A great Paella is about three things – sofrito, the right rice and, or course, great ingredients. About a year ago, I started taking Paella seriously. In part, this was due to a great article and tutorial in Saveur.
In the Bay Area there is a retailer – The Spanish Table – that specializes in imported ingredients from Spain and the basics for making Paella. Inspired by the Saveur article, I set out across the Golden Gate Bridge to The Spanish Table outpost in Marin. Here, I picked up a small 9.5” carbon steel pan that was adequate for my first Paella-for-one experiments and a bag of Bomba rice.
Bomba rice is something of a revelation to me. In the past, I was cavalier about which variety of rice to use. For instance, I would buy and use a one-gallon jug of American Arborio rice from Costco and then wonder why my Risotto took 40 minutes, rather than 20 minutes to cook. I used American long grain rice like Uncle Ben’s in my first disappointing attempts to make Paella. Rice was rice, right?
Bomba is a very short-grain Spanish rice. Because it is long maturing and very dry, Bomba can absorb more liquid than other rice varieties. This characteristic makes it the perfect rice for Paella. I am sure that Paella evolved to showcase the excellent Bomba rice of Valencia. Add this rice with 3 times the amount of liquid and in 20 minutes it will be cooked to the proper consistency.
Unlike making Risotto, stirring is not required when cooking Paella. A light crust of toasted rice should form at the bottom of the pan. Know as socarrat, this crust is desirable in well-crafted Paella. To prevent the socarrat from become too dark and burnt, the pan should be move around over the heat and the temperature monitored.
The sequence for preparing Paella is pretty straightforward. Olive oil is heated in the pan and then the meat proteins sautéed until beginning to brown. This is followed by the important step of making a sofrito typically consisting of garlic, onion, and tomatoes.
Next a steeped tea made of saffron threads is added along with either water or broth. When the liquid comes to a boil, the rice is added. Vegetables, seafood, and garnishes are added at appropriate times during the cooking process.
The dish is done when the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed. As mentioned in the opening paragraphs, I have a small 9.5” pan that makes enough Paella for two people. But, I ended up buying too many ingredients to use this small pan so I used a larger 13” pan.
Pair the Paella with a salad and a crisp white wine. My dinner partner and I prepared a salad of puntarelle and enjoyed a nice Sauvignon Blanc from Napa with this meal. The recipe that follows serves 6.
- Large pinch of saffron
- 4 tablespoons of everyday olive oil
- 6 large shrimp (ideally head-on shrimp)
- 4 boneless chicken thighs cut into 2” pieces
- Salt and pepper
- 1 Spanish dry chorizo sausage sliced into rounds
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 3 small to medium tomatoes, diced
- 2 shallots diced (one yellow onion may be substituted)
- 3 tablespoons jarred pimentos, diced
- 2 tablespoons imported smoked paprika
- 4 cups (32 ounces) of packaged, low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- 1-1/2 cups of water
- 2 cups of Bomba rice
- 1 dozen braised baby artichokes (substitute frozen or jarred artichoke hearts)
- ¼ cup capers (caper berries may be substituted)
- 1 dozen small clams such as Manila or Little Neck
- 1 dozen asparagus tips (the upper three inches), blanched
- 1 dozen ½” strips of jarred Piquillo or red peppers
- Juice of ½ lemon (optional)
- Place the saffron in ½ cup of hot water to steep.
- Bring the pan to medium high heat on the stovetop and add 4 tablespoons of Olive oil.
- Season the chicken and shrimp with salt and pepper. Add these, along with the sliced chorizo to the pan. Remove the shrimp after 1 minute and set aside.
- To make the Sofrito, add garlic, tomatoes, shallots, pimentos and paprika to the pan. Sauté these ingredients, along the chicken and chorizo, on medium high heat for about 5 minutes, or until the shallots are translucent.
- Add the steeped saffron, broth and water to the pan bringing the total liquid added to about 6 cups. Bring the liquid to a boil and then add rice stirring once to distribute in the pan. Add the artichokes and capers to the rice mixture.
- After cooking for about 10 minutes place the partially cooked shrimp in the pan along with the clams. Also, at this time arrange the braised asparagus and pepper strips on top of the rice. Reduce the heat low and continue cooking for 5 to 10 minutes until the clams have opened and the rice has absorbed the liquid.
- Taste for doneness, remove from the heat and cover with a dishtowel until ready to serve. Serve with lemons that can be squeezed over the Paella servings.