Image of paella in a pan and on a plate showing paella with rice, chicken and seafood with Tuttorosso Tomatoes 

Tips for Making Perfect Paella

Paella is one of those dishes that you may have ordered at a restaurant thinking you could never make it at home. It seems like a difficult dish that might take a lot of time to make. But guess what?! It isn’t overly complicated and with a few tips and tricks we learned along the way, you too can make Perfect Paella at home! Scroll down to read.

What is Paella?

First things first. What is Paella and how to you pronounce the dish? Paella is pronounced like “pai-ei-uh”. A well-known Spanish cuisine, Paella is a rice dish with many variations. It is typically made with meat such as rabbit, chicken and sausage, the essential sofritto (we’ll explain what that is later), plenty of seafood and shellfish, chicken stock and tomatoes. You may be intimidated by some of the ingredients listed in the recipe, but don’t be! You can find most of them at your local grocery and what you can’t find, you can buy online. That is where we found our paella rice and saffron; even the paella pan. We included links to some of the items we ordered to save you time searching.

Do I need special equipment?

Traditional Spanish paella is made on a grill and that is how we made ours. A paella pan is a wide, round, and shallow dish with handles on two sides. Do you have to use a paella pan? You do not. But, we found that we enjoy this dish so much we were willing to invest in buying a pan so we can make it anytime we want! We bought this carbon steel pan from World Market® that allowed us to make enough paella for 6-8 adults and cost us under $20!

Tips for choosing the right paella pan: First consider your heat source. If you are going to make on your grill be sure to measure your cooking space so you don’t get a pan that is too big and will not fit. We cooked our paella on a large komodo style round grill and the 15” pan fit very snug inside. If you are cooking on a stove top or oven, a pan that is 17-18 inches would be ideal. Second, consider how many people you are going to serve. Again, our 15” pan allowed us to have enough paella for 6-8 adults. You can get a pan up to 32 inches if you are feeding a large party of 20-40 of your closest friends! You’ll need a sharp chef’s knife for chopping and prepping your ingredients, a saucepan for warming the chicken stock, a cutting board for prep, kitchen tongs, a metal spoon or spatula for cooking the paella and a grill large enough for your paella pan or cooking vessel. Also helpful to have are thick oven mitts or gloves so you can safely remove the pan from the grill. And finally a kitchen timer or your smartphone will be your best friend and helper when cooking your paella so you can time each step of cooking.

What if you don’t want to buy a paella pan? That is fine, if you choose to use what you have in your kitchen; choose a wide, shallow pan that is not a heavy bottomed pan. Make sure it is heat-safe, including the handle. The trick is that your layer of rice should be no more than two inches deep. That ensures that all of the liquid is absorbed and you get an even-cooked rice with a slightly crunchy bottom. If cooking on the grill, know that your pan will get black from the fire; this may not be the time to use your best cookware.

Ingredients in Paella

What if I have a shellfish or seafood allergy? Leave it out! It will still be delicious with chicken and chorizo, you may want to add more chicken thighs or chicken legs to have enough protein to feed 6-8 people if leaving it out. There are even vegetarian-friendly versions if want to go that direction. Isn’t it great to cook at home? You can easily adjust and choose ingredients that fit your taste and health requirements. Sure, you can special order at a restaurant, but a special order isn’t needed when you make it homemade!

Most of the ingredients are items you might have on hand or are part of your weekly or daily shopping trip such as onions, bell peppers, chicken stock, Tuttorosso tomatoes, garlic, dried oregano, olive oil, salt, pepper, frozen peas, lemon, and parsley. A few items you may not have in your pantry we will help you find. They are seafood including shellfish, saffron threads, smoked paprika, white wine, Spanish chorizo and paella rice.

Depending on where you live, you may have easier access to seafood and shellfish than others. But even those of living in a land-locked state have access to shrimp, mussels, and clams at the supermarket or a seafood market without making too much of a dent in your wallet. If you choose to add baby octopus or calamari; it may be more difficult to find so it is optional, but it is just as delicious without!

