Making a Paella - Tips & tricks

  

The one thing that you will notice when searching for a paella recipe is that there seems to be a near infinite number of variations - often you will see statements like "traditional recipe that my Mama used to make...” or "real paella recipe" - but the recipes are all very different. You will also see comments on message boards or recipes that you "mustn't add this", or you "must add that" - but as with many world famous dishes, they change, expand and develop over the years - take pizza for example. A few basic principles need to be followed to cook pizza and the rest is up to the "chef"!,  The same principles apply to cooking a Paella !   

To try and cut through the mountain of often conflicting information available we have tried to provide a short list of tips and tricks and basic principles that we have found useful for making a great paella. 

We have divided it into 2 sections:

Basic Principles
  • Remember it is a rice dish !!

The principle around making a good paella is very simple. It is to get all the flavours from the stock and accompanying ingredients into the rice. Someone once wrote -that you know when you have made a good paella when your guests eat all the rice and leave the other bits on the plate - and it is true!! 
 

Many paellas are just "over the top" when it comes to all the trimmings, they add very little to your paella itself and often detract from the flavour of the rice.

  • Use the right rice
As said before, paella is a rice dish so you want to make sure your primary ingredient "rice" is correct. Paella uses a short grain rice. It is typically the Bahia variety grown in South & South-eastern Spain with the best rice coming from Valencia (around the Albufera Nature Reserve) and Calasparra in Murcia.

For that special paella, there is a variety of paella rice called "Bomba" - meaning  bomb !!. This is a slow growing rice that has the amazing property of absorbing 3 times its own volume when cooked without falling apart (normal rice is twice its own volume). As paella is primarily the flavours of the stock being absorbed into the rice - this can make for a very special dish. Although it's nearly double the price of normal paella rice, it's worth it !.

About a 100g of rice per person (Bomba or standard paella rice) will give a good main-course size portion, which means 1Kg of rice will make about a 10 person paella

  • Use the correct size paella pan
The reason there are so many different sizes of paella pan is because it is important not to create a paella that is too deep. Your final paella needs to be a "dry" rice and having the dish too full will not allow the rice to dry out once cooked.

As a basic rule of thumb a paella should not be deeper than the rivets for the handles on the paella pans. We have put together an approximate pan serving guide, but remember people will want to come back for seconds !!
  • Use the appropriate heat source

Traditionally, paella is cooked over an open fire and is still a very good way to cook if you have the facilities. In fact the very largest paella pans that you may have seen in Spanish fiestas can only be cooked over an oven fire !.

Our range of outdoor paella gas burners provides a more convenient way of cooking these large pans outdoors. They are specially designed to heat  the whole bottom surface of the pan.

Cooking on a charcoal BBQ is possible if you can either get the pan close to the coals or use a mixture of wood and charcoal. Gas BBQ's don't work that well as you cannot get enough heat to the pan.

Smaller pans may be used indoors on a normal domestic gas hob or range cooker.  Using a single gas burner, you can use up to about a 34cm pan. Using a central "wok" burner you can use up to about a 38cm pan. Larger paella pans up to about 50cm can be cooked on a gas hob if you use all the gas burners and keep moving the pan - Although it's much easier on an outdoor paella gas burner.


Electric hobs are not well suited for traditional paella pans as they are slightly dished in profile. This causes them to make contact only in the centre of the pan giving a "hot spot". For electric cookers you really need one of our sandwich base paella pans that have machined flat bases.


Cooking Techniques

Rather than a recipe this is a collection of techniques for the various stages used to cook a meat based paella. When is comes to making the stock, there a several ways that this can be accomplished.

Some people make the stock (this is the most tradtional way) by first frying the meat, spices & sofrito (see later) then filling the pan almost full with water (with perhaps a stock cube) and reducing this back to to point where the rice is added. This is an excellent way of producing the stock as it is taking its flavour from the added ingredients and also the meat doesn't need to be fully cooked through as it is also being cooked in the stock too. This keeps the meat from going hard and chewy too ! - The problem is knowing exactly at what point the rice can be added.

