Recipe: Paella


26 Feb Recipe: Paella

Making and enjoying paella -

One of these days I’ll learn how to take notes, shoot pictures and eat, all at once. This sort of multi-tasking would have come in very handy last week when I attended a paella class at Pimenton in Toronto. Greeted by a table full of tapas, fellow bloggers chopping vegetables and a warm and welcoming Chef José Arato, my anxiety over arriving late due to the rush hour drive melted. It took at couple of Tortilla & Chorizo Tarts to calm me down, but they did the trick.

Until the class, most of my knowledge about paella came from Posh Nosh, a British cooking show spoof. Unlike the TV version, Chef José’s paella was cooked on the stove top — not in the ancestral Aga — and uses bomba rice, not Italian arborio. Who knew you can’t trust the BBC for cooking advice?

To feed the blogging hoard, Chef José made the dish in three pans. He assured us paella is not a precise dish. There’s a lot of eyeballing involved. And true to his word, he measured nothing. To begin, he poured the oil in the centre of the pan explaining that he stops when it’s 2 inches from the edge. He added ladles of various broths throughout the process, depending on how much it boiled down.

If paella is an art, it’s a forgiving one. Chef José assured us that every paella dish tasted slightly different from the next. But the technique remains the same. Layers of flavours cooked into rice.

Even the rice itself wasn’t measured. Chef José just poured it straight from the bag into the paella pan. The trick? Pour in a single line from back to front.

The rice itself is key. True paella is made with bomba rice. Not basmati, or arborio or jasmine or Uncle Ben’s. This specialty rice absorbs three times its volume in water (compared to regular long grain rice which absorbs twice as much water and basmati which absorbs a mere one and a half times.) While it’s short and fat like the rice used in risotto, bomba isn’t starchy, is hard to over-cook and delivers different results. Arborio rice will produce a creamier paella and the grains won’t separate like it should in the traditional dish.

Where do you get bomba? At Pimenton’s. Chef José says it’s the only place in Toronto that sells this Spanish rice. And based on the way he cradled the bag, I believe him.

Between taking photos*, trying not to step on other people’s toes and nibbling on tapas, I managed to jot down these handy tips.

  • Use a paella pan. Its wide mouth and flat bottom are essential to the cooking. Chef José sells paella pans at Pimenton. The smallest size he sells is 14-inches, which serves between 4 and 6 people. As Chef José says, there’s no use making any less.
  • Chef José prefers to use chicken thighs for their meaty flavour and fat content, but breasts are fine, too.
  • Unpeeled shrimp provides better flavour, but José cautions, “Think about your guests.” You might want to remove the shell to make it easier for them to east.
  • Chef José makes his own chicken stock for paella with nothing but water and chicken bones. No mire poix, no salt. Just chicken bones and water. This way the stock provides heft and flavour, but doesn’t interfere with the other flavours being layered into the dish.
  • He doesn’t stir the dish. Instead, he grips the handle and gently but firmly rotates it clockwise and counter clockwise to swirl the rice into the  liquid.
  • Paella is all about eye balling. When the liquid boils down, add more. Rice is poured, not measured.
  • When it comes to bomba rice, José’s rule of thumb is that 1 kg will feed 10 people. If you’re nervous about eyeballing the rice, it’s
  • better to add less rice than more.
Once the chopping was done and the cooking began, the dish, in all its intoxicating glory, was on the table in less than an hour.

Served right from the pan it was cooked in, the paella was finished at the table. Peas, roasted red pepper slivers, shrimp, mussels and lemon wedges turned the monochromatic saffron yellow dish into a colourful main.

