how to: the perfect paella

Paella is SO misunderstood.

Since its magnificence lies in the very small details, paella rarely gets the care it deserves and is often served up as nothing more than rice-with-something. And that's not even counting the times that it's straight from the freezer. Even (especially?) in Spanish homes, artifical coloring is used in place of saffron.

Paella 101: It's a dish from the Valencia region of Spain. The original paella, from what I can gather, had rabbits, green beans, saffron...snails, if you could find them; white broad beans, hard to find outside of the regions; maybe artichokes.  Paella is 'pan' in the Valencian dialect, so it refers to the cooking instrument and has evolved to refer to the entire dish.

So. Nowhere did you see me talk about peppers, seafood, sangria or the sunny South of Spain (if you want a seafood paella, look at my paella phase from last summer). But you WILL hear me talk about the socarrat. This is the much-desired crust on the bottom of the paella, which cannot be faked or hurried. How do you acheive it? The perfect cooking time and temperature, which is closely linked to the ratio of water to rice.

Fortunately, there is a way to calculate this ratio without, well, calculating. Plus you look really cool doing it. It's never failed me: when are at the final point of the cooking before adding the rice, and the stock/water is up to the screws of your paella, you pour the rice along the diameter of pan. Keep pouring until it rises about a finger above the liquid. Stir and step away. That's it. A perfect paella.


  • a rabbit
  • a chicken
  • 3 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • short-grain rice, like arborio
  • 1 lb flat green beans
  • a large pinch of saffron threads
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • artichokes or peas

Saute onion in a pan until translucent. Add tomato, season, and saute for about ten minutes. Blend or pass through a food mill.

Break down rabbit and chicken, cutting meat (thighs, saddle, breasts, etc) into pieces (larger than bite size). Season pieces with salt and pepper.

Heat paella (pan) with oil. Arrange meat in hot pan, allow to brown before turning and moving towards the outside of the paella.  Add the beans, cut in 2 inch pieces, to the center of the pan, allowing to brown, then pushing to the outside. Add the garlic and then the tomato sauce, allowing it to simmer for a bit.  Then mix everything together and fill the paella pan with hot water up to the screws. Salt generously (you want it to be oversalted). Let it simmer for 15-20 minutes until it reduces some.

Add more water up to the screws, maintaining the simmer. Add saffron. Pour rice into paella pan in a straight line along the diameter. When this line peeks above the broth by about a finger's width, you've added enough. Stir it in and cook on low for about twenty minutes. Do not stir anymore. If it looks like it's dry on top, cover with a sheet of newspaper.