After spending time over in Spain this past summer and eating as much paella as one region can offer, I came home to San Francisco with a touch of nostalgia and a mad craving for paella.
And with the sage advice of my friend Carla, a local Barcelonian, she let me in on a few Spanish tips that help make the most delicious paella every single time.
1. Use a traditional paella pan.
This really makes the difference since the paella pan is designed to provide a wide surface for the rice to absorb all the liquid—plumping up the rice grains and cooking them evenly across the entire pan. Other pans that are dense and small cramp the rice, causing it to cook unevenly.
If you don't have a paella pan, try using a very large saucepan—large enough to have one even layer of rice. That should do the trick!
2. Saffron is the flavor saver.
This is definitely not a new concept but is probably the most important step for the entire flavor of the dish.
Saffron adds that signature "sea-salt" aroma and taste that is so special to paella. A few strands go a long way, so there is no need to invest in a large container of saffron—unless you fall in love with this recipe, in which case, I hope you do.
3. Cook the rice with seasoned broth.
With other rice-based dishes, you can cook the rice in just water, but for paella you want to choose a broth that is mild in flavor. The cooking broth is what gives the rice a subtle flavor that is also balanced by the flavors of the saffron, spices, and simmering veggies. Add any broth you'd like; just keep it low on the sodium side.
I hope you guys enjoy these tips and find your paella-making a success and one you can rely on time and time again—especially when friends drop by for a delicious dinner on the fly.
So, I know it looks like a lot of ingredients, but please, please use the veggies you have in your fridge! Substitute as many ingredients as you'd like—just be sure to have the saffron. This truly makes the recipe.
Serves 4 to 6
- 1½ cups brown rice
- 3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 5 mini bell peppers (or 2 large ones), cut into thin strips
- 2 zucchinis, cut into half-moons
- 1 cup frozen peas, defrosted (run under warm water for 1 minute)
- 2 cups green beans
- 10 strands of saffron
- 1 tablespoon cayenne
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- juice of 1 lemon
- sea salt
- 2 green onions
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes
- handful of fresh parsley
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
1. Start by warming the olive oil in a large saucepan (or paella pan) and sauté the onion and garlic for about 5 minutes.
2. Add in the zucchini, bell peppers, peas, green beans, and all the spices, and sauté for another 10 minutes—add a splash of water occasionally so that the veggies don't stick to the pan.
3. Add in the uncooked rice and veggie broth to the same pan, and turn the heat to high. Once this boils, bring the heat back down to a simmer and let the paella cook for about 45 to 60 minutes, stirring every for 15 minutes.
4. Once the rice is fully cooked and the broth is completely absorbed, top with slices of the green onions, lemon juice, parsley, and cherry tomatoes. Enjoy!
Marie Reginato is a food photographer and author living in Los Angeles, California. She runs a popular health food blog where she shares tips and recipes for having fun in the kitchen while not taking food too seriously. She's also authored two cookbooks, Alternative Vegan and The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook. Reginato has a degree in agricultural business from California Polytechnic State University. She has held cooking classes and worked with Jamba Juice, the FeedFeed, TheChalkboardMag, Best Foods, Peta, the June Oven, and many more.