This versatile and simple Paella recipe is easier to make than you think. We’ve gathered the research and tips for you to confidently create this impressive Spanish classic.
My sister, Kathy, recently bought Bomba rice and saffron at her local market and talked me into making a Paella dinner together for our family. It wasn’t that hard. I’ve been looking for an excuse to tackle a paella.
As always, I dove into research mode to find the best way of delivering a great dish in the most efficient way possible. Our goal was to research and test how to make a good paella so that you can skip all the background work.
We started with a sofrita (sauteed onions, garlic and red peppers in olive oil) and added smokiness with smoked paprika. We bulked up the rice with chicken, shrimp and Chorizo sausage. The chicken, we decided, would get a pass next time. It was an extra step and didn’t add much. The choriza added great flavor and green beans added gorgeous color contrast.
Paella is essentially a one pot rice dish. Rice and saffron are the heroes. Originating in Valencia Spain, paella was a staple among farm hands. They added whatever else they could get their hands on – seafood, chicken, sausage, beans, peas and more. There are many regional differences in Spain on how to cook paella. Our view is to add what you like best.
Since Paella is really a full one pot meal, a basic green or Caesar salad is all that you need as a side. With some crusty bread of course. Or try these butternut squash salad cups as a side.
Tips on How To Make a Simple Paella Recipe
Here’s what Kathy and I learned from experimenting and research:
- Ignore those who insist you need a special paella pan. For the casual home cook, a large 14-16″ deep skillet will work just fine for 6 people. A large wok could work too
- A Spanish or medium grain rice like Bomba, Paella or Valencia are most recommended, but you can also use the more widely available Arboria. The New York Times does. So does Epicurious.
- The more traditional paella recipes create a crispy layer of rice at the bottom called socorrat. They do this by not stirring the rice once you add the broth.
- The drier, non sticky rice texture is achieved with the right liquid-to-rice ratio (including broth, wine and the saffron soaking liquid). Spanish rice needs about 2 1/2 cups of liquid for 1 cup of rice. Arborio rice only needs a 2:1 ratio. Reduce these amounts by 1/4 cup or so if you soak your rice ahead (which I do).
- The ideal saffron for paella is Spanish saffron. You can buy it in specialty stores or on Amazon. We have no affiliation. You fortunately only need a pinch because it’s very expensive. You can store it in an air tight container at room temperature. Higher quality saffron is deep vivid red or orange (avoid pale colored strands if possible).
- To release the saffron flavor, lightly crush the pinch you are using in your fingers and soak it in 1/4 cup warm water for about 20 minutes. You will add the saffron and water to the rice.
Tailor To Your Taste
Here’s where your preferences come in.
- Regarding proteins, some paella recipes stick to seafood only such as shrimp, mussels, lobster, squid. Some add chicken and/or sausage, typically Chorizo or Andouille. We found the chicken didn’t add much to the dish.
- Commonly used vegetables are peas, green beans, long beans and roasted red peppers. If using beans, I find microwaving (precooking) them before adding to the dish works best.
- My sister and I both think a good squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of sea or kosher salt are a must to brighten the flavors.
- Buy shrimp that is already peeled and de-veined.
- Instead of cooking the Chorizo sausage, buy dry traditional Spanish chorizo (already cooked).
- Chop the onions and red pepper in a processor.
- All the ingredients can be prepped ahead of time e.g. chopping, peeling shrimp, cooking the beans, draining the tomatoes. You can saute the Chorizo (if you didn’t buy it cooked), then the onions ,peppers, garlic and tomatoes ahead.
- The final paella dish can also be kept covered in a warm oven of 160-200F for an hour or two.
Simple Paella Recipe
- 2 cups Spanish rice e.g. Bomba, Valencia, Paella (if can't find, use Arborio rice)
- 2 pinches saffron threads Note 1 (less than 1/2 tsp, loosely packed)
- 1/2 lb fresh Chorizo sausage, Note 2 (about 2 sausages)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups onion, finely chopped 1 small-medium onion
- 1 cup red pepper, finely chopped 1 small pepper
- 3 tsp minced garlic 3 medium cloves
- 1 cup diced tomatoes, drained (1 28-ounce can)
- 1/2 lb green beans, trimmed
- 1 1/2 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined keep tails on if you like
- 1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/4 tsp red chili flakes optional
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 3 1/4 cups chicken broth (plus 1/4 -1/2 cup more if needed)
- you will also be adding 1/4 saffron-soaked water
- 1 large lemon, halved
- 3 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
- GET ORGANIZED: °Soak the rice in water and set aside for 15 minutes. °Soak the saffron threads in 1/4 cup warm water and set aside. °Chop the onions and red pepper finely (or use a processor). °Drain the tomatoes and set aside. °Measure the remaining seasonings and liquids. °Microwave green beans in covered dish for 4-5 minutes until tender. Rinse in ice cold water to shock them and maintain a bright green color. ° Have peeled, deveined shrimp ready to go.
- COOK CHORIZO: (Skip this step if using dried chorizo already cooked.) Spray a small saucepan with oil. Pierce churizo sausages in a few places with a fork and place them in pan. Heat to medium high. Cook for 2-3 minutes to brown. Add enough water to almost cover sausages, lower heat to medium and continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Remove from pan and slice into 1/4-1/2 inch rounds. They will finish cooking with the rice.
- SAUTE VEGGIES THEN ADD RICE: Heat olive oil in large sided pan (14-18 inches). Add onions and pepper and saute for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add tomatoes, paprika, sugar, chili flakes (if using) and salt and pepper. Stir well for 2 minutes until mixture is pasty. Drain rice, then add it to tomato mixture. Stir until well coated, about 2 minutes.
- ADD LIQUIDS, CHORIZO AND COOK: Add wine, broth and saffron-soaking liquid. Add chorizo. Stir to settle everything in pan evenly. Do not stir again. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to Low (about 3 or 4 out of 10). Cook rice, uncovered, for 18-20 minutes, moving pan around for even cooking, Rice will be almost but not quite cooked. If it appears to dry after liquids are absorbed, add 1/4 cup extra broth.
- ADD SHRIMP: Lay shrimp on top of rice and partially press into rice. Cook for 5 minutes uncovered. Turn shrimp over. Add green beans. Cover with foil or a pan cover and cook another 5-7 minutes until beans are warmed through and shrimp are cooked (they will turn pink and be slightly translucent inside but mostly opaque).
- FINISH AND SERVE: Bottom of rice will be crispy. This is called Socarrat. If you want it crispier, you can try increasing the heat for a minute or two, being careful not to burn the rice. Taste and adjust seasonings, squeezing on half a lemon and adding more salt and pepper if needed. Stir everything together. Sprinkle on parsley and serve with extra lemon wedges.
- Saffron: The best quality saffron has deep red or orange threads (not pale).
- Chorizo sausage: instead of cooking the sausage, you can buy dried chorizo (already cooked). In this case, slice it into 1/4-1/2 inch rounds and add it toward the end when the rice is cooking as per the recipe.
- Make Ahead: All the ingredients can be prepped ahead of time e.g. chopping, peeling shrimp, cooking the beans, draining the tomatoes. You can also cook the Chorizo (if you didn't buy it cooked), then the onions, peppers, garlic and tomatoes ahead. The final paella dish can also be kept covered in a warm oven (about 160F) for an hour or two.
Other one pot dinners you might like:
Recipes used for education and inspiration are from Epicurious, New York Times, Food & Wine, Simply Recipes and the Mediterranean Dish.