The spices. Saffron threads are a very specialty item and tend to be expensive. This paella recipe takes only a pinch so if you buy this saffron (we found ours at our local grocery store), you can easily make paella three times from just 1 gram! Yes, $20 seems like a lot for a spice, and it is, it is the most expensive spice in the world (by weight). Do you have to use saffron in paella? No, you don’t; but for a special occasion or special dish it is worth the expense for authentic paella. Could you order a good paella from a restaurant for $20? But we get it, you may not want to take the expense and instead look for a substitution. Although there isn’t a substitute for saffron, turmeric is an acceptable option. You will get color from turmeric and a more pungent flavor which makes it a good option to use in place of saffron. Use it sparingly however, too much will give the dish an “out of place” taste. We love smoked paprika and apparently so do many others, it is a trending spice used by so many for the smoky flavor it imparts to your dish. As it is trending with many cooks, it is easier to find at most grocery stores than it was say a year or two ago. You can also find it online for under $7, and unlike saffron; this spice has many uses so you are likely to use it again and again. We love it on scrambled eggs, added to chili, or in a dry rub for meat. Again, not a requirement if you don’t have room for one more spice jar, you can use sweet paprika instead.

What type of white wine do I use? A nice dry wine that is at room temperature works best, nothing too sweet.  Using wine is not required, but if you have wine in the house go ahead and add it. The alcohol cooks off and leaves a subtle sweetness and flavor only wine can impart. If you do not wish to use wine, add chicken stock in place of the wine.

Spanish Chorizo is used in this recipe and does it ever add a depth of flavor you are going to love! This is not the variety of chorizo that is ground and cooked like ground beef. This is a cooked variety that is like a sausage or salami. More and more supermarkets carry this smoky meat, it is typically found in or around the deli or specialty meat area. If you cannot find Spanish chorizo, you could use another type of sausage such as andouille; but again if you want to make an authentic Spanish paella, try to find this delicious meat.

Now for the last and probably the most important ingredient, the rice. Again, paella is a rice dish. In order to get the right consistency for this dish you must use a short-grain rice. This type of rice is going to do the best job of absorbing liquid (flavor) from the dish. There are a few options when it comes to choosing the best rice for paella. There is Calasparra, Senia, Bahia, or Bomba rice. Any of these rice varieties will work for absorbing liquid; Bomba rice absorbs the most amount, about three times its volume but it can be more expensive. We used this Calasparra Rice purchased on Amazon for around $15. Again, this may seem like a luxury purchase, however; rice is very important to this dish and you should be able to make our recipe three times with this 2+ pound bag! What are other good options for rice in paella? Calrose is one option that is a short-grain variety that can be found in supermarkets in the US and if you can’t find it; your next best option would be Arborio rice, yes, the rice you use in risotto! Your dish will be a different consistency if using Arborio rice as it has a higher starch content leading to a creamier rice. Paella differs in Risotto in a couple of ways, with risotto you are adding smaller amounts of liquid in stages allowing the liquid to absorb between additions. You stir the rice often to break down the starch so you get a creamy, and delicious rice. Rice used in paella absorbs more liquid than Arborio rice and you get a drier rice in the end. You also do not stir the rice in paella once the liquid is added, and it is added all at once; so the rice retains more starch for a firm texture. So, will Arborio rice work in paella? The short answer is yes; but your best choice is to buy rice that is meant for making paella.

Before you start cooking

Pick and prepare your pan. If you bought a paella pan, read the directions from the manufacture on how to season the pan before the first use. It will likely be a quick wash and get it completely dry, then rub oil on the inside after you heat it in the oven or on the stove top for a few minutes. You will do this after each use, if you have cast iron in your kitchen, this is a very similar process.

Read through the recipe directions two or three times. Yes, that many. If you have never made this dish, it is important to understand the process and timing so you end up with perfect paella! It isn’t hard, but there are steps that give you the best results.