The other method is to create the exact amount of stock for the rice separately, and when the meat is cooked adding it along with the rice - This has the advantage of being quicker, but you are not taking as much advantage of the other flavours in the pan (Also you need to ensure the meat is cooked through).

The other method is our "hybrid" method which combines the above 2 methods which is described below:

  • Stage 0 - Before Starting

Whatever cooking method you are using, ensure your paella pan is level. This is because with all the liquid in the pan it will be near the top and will be difficult to adjust when it this full or hot. 

Once you get going the ingredients are added quite quickly, so like all the TV cooking programmes its best to have all your ingredients ready !. Also have your stock prepared and kept hot before starting to cook.

For the stock for a meat based paella we generally use a chicken & vegetable stock. You want to prepare 2 times the volume of rice if you are using for normal paella rice and 3 times for Bomba rice. (As a guide 1 Kg of rice is about 1 litre in volume - so its pretty easy !!). The stock needs to be quite strong and if you are making fresh stock you will need to season with salt. If you are using stock cubes, the stock will probably be salty enough . You can also infuse a pinch of saffron in a cup of boiling water at this point too.  

  • Stage 1 - Frying the chicken

Using chicken pieces with some skin and bone (eg chopped up chicken thighs) fry in the centre of the pan for a few minutes until they are browned. Then push them to the egde whilst you prepare the "sofrito".

  • Stage 2 - The Sofrito

This is one of the most important parts of a paella and consists of a fried tomato paste (Don't worry if you don't like tomato - you will never know it's there !!).  First fry some chopped onion and after a couple of minutes add a tin or two of chopped tomatoes ( A normal tin for a 6 person paella - and a large tin for about 10 people). Fry this very hard with the onion until it reduced into a very thick dark red paste - Keep stirring so it doesn't burn, but reduce it right down.

  • Stage 3 - Adding the other ingredients

When the sofrito is ready, mix with the chicken. Add a teaspoon or so ( for about 10 people) of sweet paprika (not hot paprika). We generally then add some chopped chorizo (some people will be gasping at this !!) and green beans too. (In a traditional Valencian paella they also add white beans called 'garafon').

  • Stage 4 - The Stock

Now is the time to add the stock using the "hybrid" method. Pour the exact amount of stock into the pan along with the saffron. Mix around with the chicken an other ingredients and then note where the level of the liquid is in relation to the pan (use the rivets as a guide or make a small measuring stick). Now add more water until it is about a centimetre deeper then before.

Turn up the heat and boil until the level of the liquid has been reduced to the original level. Taste the stock to ensure there is enough salt. At this point you can add a sachet of the paella spices if you wish.

  • Stage 5 - Adding the rice

Sprinkle the rice as evenly as possible around the pan ensuring that all the rice is below the level of the liquid. DO NOT STIR THE RICE. Turn the heat up to high and boil for about 10 minutes until the rice starts to appear through the liquid.

If the rice is not as evenly dispersed as you thought, don't stir it, just pick a spoonful up with a large flat spoon (or paella skimmer spoon) and place it where you need more rice. Turn down the heat and continue to simmer for about another 10 minutes until virtually all the liquid has been absorbed. Don't worry if the top layer of rice is still a little al-dente as this will be finished off when the paella is resting.

  • Stage 6 - Creating the "Socorat"

The scocorat is one of the most highly prized parts of a paella. It is the dark caramalised rice that sticks to the bottom of the pan. It's a little tricky to get it right, but here is what you do.

Tup the heat to full for no more than a minute or so. You will hear the rice start to "pop". After a short time "popping" (30 seconds or so) turn off the heat completely.

  • Stage 7 - Resting

It is important for your paella to rest for at least 10 minutes. Cover it tightly with either foil or newspaper. If you want to decorate you paella with pre-cooked prawns and mussels, then this is a good time to add them so they can warm through.

  • Stage 8 - Serve & Enjoy

Now your paella is ready. Bring it to the table in all its glory and remember when serving to scrape to the bottom to get the socorat !!.

The Paella Company - The Home of Paella
 01256 702020      info@thepaellacompany.co.uk
 
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