My first introduction to paella was on the eastern coast of Spain in Valencia. The fragrant smell of a fresh seafood paella being cooked over a wood fire on the beach overlooking the Mediterranean Sea was an unforgettable culinary moment. Could life possibly be more perfect?
Historically, paella was a simple farmer’s lunch made with short grain rice known as “bomba,” and whatever proteins and vegetables happened to be available. The traditional Spanish paella was not made with seafood which didn’t come about until recent years. The traditional paella included rabbit or chicken, snails, onions, garlic, beans and saffron. There are as many variations of paella as there are of Louisiana gumbo.
Paella can be cooked on a stove top, baked in the oven, cooked on the grill, or of course, over a wood fire. It is essential to use a shallow flat bottomed pan. The name paella is derived from a word that refers to this particular pan.
If you are thinking that you cannot make paella because you do not have the proper pan or the bomba rice, think again. In my recipe, I will suggest ways that you can modify paella and still achieve the flavors and textures that you would even if you had all of this special equipment and ingredients.
It is important to break down the recipe. Paella is simply a braised rice dish with seasonings, (onions, garlic, saffron and smoked paprika) proteins of your choice, and vegetables. It takes some time to prep the ingredients, however, once you have these ingredients chopped, minced, sliced and sautéed, it becomes a simple matter of assembly.
I prefer to cook my paella on the grill. The heat on your grill must be maintained at 350-400 degrees for at least 45 minutes. I have cooked this on a propane grill, an electric grill and on the green egg. I have also baked it in the oven and cooked it on a stovetop. I have used a wide cast iron skillet, a disposable foil pan, and a paella pan. Most importantly, one must be patient and cook the paella enough to achieve the crusty bottom layer of rice which is known as the “socarrat. ” I do not achieve this goal every time but when I do it is heaven and the ultimate reward at the bottom of the pan, much like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!