Prep your ingredients. We find this step helpful anytime we cook. Before you start cooking any recipe, gather all of your ingredients and prep them according to the recipe instructions. For this Tuttorosso Paella, you are going to need to cut your chicken thighs in half using a sharp chef’s knife or meat cleaver, then season them on both sides with salt and pepper. Then you are going to combine the rice, saffron, paprika, salt, and pepper in a bowl and set aside until ready to cook.  Next you will chop and dice the garlic, onion, and bell pepper. These make up the sofrito in this dish. Sofrito in Spanish is to lightly “fry” ingredients that are aromatic. We sweat these veggies in the oil and rendered chicken fat to start building a layer of flavor that absorbs into the rice.

Clean the seafood or shellfish you are using in your paella. You will clean, peel and devein your shrimp; scrub your clams and mussels and remove any beards if necessary, rinse the octopus if using or clean and slice the calamari into rings, if using.

Dice the chorizo, you will need to remove the casing, then cut into small diced pieces. We do this by cutting the sausage in half lengthwise, then again lengthwise, then cut the strips into small pieces. Get out your frozen peas so they can thaw and you are ready to cook!

Making the paella

Preheat your grill to High heat. We started our grill while we prepped our ingredients so it was hot and ready for use once we were done prepping. We kept our grill temperature between 300 degrees F and 350 degrees F. We found this was an easy temperature to regulate and maintain.

Warm the stock. If you skip this step and add cold stock to your dish, you will immediately bring down the temperature of the pan and the ingredients and you will not get the expected results. You can also “steep” the saffron threads in the stock as it warms, or add it to the rice along with the smoked paprika, salt, and pepper like we do in our recipe.

Cooking the rice. The best advice we can give you for obtaining perfect rice is to coat the rice well before you add the liquid. As we said earlier, paella is unlike risotto in that you are not continually stirring the rice, except when you add it to the pan. You want to make sure all of the rice is coated with the delicious fats and juices in the pan for maximum flavor! After you add the wine and the warmed stock, you need to make sure all of the rice is submerged. Use the back of a spoon if necessary to gently push it down into the liquid. You will need to bring the ingredients to a bubbly simmer without stirring. You will watch the rice to make sure the liquid isn’t boiling off too quickly. If this happens add about a ½ cup of the remaining stock as needed. After you add the seafood, chorizo and peas the dish will cook for another 20-35 minutes, you need to maintain a simmer and make sure the liquid is absorbing. This may require you to rotate the pan for even cooking and distributing liquid without moving the rice. Socarrat is what is found in well-made paella. This is the crispy rice on the bottom of the pan. It isn’t burnt, but instead toasted and caramelized. Which is opposite of most rice dishes where you would never allow the rice to stick to the pan, but trust us when we say it is the prize of paella! This is achieved by not moving the rice, and cooking out nearly all of the liquid and listening for the rice to crackle and start smelling toasty, not burnt. You can use a metal spoon or spatula to move a small bit of the rice to periodically check the bottom of the pan for a little resistance and making sure it is not burning.

The final cooking stage is to let it rest. Why? This allows the dish to round out the flavors and takes about 5-10 minutes covered by a clean dish towel off the heat. Do not use a lid or foil to do this which will create steam and introduce liquid back into the dish. A towel will absorb steam and let some escape so you don’t lose that socarrat you worked hard to obtain.

How do you serve paella?

Traditionally everyone gathers around and eats right from the pan! Now, under any other circumstance we would be totally okay with this; but in these crazy times we do not suggest serving like this.  Let your guests fill a plate using a serving spoon and set out lemon wedges for a quick squeeze before digging in! You could serve with a lightly dressed salad on the side and some crusty bread to complete the meal. And if wine is your thing, we suggest a Spanish red like a Rojo red wine that is slightly chilled.  It doesn’t have to be fancy or fussy and that is why we love this style of cooking where it is relaxed and meant to be enjoyed with family and friends.

We wish you the best of luck on making this dish, and it really is a “labor” of love. Your family and friends will be impressed and you will find more special occasions or holidays for making this prized dish again, and again. And as always, when you start with quality ingredients like Tuttorosso Tomatoes, you are sure to get your best results. Your best creations start with Tuttorosso.

Get our Tuttorosso Paella recipe here

Image of Tuttorosso Tomatoes Paella recipe in a paella pan with a plated serving of rice, chicken and seafood