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Tips for Making a Really Great Paella

November 4, 2011 by Joan Nova in Finishing Touches, Marrying Flavors, One dish meal, Party Food, Pasta, Recipe Development, Rice/Risotto, Spanish/Tapas | 22 Comments

Most people think Paella is the national dish of Spain but that would be disputed by the Spaniards who consider it a regional dish. There is no dispute, however, that it is their most popular and widely-known dish.

There are myriad recipes out there for paella. This post goes beyond them. Do you want to know what makes a really good killer paella?

Since I was planning to make a Paella de Mariscos y Fideos (seafood and pasta-based paella) this weekend, I thought it a good time to write this post. It’s from my perspective…but that perspective is pretty trustworthy. I’ve eaten a lot of paella. :)

There are 3 important components to making paella.

The first (arguably) is the vessel. One of my blogging friends recently asked me if she needed a ‘paellera’ (wide shallow pan) in order to make paella. The answer is yes and no. Traditionally and ideally, yes; realistically, no. 

Don’t let the pan deter you if you want to try your hand at paella. I’ve been eating paella all my life and I’ve eaten it made from paelleras like the one pictured, as well as  from stove top skillets to dutch ovens to disposable aluminum baking pans for parties! For best texture and even distribution of flavors, however, the rice should be spread out in a single layer; ergo, the wide shallow pan.

The second important step is ingredients. This is where the regional differences and cook’s preferences come in. It could be all seafood, Valenciana (seafood + meat), rabbit, vegetable, etc. The base could be rice or noodles.

But, you need a few basics.

• Sofrito: This is base of  many dishes in many cultures. It is the first step in building flavor. I use onions, roasted fresh tomatoes, garlic, green pepper and a little chorizo. Saute everything with generous amount of olive oil till ingredients have broken down, melded with each other and flavors are concentrated.

• Azafrán (saffron) is the spice that makes the rice yellow. It is a required element along with Spanish paprika…but, if you can’t get saffron, you could substitute Goya Sazón with Azafrán.

• I always use chicken broth(1) and/or clam juice plus white wine  and the liquids/drippings from prepping all the ingredients to cook the rice. In this case, I also added some squid ink. 

For intense flavor, reserving the liquids and drippings, then building on them with broth and wine  cannot be stressed enough. No agua, por favor!

The third (and to me the more important) is technique. I’m a big believer that each component should be seasoned and cooked separately when you make paella (and various other dishes). Be sure to save all cooking liquids/drippings for the final mix when you add the liquid.

Pick your protein(s). Season and cook each item individually to just before total doneness and set aside. Reserve all oils and juices. Seen here: mussels, littleneck clams, scallops, shrimps, baby calamari.

Treat vegetables the same way. I roasted asparagus and artichoke hearts.

Lightly toast the grains; for this dish I used ‘fideos’ (noodles). Add the reserved liquids and place pan in 350 degree oven till most of liquid evaporates and the noodles are al dente. Note: Add saffron to liquids and heat before adding to rice or noodles.

Putting it all together. Once the grain has softened and the majority of the liquid absorbed, add the reserved seafood and vegetables. Cover with aluminum foil and return to oven for about 15 minutes.

Cooking everything individually allows each ingredient to maintain its integrity and individuality so that when it all comes together every bite has maximum flavor. 

Finishing Touches: Garnish with Spanish olives, capers, pimentoes and lemon wedges (to squeeze at the table for a little extra zing). Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.

You can see the full meal here

(1) *both the chicken broth and chorizo are additional coloring agents.

NOTE: Some recipes found on FOODalogue are offered without ingredient quantities. They're meant as a guide to food pairings and techniques to be experimented with … in your own kitchen … to your own spice and taste levels … to your preferred portion sizes … and to however many people you’re cooking for. A perfect meal has multiple levels of flavor and textures, bright colors and tastes, and healthy(ish) choices. It's all about enjoyment. Enjoy the process, the presentation and the just rewards...eating!


