THIS PARTY IN A PAN DOESN’T HAVE TO BE A PROJECT
Paella wasn’t always party food. Agricultural workers in the Valencia region of coastal Spain developed this method for cooking a large quantity of rice as a way to make lunch for everyone working in the fields. This utilitarian dish relied on whatever proteins and vegetables were on hand to turn saffron-infused rice into a hearty meal. And it was cooked in a flat-bottomed pan over an open wood fire—far from any ovens or formal kitchens.
Modern recipes have come a long way from these humble roots. But change doesn’t always equate with progress. Most published recipes rely on a long list of ingredients and this approach complicates the prep—and the cooking. Just because paella is a one-dish meal doesn’t mean you have to include two dozen ingredients.
There are five key steps to this recipe: browning the sturdier proteins, sautéing the aromatics, toasting the rice, adding liquid to steam the rice, and, last, cooking the seafood. When choosing proteins, we opt for availability and quick prep. That means yes to chorizo, chicken, shrimp, and mussels, and no to snails, rabbit, lobster, and squid. We follow the same approach with the vegetables—focusing on red bell pepper and peas (frozen are just fine). Sure, artichokes are a lovely addition, but who has the time?
Our final simplification is to ditch the skillet—the usual alternative to a paella pan. Even though they are the same shape, a 12-inch skillet can’t take the place of a paella pan that measures 14 or 15 inches across. A high-sided Dutch oven has sufficient capacity to hold all the ingredients. And, believe it or not, this equipment swap makes the recipe easier for the cook.
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS
Jump-Start Flavor from the Get-Go
Good paella starts with a sofrito, a mix of aromatics cooked in oil. By why cook the onions, garlic, and tomatoes in just oil, when you could cook them in oil and the flavorful fat left behind from browning the rich chicken thighs and spicy chorizo?
Choose the Right Rice
For best results, choose traditional Valencia rice, or Arborio. Sauté the rice in the flavorful sofrito until it becomes coated in the fat and toasts just slightly, before adding the cooking liquid.
Start on Stovetop, Move to Oven
We cook our paella in a Dutch oven because it can contain the pile of ingredients in this dish. To use a Dutch oven, you’ll need to make a few easy adjustments. After starting the paella on the stovetop, move it to the oven to guarantee even cooking in this deep pot. And don’t forget to put the lid on to contain the heat. This stovetop-to-oven method actually simplifies the recipe because it means you can walk away from the stove, rather than hovering over a simmering pot.
Finish with Seafood and Veggies
While mussels can simply be nestled into the pot, shrimp need a little boost in flavor, so first marinate them in olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic. Likewise, red bell pepper can emerge washed out, so sauté strips of pepper first until browned. Peas cook quickly and should be scattered across the paella following the red pepper strips.
The Socarrat Solution
Socarrat is a crusty, flavorful brown layer of rice that develops on the bottom of a perfectly cooked batch of paella. To improvise in our Dutch oven version, move the pot out of the oven to the stovetop once it’s cooked and remove the lid. Heat for just about 5 minutes and you’ll be rewarded with a layer of toasty caramelized rice on the bottom of the pot.
Browned chicken and chorizo cook with the rice, but wait to add the seafood and veggies.
- 30 minutes to prepare ingredients
- 5 minutes to blister bell pepper
- 10 minutes to brown chicken and chorizo
- 10 to 12 minutes to cook paella on stovetop
- 30 minutes to cook paella in oven (mostly hands-off)
- 5 minutes to create optional socarrat
- 5 minutes to let paella stand and garnish it
- Dutch oven (11 to 12 inches in diameter and at least 6 quarts) with lid
Substitutions & Variations
- Dry-cured Spanish chorizo is the sausage of choice for paella, but fresh chorizo or linguiça is an acceptable substitute
- A paella pan makes for an attractive and impressive presentation. To make paella in a paella pan, use a pan that is 14 to 15 inches in diameter; the ingredients will not fit in a smaller pan. Increase chicken broth to 3¼ cups and wine to ½ cup. Before placing pan in oven, cover it tightly with aluminum foil. For socarrat, cook paella, uncovered, over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes, rotating pan 180 degrees after about 1½ minutes for even browning.
