What Is Paella and How Do You Make It At Home?
Paella is a filling, aromatic, and super versatile dish that's synonymous with Spanish cuisine. But what exactly is it – and how do you make it at home? Here's what you need to know about paella:
What Is Paella?
Paella is a rice dish from Valencia, Spain. One of the most well-known dishes in Spanish cuisine, paella is popular worldwide. It gets its name from the Valencian word for frying pan. The traditional paella pan is round, shallow, wide, and has a short handle on either side.
Paella can contain any combination of meat and seafood (such as chicken, chorizo, rabbit, shrimp, shellfish, eel, or pork) and veggies (like onions, bell peppers, peas, and beans). All types of paella contain rice seasoned with saffron, a mellow spice that gives the dish its signature golden hue. Bomba rice, a round rice grain that holds its structure well during the cooking process, is the traditional choice. If you can't find bomba, any short- or medium-grain rice will work.
The correct pronunciation of "paella" depends on what language you're using. In Spain, it's pronounced "pah-EL-yah" or "puh-EL-yah."
People in the United States and United Kingdom, meanwhile, have adapted the word to fit English dialects.
It's usually pronounced "pay-AY-yuh" in the U.S. and "pie-ella" in the U.K.
The Moors began cultivating rice in Spain in the 10th century and the crop was a Spanish staple by the 1500s.
"Later on, when rice began to take on the characteristic of an everyday dish, it was combined with vegetables, pulses, and also some dry cod, in this way forming a part of the menu during Lent," according to a 1999 edition of the Oxford Companion to Food.
Native to the coastal Spanish city of Valencia, paella was originally served at lunchtime for rice farmers and farm workers. They used whatever they had on hand, such as tomatoes, onions, chicken, rabbit, and snails.
Types of Paella
There's more than one kind of paella. Some of the most common varieties include:
- Paella Valenciana is the oldest type of paella. Modern versions often contain chicken, rabbit, pork, beans, tomatoes, and seasonal artichokes.
- Paella de Marisco, or seafood paella, is usually made with shrimp, lobster, squid, clams, mussels, and other types of seafood. This dish is particularly popular during the summertime.
- Paella Mixta, which contains meat and seafood, is a combination of Paella Marisco and Paella de Marisco. This is one of the most popular types of paella worldwide.
- Paella Negra is completely black, as it's cooked with squid ink. This is another version of seafood paella.
- Paella de Verduras, or vegetarian paella, contains vegetables (such as green beans, green peas, tomatoes, bell peppers, seasonal artichokes, and more) and no meat.
What to Serve With Paella
Since it's a filling dish with many ingredients, paella is a meal in and of itself. It doesn't technically need any sides. However, if you can't bear to serve it alone, try pairing it with a light side salad. You can also serve it with an authentic Spanish side dish, such as patatas bravas or pisto.
How to Make Paella
There are a few things you need to keep in mind when you make paella:
You can't cook paella in just any old pan. A wide, flat, and shallow pan is essential for a couple reasons:
- The shape allows you to cook the rice in a thin layer that encourages evaporation, ensuring an ideal texture for your rice.
- It creates a perfect socarrat (the caramelized, crispy crust on the bottom of the paella), which is absolutely essential to the dish.
Like many Spanish dishes, paella starts with sofrito. Sofrito consists of aromatic ingredients (like onions, peppers, tomatoes, and garlic) chopped into tiny pieces and sautéed in olive oil. Since the rice gets a lot of its flavor from the sofrito, make sure to use the freshest ingredients.
The short, round bomba rice is ideal for paella because it absorbs three times its volume in water. This means it absorbs a ton of flavor, doesn't stick together, and doesn't crack open.
If you don't have bomba rice on hand, opt for another short- or medium-grained variety.
Paella gets its gorgeous golden hue from saffron, which gives the dish an earthy, sweet, and slightly musky flavor. Other essential seasonings are paprika, rosemary, cayenne pepper, and garlic.
Ready to try your hand at homemade paella? You're in luck! We have plenty of top-rated recipes that'll impress everyone at your table.
This tried-and-true recipe – with chorizo, chicken, and shrimp – has more than 500 rave reviews. "This recipe was delicious, easy to make, and works well as a leftover dish," according to Allrecipes community member Lauren. "This paella is definitely a crowd-pleaser, and it's a medley of great flavors and aromas."
Get the recipe: Easy Paella
This crowd-pleasing Paella Mixta is made with chicken, shrimp, sea scallops, clams, and calamari rings. "This is the paella all your family and friends will beg you to make again," says recipe creator Desi Carrimko. "It has the true flavor of Spain and has been made by my family in Catalonia, Spain for many generations."
Get the recipe: Maria's Paella
Authentic Seafood Paella
Satisfy your seafood cravings with this Paella de Marisco. "I loved making this dish, so much fun," says reviewer ohiolobo, who substituted bay scallops for squid. "We all loved the finished product."
Get the recipe: Authentic Seafood Paella
Quick and Easy Paella
Here's what Chef John has to say about his simple take on paella: "Consider this a gateway paella and the first step to a serious, lifelong addiction. When I first do a version of a classic dish like paella, I try to use a minimum number of ingredients and steps to focus on technique. After learning the method, you'll ideally use a wider variety of ingredients, like clams, mussels, squid, and chicken, which will make your rice that much more interesting."
Get the recipe: Quick and Easy Paella