitute. (Just don’t add too much salt!)

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Rice: Bomba rice is held up as the ideal varietal for paella, as the grains tend to be even in size (and therefore cook evenly). And it can absorb up to three times its weight in liquid and thus makes an extra flavorful result. But a number of other short-grain rices will work: Look for ones recommended for paella and cut back the liquid slightly to compensate.

Add-ins: There are so many options here! Chicken and rabbit are a traditional combination (add a sprig of rosemary to the sofrito), and seafood on its own is also a classic. But many combinations of these ingredients also exist. A combination of chorizo and seafood may not be traditional in Spain, but the rest of the world agrees it is delicious. Keep in mind that fish and shellfish can exude up to 1/2 cup of extra liquid, which is reflected in the amount of stock used in our recipe. If you are just using meat, you may need to add a bit more stock. As for vegetables: We’ve added a bit more than usual to make our paella closer to a one-dish meal, but you can leave them out or just add fresh or frozen peas near the end of cooking as another option.

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