Traditional Spanish Paella is filled with bold flavors, vibrant colors and is one of the most famous dishes from Spain.
A Brief History
In Spain, this national dish originated in the countryside fields of Valencia. The agricultural workers were the first to cook rice in a flat pan over a fire at lunchtime. Using what they found from the land, the ingredients included snails, local vegetables and rabbits.
Celebrations of birthdays and holidays with family and friends are often planned around a paella feast. The paella dish is placed in the middle of the dining table and is usually eaten straight from the pan with wooden spoons.
Passion for Paella
About 25 years ago, after we made the move from Northern Louisiana to Nashville, somehow I became obsessed with the art of cooking paella. I do remember that I was inspired by a recipe that I found in a cookbook called Cooking with Wine. I purchased my first paella pan (in the photo below) from a local cooking store in my area and occasionally cooked paella for just my husband and I or, for a group of friends. I was already an adventurous cook from the Sicilian-Cajun influences of my family and growing up in Louisiana. I come from a family of talented home cooks and I can thank my father and mother for continuing their rich Italian culinary history that my brother and I were born in to a still carry on today. Nashville’s food culture has come a long way. We now have access to any ingredient necessary to create authentic dishes from just about anywhere in the world.
While living in the Texas Hill Country, I began hosting Paella Parties for friends and cooked paella for 30 people at a local olive oil orchard. When I moved back to Nashville, I wanted to continue hosting parties and decided to take my passion for paella to another level.
Essential Ingredients – Local Ingredients – Support Local
Bomba Rice is essential to creating an authentic, quality paella. This short-grained rice is grown in Spain. It is very easy to cook with and is very forgiving. It can absorb a lot of liquid without becoming sticky or clumped. You can find Bomba rice at some specialty stores around town or it can be ordered from www.latienda.com or www.hotpaella.com. Although you don’t necessarily have to have an actual paella pan, you definitely need a flat, shallow pan that allows for a lot of surface area to spread out the rice and absorb the liquid used in this Spanish rice dish. If you can’t find a paella pan in your area, they are available for ordering in many sizes on the websites provided. Other ingredients such as high quality saffron threads and smoked paprika can also be purchased on these sites, too.
There is such a variety of vibrant flavors and ingredients in a paella, that a red or white can be enjoyed with this dish. I think a mouth-watering Albariño, a Spanish white or a young red (Joven) wine from the Rioja region of Spain. A young fruit forward yet balanced wine with lush, fresh fruit flavors and aromas finishing with refreshing acidity is needed rather a heavily oaked wine with overpowering tannins that would compete with rather than enhance the flavors in the paella.
One sip of Faustino Rivero Ulecia 2011 from the Rioja Region of Spain and you will see why I recommend it. Juicy red and black fruit such as raspberries, strawberries and blueberries fill the mouth with fresh fruit flavors and pleasing acidity. Although this is a young wine, layers of blueberry pie spices, a touch of vanilla and a hint of dark chocolate and white pepper have a lingering finish with this delicious wine perfect for a paella pairing.
Whether is a Paella Mixta, with chicken, seafood and spicy chorizo or just a meat paella or seafood, there are endless recipes to please everyone. Like the field workers who created their meal with local ingredients out of necessity, the best ingredients are the ones that you can obtain locally. Nashville is rich with local sources for chicken and pork and Southern seafood such as shrimp and clams are fresh and succulent which makes a fabulous paella with a touch of the south! The best dishes are the ones sourced locally for quality and freshness while supporting your local farmers.
I have 6 paella pans ranging from sizes of 14 inches to 32 inches. The 32 inch paella pan is large enough to make a paella for around 30-35 hungry guests!
This past summer, I hosted a Paella Party for a friend from high school complete with tapas and a great selection of Spanish wines. After the paella was finished cooking, the host and one of his guests carried the large pan in to the house to begin the paella feast.
Recently, I had fun teaching a Paella Class at Williams-Sonoma and I am looking forward to many upcoming classes at Whole Foods, Nashville Farmer’s Market and The University School.
So, here is a basic paella recipe that I use. There are so many variations on this recipe and I will post each individually as I cook them.
- 5 chicken thighs
- 5 chicken legs
- 12 fresh clams
- 12-15 fresh mussels
- ¾ lb fresh Southern Shrimp
- 3 local chorizo Links removed from casings, crumbled and cooked
- ¼ t saffron threads
- 2 t Spanish Smoked Paprika, sweet or bittersweet + extra for the chicken
- 4-5 cups chicken broth
- 3 T Spanish olive oil + plus extra
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced + extra
- 1 t thyme
- 1 t marjoram or oregano
- 2 cups Bomba Rice
- 2 T fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 1 cup green peas, green beans, garbanzo beans, large lima beans or gigantes beans
- 1 roasted red bell pepper, cooled, peel removed and julienned
- Handful of italian parsley, chopped
- 1 lemon sliced into wedges
- EXTRA SEASONINGS
- salt and pepper
- Favorite seasonings such as garlic and lemon pepper
- 15 inch paella pan (4 to 6 people)
- Rub chicken pieces liberally with your favorite seasonings, smoked paprika, s/p, olive oil and fresh minced garlic.
- Add a little olive oil to paella pan and cook crumbled chorizo. Drain out most of the oil.
- Set aside.
- Add a couple more of tablespoons of olive oil to paella pan and cook chicken until done.
- Set aside.
- Add onions and sauté until partially soft then add minced garlic.
- Spread the Bomba rice, smoked paprika, thyme, marjoram to onion mixture and sauté for a few minutes until the onions get a little brown on the edges.
- Add broth,(only up to the level of the bolts on the pan) scraping up any brown bits.
- Add lemon juice.
- Cook for about 10 minutes.
- Arrange cooked chicken pieces on top of the partially cooked rice, pushing down slightly.
- Add more broth if necessary.
- Arrange the seafood attractively around the pan, pushing each one down into the rice.
- Do not crowd.
- Do not stir anymore. You want to form the succorat: the crusty rice that sticks to the bottom of the pan. Everyone loves this! This is a tradition.
- While the paella is simmering, begin arranging the garnishes.
- Once the chicken is heated through, the clams and mussels have opened and the shrimp are cooked, it's ready!