Classic Paella
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Spanish
Prep / inactive time: 
Cook / active time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8
Recipe: Paella Prep Time: 30 minutes Cook Time: 45 minutes Serving Size: 6 - 8 This classic Spanish dish is bursting with seafood and flavour. Cook on the stove top.
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 3 tbsp parsley, chopped coarsely
  • 1 good pinch saffron, infused
  • 1 chicken cut into pieces, or 4 boneless chicken breasts cut into small pieces
  • 2 squid, cleaned and cut into rings
  • 16 clams, very small, smoked to remove sand
  • 12 - 16 shrimp in their shell
  • Spanish olive oil (as needed)
  • 1 onion, medium, finely chopped
  • 1 red pepper, finely chopped
  • ½ cup Sofrito*
  • 3 cups Bomba rice
  • 6½ cups chicken or fish broth, hot
  • 1 tbsp salt, or as needed
  • ½ cup green beans
  • ½ cup frozen peas
  • ½ lemon
  • 2 sweet roasted red peppers
  • 2 dozen mussels, steamed
  • lemon wedges
  1. If your saffron is dry, bring ½ cup of stock to boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat, add saffron and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside.
  2. In a mortar and pestle or small food processor, mash the garlic, parsley and some coarse salt to a paste. Add the dried saffron and set aside.
  3. Heat 6 tbsp oil in a paella pan and add the shrimp. Cook briefly and set shrimp aside.
  4. Add the chicken and cook briefly, then add the clams and squid. Remove these from the paella pan.
  5. Add more oil if necessary, then add onions, pepper and cook until soft, but not brown, then add the sofrito and the garlic mixture.
  6. Add enough stock to come up to the rivets of the paella pan. Bring the stock to a boil. Squeeze in the lemon and season with salt.
  7. Add the rice in one line (from back to front) and then stir gently to mix it into the stock. Allow the dish to boil hard for 8 minutes.
  8. Add the green beans and peas. Nestle the shrimp on top. Do not stir or you will release the starch into the rice.
  9. Continue cooking at a rolling boil for 2-3 minutes or until the rice is no longer soupy but enough liquid remains to cook the rice. Reduce the heat to low, place the mussels on top of the rice and arrange strips of roasted peppers on top of the paella. If the paella pan's bottom doesn't fit properly on the stove burner, continue cooking in a pre-heated 350°F oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven while the rice looks a bit wet.
  10. Cover with foil and let paella rest for 5 minutes.
  11. Garnish with lemon wedges and parsley and serve in the paella pan.
Sofrito: A classic Spanish sauce.
• olive oil • 1 onion chopped • 1 clove garlic, minced • 1 28-oz tin crushed tomatoes • 2 tbsp sugar • 1 tsp salt
In a saucepan, heat olive oil, onion and garlic. Sauteé for 6 minutes until fragrant. Add the crushed tomatoes, sugar and salt. Cook over medium heat until some of the liquid has evaporated. Purée with an immersion blender. This recipe freezes well.

We dined on paella and grilled vegetable salad. Each paella pan did taste slightly different from the next, but the differences were subtle.

Nearly bursting from the tapas, salad, paella and sangria, I took the gluten-free almond cake home with me and enjoyed it for breakfast. As for the homemade ice cream drizzled in olive oil? Somehow, I managed to eat all that was put in front of me. But in my defence, it would have melted on the drive home.

*For more photos taken during the Pimenton paella class, visit my Tumblr. I went a bit snap-happy and can’t post them all here.

Related Post

  • Andrew
    Posted at 09:10h, 03 March Reply

    Great post and wonderful photos. A note on the bomba rice: you can also buy it in various locations in the city. The rice vendor at the bottom level of St Lawrence Market (in front of the coffee place) sells bomba. I’ve also seen it at Perola, the latin grocer in Kensington Market, in 1 KG bags under the brand La Fallera directly from Valencia. And, of course, in a pinch one can always use arborio or other risotto rice as substitute.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 09:23h, 03 March Reply

      Thanks for the detailed information about where to buy bomba rice in Toronto — and some brand names to look for. Very helpful.

      Before I went to the paella class, I thought the dish was made with risotto rice. Bomba is new to me. It does make a less sticky paella, which I find is a more pleasing texture. However, I wouldn’t turn my nose up at paella made with arborio rice. Who could say no to all those mussels, clams and shrimp?

      Thanks again for taking the time to share your information.

  • Vicky
    Posted at 10:05h, 06 March Reply

    Sounds delicious. I absolutely love paella. I studied abroad in Spain during college and lived with a Spanish family and the senora (as she liked to be called) made the most amazing paella. I’m sure she slaved over it all day in the kitchen but it truly was one of the most delicious dishes I’ve ever had!

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 09:46h, 08 March Reply

      I’m so jealous. I bet it was amazing food.

      This paella can together fairly quickly, but that didn’t account for the time spend making the sofrito and chicken stock, which were key. I assume if you make paella often you’d have big batches of these in the freezer, but if you’re doing it for the first time, it will take longer.

      If you give this a try, I hope it brings back happy memories of Senora’s cooking and your time in Spain.

  • Debs @ The Spanish Wok
    Posted at 04:11h, 11 March Reply

    Great photos. Looks like you had a wonderful time too. You are right, paella is very forgiving and the recipes are endless and vary from region to region.

    Living in Spain, bomba rice is easily available to me, but arborio, no way can I get it; so I use bomba for rissotto too!!!!

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 09:10h, 13 March Reply

      I had a super time. I always learn so much at this kind of session.

      Funny how rice availability varies from region to region. I didn’t think bomba would be starchy enough to make risotto, but one gets creative when you have a craving and the main ingredient isn’t at hand.

      Thanks for sharing your rice story!

  • Troy Christopher
    Posted at 19:08h, 14 March Reply

    Do you have a good vegetarian variation of this recipe? I had a great vegetarian paella at a restaurant and really enjoyed it.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 13:11h, 15 March Reply

      I haven’t tried vegetarian paella, but based on the recipe here, it would be easy to substitute tofu for the meat and seafood. Fry firm tofu as you would the chicken. The tofu would absorb the flavours of the spices. I’d add sauteed mushrooms to the other vegetable because they are “meaty”– but you can add what you like.

      Paella is very “forgiving” and varies so widely from region to region, a vegetarian version would be an easy jump.

      Anyone have a recipe they care to share? If so, post a link!

      Good luck and if you find a vegetarian version that works, please let me know.

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