It is not hard to find good paella recipes, but it can be tricky sometimes to master making a great paella. I thought I would give you some tips here on what it takes to make a great paella.
A good recipe for paella will include these essential ingredients: bomba rice, Spanish olive oil, Spanish paprika and saffron. Other ingredients will be a combination of: garlic, onions, cilantro, basil, thyme, parsley, a variety of vegetables, chicken, rabbit, fish, shellfish, meats, beans, pimentos and peppers. Start with some combination of these, and by all means, go on to create your own unique paella recipe. Cooking is a creative art so let it flow. There is no right or wrong here.
• Instead of using water when it is time to cook the rice, have a broth on hand you made previously. If you are making a chicken paella, cook a whole chicken a few days before and make chicken broth from the bones and scraps. Do the same if you are going to make a seafood, meat or vegetarian paella. Using a broth over water will pop and deepen all the flavors.
• Use a fine quality Spanish olive oil over other olive oils. The flavor of Spanish olive oils is so distinctive and splendid. They also make flavored olive oils with garlic, rosemary, thyme and lemons. All of these are wonderful and rich.
• Use a high quality saffron. Make sure it is genuine, pure saffron from Spain. Buy it in threads, not ground for the best quality. It is expensive, but a little goes a long way. Grind it with a mortar and pestle for even saturation and flavor.
• The rice for paella is crucial. You cannot use just any old rice. The Spanish rice is perfect for paella, and the best one I have found is the Bomba rice. It is superior to all the other Spanish rice though it takes more liquid than the others.
• The ratio of liquid to rice is tricky, and I have never seen a recipe that calls for the exact same amount. Bomba rice requires about 1/3 more water. Three cups of Bomba rice will serve 8-10 people plentifully when including all the other ingredients. I would estimate about 2 1/2 – 3 cups of liquid per one cup of Bomba rice. I start out with the 2 1/2 amount and see how it goes, depending on the type of paella I am making. The more ingredients I have going, the more absorption, the more liquid I may need. I can always add the extra 1 1/2 cups towards the end. The more you make paella, the more you will master these ratios. It is an art…which means you feel your way along.
• Never cook paella until the rice is completely done. You want to remove it from the stove top or the oven BEFORE the rice is done, and let it sit still, covered, while the rice will finish cooking.
• Experiment with the use of a mortar and pestle for crushing your saffron, parsley, garlic and nuts. It is an ancient method, but does a better job than any modern mechanism to preserve flavor and texture.
• Spanish paprika is incredible, and they make several kinds from mild sweet to bittersweet to hot and smokey. Try them all. I love the smokey.
• You can make paella in advance and keep it at room temperature for several hours before serving.
• Finish your paella in the oven if you are cooking on a stove top as opposed to an official paella burner, especially if it is a big paella pan.
• Try cooking your paella over a wood burning fire, where it will cook slow and steady and achieve the precious “socarrat”, the crispy rice that sticks to the bottom of the pan and sometimes throughout the paella. The combination of the crispy rice and paella juice is well…the heavenly outcome of paella recipes well done.