Paella: How to Make an Edible Art

“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart.” – Cesar Chavez
Paella is that it is a social dish. 

It’s built – layer by layer – in one pan and served at the table in the pot it’s cooked in.  It is as much a joy to cook as it is to eat.

Time: 120 Minutes
Level: Intermediate
Cost: $6-8/plate (not including seafood)
Serves: 6

A Bit About Paella

Paella belongs to a family of dishes sometimes referred to as meat-and-rice dishes.  In fact, Paella’s very close cousin – Jambalaya – is prepared almost exactly the same way using slightly different ingredients.  Other dishes in this family include Pilafs, Risotto and the lesser-known Carolina Hoppin’ John.  What these dishes have in common is their preparation: You fry some protein, in the same pan you fry some vegetables, maybe you add some other stuff, you add some rice, you put the protein back in and cook until the rice absorbs the moisture.  That’s pretty much it, but getting it just right can take a little practice.

The following recipe uses the standard Rustic Chicken and Sausage Paella as it’s base, and provides the option for making a richer (and more expensive) Seafood Paella.  They’re both good.


3 tbsp olive oil
16-24oz Spanish Chorizo (NOT Mexican) or Andouille Sausage, sliced
4 chicken thighs (trimmed of excess skin and fat)
4 chicken drumsticks
1 tbsp Spanish Paprika (in fact, any Paprika will do, just use the one you like)
2 tbsp ground oregano
Coarsely ground salt and black pepper, to preference
1 large Spanish Onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch Italian flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 14oz can diced tomatoes, drained
3 cups short-grain rice (such as Spanish bomba, which is hard to find, or Arborio)
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 generous pinch Spanish Saffron (Trader Joe’s sells this for about $5)
2 -4 cups Water (more on this later)
2 lemons, quartered
5oz peas (frozen is fine)

Optional Additional Ingredients for Seafood Paella
12 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
Clams or Mussels, scrubbed and debearded
2 Lobster tails (if you really want to go all in)

Special Equipment
Paella Pan, or wide shallow skillet; or you can actually make this “deep dish” style and it works fine.  You’ll also need a lid or cover for the pan.


One of the keys to successfully pulling off a great Paella is in the prep.  You’ll want to get everything together BEFORE you start the cooking process, because once you get going you’ll need to pay attention to what you’re doing for the next 40 minutes or so.  The prep can take up to 20 minutes, but trust me, once you get it done this dish is as much of a pleasure to cook as it is to eat.

Prep Instructions:

  1. Place chicken in a large bowl, drizzle with 1 tbsp olive oil and coat well; add Oregano, Paprika, Salt and Pepper and toss to combine, making sure chicken is well coated with spice mixture.  Refrigerate.
  2. Dice onion, mince garlic and finely chop parsley (reserve a few parsley stems for garnish, if you like).  Combine on a plate, bowl or cutting board and set aside – they’re all going in at the same time.
  3. Open and drain can of tomatoes.  Set aside.
  4. Slice sausages into rounds 1/4 – 1/2 inch thick, set aside in bowl.
  5. Locate Saffron, set aside
  6. Open carton/can of chicken broth, set aside
  7. Measure out rice and set aside.
  8. If using, prep shellfish and refrigerate in separate bowls.

At this point, I like to have everything lined up on the counter in the order I’m going to use it, so it should look like this:  Sausage, Chicken, Onion/Garlic/Parsley, Tomatoes, Rice, Chicken Broth, Water, Saffron.  For obvious reasons, I leave the shellfish, if I’m using it, in the fridge.  They go in dead last anyway.

Cooking Instructions:

Begin by placing your pan over medium-high heat. Add 2 tbsp olive oil.  When olive oil is just smoking, add sausage and fry until nicely browned, about 5 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, remove sausage from pan and reserve.

Sausage nicely browned

You should now have some delicious sausage fat, olive oil, and some delicious brown bits in your pan.  Add the chicken, skin side down and fry until golden brown on all sides, 3-5 minutes per side.  The smell of this is amazing.  You don’t need to cook it through at this point; all you need to do is brown it nicely.  Once it’s browned, reserve it as well.

Chicken nicely browned.

Reduce heat to medium-low, allow fat in pan to cool a bit.  In the same pan (you’re getting the picture now), you’re going to make a sofrito:  add onion and parsley and sauté for about 2-3 minutes, until the onions are basically translucent.  Add garlic and continue to sauté, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 1-2 more minutes.  Add the tomatoes.

Continue stirring together garlic, onion, parsley, and tomatoes until the tomatoes begin to caramelize (or ‘burn’ but they’re not really burning), about 10-12 minutes.  What you want to do here is create ONE flavor.

Making the sofrito
Making the sofrito

Add the rice.  Stir-fry for 1-2 minutes to coat the grains – this will break down the exterior starch coating.  This is really important because the rice needs to be able to absorb the liquid.

Adding the rice.

Add the chicken broth plus 2 cups warm water.

Add the saffron and give the whole thing a good stir.  This is the last time you’re going to stir it – once you add the meat (and seafood if using) you want the whole thing to set where it is.

Add the chicken and sausage, burying them deep beneath the liquid.  Reduce heat to extremely low, and cover.

Here’s the tricky part. 

You don’t know how much liquid you’re going to actually need to get the rice to the correct consistency, and you’ll never know, because each time you make this dish there will be varying amounts of liquid given off by the meat and vegetables.

What you need to do is wait for the rice to absorb all the available liquid, filling the pan, and the give it the taste test.  If it’s still too crunchy add 1/2 cup water and cover again.

Repeat the process until the rice is done.

OPTIONAL:  If you’re making seafood paella, once the rice is basically done, is no longer crunchy and most of the liquid has been absorbed:

  1.  Tuck the clams/mussels into the rice and allow them to steam open.  Discard any that don’t sing opera to you (i.e., open completely) – that means they were already dead when you bought them.
  2. Tuck the shrimp into the rice and replace the lid.  Allow the shrimp to cook through completely, 8-10 minutes
  3. If you’ve gone “all-in” add the lobster tails when you add the shrimp.  They might not fit in the pan at this point, so if you need to leave them on top, that’s okay – just steam them covered until they’re done.

Steam your frozen peas in the microwave for a couple of minutes until hot.

Once everything is cooked through, garnish your paella with peas, reserved parsley, and lemon wedges.

Serve family style at the table.  Enjoy.

paellans paella2


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