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  1. This looks awsome!!! I’ve never had it with noodles. These are my ingredients, just love them. I only have had it in a restaurant or by a street vendor in Zürich or France. They often have very large pans at fests and sometimes in French marksts. But this one outshines them for sure.
    Patricia Durr recently posted..Marky’s – International Food EmporiumMy Profile

  2. Peter says:

    I’ve seen paella with fideos and us Greeks use this pasta too! How can one get those cripsy rice bits each and every time with a paella? That’s a must!
    Peter recently posted..The Best Steak….My Profile

    • Joan says:

      That’s called the socarrat which many prize as the hidden treasure. I believe it’s accomplished by turning the heat up for a couple of minutes at the end — and then to serve from the sides leaving the center rice to continuing ‘sticking’.

  3. bellini says:

    I have 2 paella pans in differing sizes, one for a crowd and one for a group. Whast I find interesting is that you can also make paella with noodles:D
    bellini recently posted..Sheet Macaroni and Cheese Inspired by BarbaraMy Profile

  4. Penny says:

    The socarrat is my favorite part of a paella. Can hardly wait to get back to Florida because my paella pan is there. Love your version with noodles.
    Penny recently posted..Cracklin’ Buttermilk BiscuitsMy Profile

  5. What a great post. Interesting and informative. I’ve certainly made paella before (I even have the proper pan!), but I never thought about all the details you so lovingly explained. I really enjoyed reading this!
    Victoria Challalncin recently posted..Mexican Day of the Dead: The AltarsMy Profile

  6. Marie says:

    Love the looks of this Joan!I’ve attemped to make it once and my shrimp was too overcooked, I never tried again. Love the noodle idea and I have the proper pan already, time to dust it off!

  7. Aurora Reyes says:


    Back in the 90’s Angelita visited NY and spent a day or 2 at my apartment in Astoria. She and Antonio made Fidegua, which is like Paella, but with noodles. I think she used fidellos [short] for the pasta and all seafood. Delicious! I think she would approve of your concept of giving eåch component its cooking time and building the layers of flavor! Fun to think about and plan the next paella

    Cousin Ra

  8. I agree totally with you on all these steps; I have not made paella often, because I prefer to let someone with a passion for paella make it the most authentic way; because a mediocre paella is a sad thing.
    tasteofbeirut recently posted..Crêpes-pizzaMy Profile

  9. Nuria says:

    Wow Joan, I love your Paella interpretation! Any free chairs? ;D
    However, could I say one little thing here? Please never pour lemon on it, I think it destroys the flavour that took so much work to achieve.

    On the other hand, when you cook a paella with noodles its called Fideuá, however, I think you invented a brand new version with this pasta. Congrats!
    Nuria recently posted..Morcilla and Pumpkin RisottoMy Profile

    • Joan says:

      It was good to hear from you again. I appreciate your comments. Ha, ha about the lemon…just like the Italians say no cheese on pasta with fish (which I do sometimes too).

  10. The post I was waiting for did not disappoint. I have a really big frying pan I do my eggplant in that would work just perfectly,keeping everything one layer, so I’m in.
    angela@spinachtiger recently posted..Roasted Golden Beet Carpaccio with Orange Walnut VinaigretteMy Profile

  11. Great post Joan. Loved this one – very inspired to fish out my paella pan tonight.
    Sally – My Custard Pie recently posted..A jar of sunshine – home-made lemon curdMy Profile

  12. Ben says:

    This is one of the few dishes that intimidates me. But with those tips I should be OK, right, right? Hehe.

  13. norma says:

    You made a great “fideua”. When I was at Jaleo in Washington I had one made with vermicelli and shrimp. You really did a beautiful job on this one. Loved the toasted pasta shot.

  14. amelia says:

    Joan: I am ear-marking this post! Great, great tips… can’t wait to make paella soon.
    amelia recently posted..Torta di mele con olio, salvia e limone (Lemon-olive oil-sage cake)My Profile

  15. Woww!! You impress me! I should have read all this last Sunday, when I tried to impress my family with a fideua !! I had some problems..First my paellera was too small…or I had too many ingredients!! and some problems in the timing..Finally, it turned out well, but I think it was a question of mere chance!
    Cristina, from Buenos Aires to Paris recently posted..Featured in La Nacion Newspaper- Argentina…Why do Food-Bloggers write a Food-Blog?My Profile

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  1. […] Paella de Mariscos y Fideos (seafood and pasta) was our main course and you can see most of the steps to prepare this dish in my prior post “Tips for Making a Really Great Paella“. […]

  2. Spanish Wine says:

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