Socarrat, a layer of crusty browned rice that forms on the bottom of the pan, is a traditional part of paella. In our version, socarrat does not develop because most of the cooking is done in the oven. We have provided instructions to develop socarrat in step 5; if you prefer, skip this step and go directly from step 4 to 6. To debeard the mussels, simply pull off the weedy black fibers.
- 1 pound extra-large shrimp (21 to 25 per pound), peeled and deveined
- 8 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra as needed
- Salt and pepper
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and halved crosswise
- 1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into ½-inch-wide strips
- 8 ounces Spanish chorizo sausage, sliced ½ inch thick on bias
- 1 onion, chopped fine
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained, minced, and drained again
- 2 cups Valencia or Arborio rice
- 3 cups chicken broth
- ⅓ cup dry white wine
- ½ teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
- 1 bay leaf
- 12 mussels, scrubbed and debearded
- ½ cup frozen peas, thawed
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
- Lemon wedges
- Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Toss shrimp, 1 teaspoon garlic, 1 tablespoon oil, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper, in medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate until needed. Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper and set aside.
- Heat 2 teaspoons oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add bell pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until skin begins to blister and turn spotty black, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer bell pepper to small plate and set aside.
- Heat 1 teaspoon oil in now-empty pot until shimmering. Add chicken pieces in single layer and cook, without moving, until browned, about 3 minutes. Turn pieces and cook until browned on second side, about 3 minutes. Transfer chicken to medium bowl. Reduce heat to medium and add chorizo to pot. Cook, stirring frequently, until deeply browned and fat begins to render, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer chorizo to bowl with chicken and set aside.
- Add enough oil to fat in pot to equal 2 tablespoons and heat over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in remaining garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes and cook until mixture begins to darken and thicken slightly, about 3 minutes. Stir in rice and cook until grains are well coated with tomato mixture, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in broth, wine, saffron, bay leaf, and ½ teaspoon salt. Return chicken and chorizo to pot, increase heat to medium-high, and bring to boil, stirring occasionally. Cover pot, transfer to oven, and cook until rice absorbs almost all liquid, about 15 minutes. Remove pot from oven. Uncover pot, scatter shrimp over rice, insert mussels, hinged side down, into rice (so they stand upright), arrange bell pepper strips in pinwheel pattern, and scatter peas over top. Cover, return to oven, and cook until shrimp are opaque and mussels have opened, 10 to 12 minutes.
- For Socarrat : If socarrat is desired, set pot, uncovered, over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, rotating pot 180 degrees after about 2 minutes for even browning.
- Let paella stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Discard any mussels that have not opened and bay leaf, if it can be easily removed. Sprinkle with parsley and serve, passing lemon wedges separately.
A Better Way to Peel Shrimp
Many cooks buy peeled shrimp and they are making a big mistake before they even get in the kitchen. The machines that peel shrimp rough up these delicate crustaceans and the end results are miserable. While peeled shrimp are a no-go, frozen shrimp are actually better than “fresh”—which are almost always thawed frozen shrimp that are past their prime. Better to buy individually quick frozen shrimp and defrost them at home.
1). Thaw frozen shrimp in colander under cool running water. Depending on size, shrimp will be ready to cook in about 10 minutes. Thoroughly dry shrimp before proceeding.
2). Break shell on underside, under swimming legs. (The shell comes off the body of the shrimp very easily and the legs will come off as the shell is removed.) Leave tail end intact if desired, or tug tail end to remove shell.
3). Use paring knife to make shallow cut along back of shrimp to expose vein. (Although this vein doesn’t affect flavor, we remove it to improve the appearance of cooked shrimp.)
4). Use tip of knife to lift vein out. Discard vein by wiping knife blade against paper towel.
America’s Test Kitchen 100 Recipes
The Absolute Best ways to Make The True Essentials