Arroz a la Paella On A Ceramic Cooker

The following information and recipe were primarily adapted from the recipe and information provided by www.paellapans.com and The Taunton Press article written by Norberto Jorge.


Background

Paella comes to us from Spain, a dish of saffron-flavored rice combined with a variety of meats and/or shellfish as well as vegetables such as garlic, onions, peas, artichoke hearts and tomatoes. Paella is perfect for ceramic cookers because you need heat that is uniform. Also, paella was originally a laborers' meal, cooked over an open fire in the fields and eaten directly from the pan using wooden spoons. Cooking it over charcoal can lend the same types of flavors to the dish.

Paella got its start when the Moors, who dominated Spain for almost 800 years, brought rice and saffron to Spain. Along Spain's eastern coast,
especially in the region of Valencia where a lot of fruits and vegetables are grown, paella became a meal made over an open fire by field workers at lunch hour, combining rice with whatever other ingredients were at hand. (There are differing opinions on the web as to whether paella started out as a seafood-based dish or a chicken and rabbit dish. Who knows, but today, you can choose from a wide variety of paella recipes.) In Valencia, the temperate climate and fertile lands make an ideal spot for growing specialty rice, and the proximity to the sea makes seafood plentiful. The dish takes it's name from the wide shallow pan that it is cooked in, traditionally called the Paella or Paellera. The recipe commonly known as Paella can be more accurately be referred to as Arroz a la Paella (rice done in paella style.)

Paella isn't difficult if you understand a few things and practice your technique a little. Paella on a ceramic cooker can be even easier than on a stove since you have the large amount of uniform heat. If you are a bit wary of risking a lot of expensive meats and vegetables, if you have never sauteed on your cooker, you can practice the most basic steps with just the investment in bit of oil, an onion, a tomato, some rice and a pitcher of water.

Paella is also an ideal outdoor dish for entertaining. It's fun to cook, and it is a fun dish to serve and consume. You can prepare all your ingredients in the kitchen and then take them out to the cooker where you can prepare the entire dish as your guests consume sangria and watch your mastery of paella!

Before we proceed to the basics, let us take a look at what makes paella "authentic":


Making "Authentic" Paella

We thought you would enjoy learning some of the "rules" and "traditions" of paella. Obviously, some of these are impossible or perhaps silly, but if you want to take your paella-making to the next level of authenticity, you might like to read on:
  • Some extremists insist that true paella can only be made with the lime-rich water from the Valencia region of Spain. We find this just a bit over the top for our purposes since where in the world are we to find this water? Tap water should do fine for us.

  • Others claim that there is only one true paella, paella valenciana, using chicken, rabbit and snails. All other paellas are merely un arroz en una paella, literally "rice in a paella pan." Again, a bit over the top, and no reason to not try the many hundreds of paella recipes to be found.

  • A more reserved restriction found in Valencia is that paella is not a mixture of seafood, meat and sausage, or a mixta. It is thought that each ingredient should be savored and appreciated on its own.

  • Most people do agree, however, that authentic paella should be made with short or medium grain rice that will absorb all the flavors of the ingredients in the paella. It isn't paella if it is made with long grain rice.

  • Most also agree that real paella must contain olive oil, a sofrito, and saffron. We'll discuss the sofrito below when discussing the pillars of paella.

  • Paella should be cooked in a wide flat paella pan (this puts rice into contact with the pan so it can be cooked in a thin layer, it cooks evenly, and produces a dry texture and separate firm grains. Paella should never be creamy.

  • The rice isn't put into the paella until the every guest has arrived. People can wait for the rice, but the rice cannot wait for the people.

  • Paella in Spain is often made by the man. A man who would otherwise totally shun the kitchen views the making of paella his obligation.

  • Traditionally, paella is made outdoors and eaten outdoors.

  • Also, traditionally, paella is made over an open wood fire, using branches from orange and olive trees.

  • In Spain, paella is never made for less than two, so expect that if you happen to order a paella in a Spanish restaurant.

  • In the Spanish home, traditionally, paella is made only for lunch, never for dinner.

  • As far as serving is concerned, paella is typically eaten directly from the pan. The paella maestro, el paellero or la paellera, decides who gets the best pieces of meat, such as the front legs of the rabbit.


The Basics: Pillars of Paella

There is no single recipe for paella, rather there are many recipes for paella. We'll present a few recipes here, but if you understand the basics, you can make any paella recipe. So, let's look at the basics. Norberto Jorge wrote in Fine Cooking, that great paella rests on five pillars. Well, we think it rests on six:
  • The rice,
  • The pan,
  • The heat,
  • The sofrito,
  • The liquid, and
  • The soccarat.


The Rice

The best rice for paella is bomba, a Spanish short-grain rice that is able to absorb three times its volume in liquid. When cooked, the grains remain separate and do not stick together. (The rice in paella should be dry and separate when done, not creamy like risotto.) According to the La Mesa Foods website:
"Grown in the rich soils of the national protected L’Albufera Park of Valencia, Spain, Bomba rice is the crème de la crème, the pinnacle of paella making. Hard to find even in Spain due to the difficulty in growing it and a far lower yield at harvest time, it will improve any of your Spanish rice dishes. Although it's been around for centuries, Bomba rice is almost unknown outside of Spain. But Bomba is definitely better - you really can taste the difference. Why? Because Bomba can soak up very large quantities of liquid while remaining very firm-grained during cooking. This means that Bomba rice will be much more flavorful when it is finished cooking than standard Spanish fare would be. It's also a high-integrity grain and even after it has absorbed all that liquid, Bomba is still firmer and more distinct than any other rice variety out there."
Another benefit of Bomba rice is that since it is considered the best rice for paella, it is also the easiest rice for a beginner to use. Other varieties of short grain rice can require a bit of extra care to produce the best results.

Bomba rice is expensive compared to other rice varieties due to the care required in cultivation and the length of time required for it to mature. It is an heirloom rice which is currently being revived. The quote above aside, it is readily available these days from many suppliers in the United States. See our short list of suppliers at the end of this article. Also, go to Amazon.com and search in their Gourmet Foods section for "paella rice" and you will find bomba as well as other Spanish short- and medium-grain rices for paella.

Some of these "other" Spanish rices are less expensive than bomba, such as Calaspara rice, Signo Valencian rice and Extra Santo Tomas D.O. rice. Many of these other short-grain Spanish rices are used as every-day paella rices in Spain. Also, Goya sells a "Valencia" short grain rice meant for paella.

Spanish rices can be hard to find locally (we have yet to find any where we live), so other rices that you could use for lack of a Spanish short-grain rice would be rices like the medium-grain rice sold by Goya and Arborio. Arborio rice is considered an acceptable substitute, but beware agitating the rice and producing a risotto-like product. (Remember, paella is NOT creamy, but rather the grains remain separate and dry.) We have made paella with Arborio rice and it tends to turn out a little gummy, but it does produce an acceptable result. Do not use sushi rice as it is meant to produce a sticky product. Also do not use basmati rice, a fragile rice that will not stay together. And never use long grain rice as it will not absorb the flavors.

Also be aware that these different types of rice absorb different quantities of liquid, so you may need to adjust a recipe if you substitute a different type of rice. Bomba rice absorbs about 3 1/2 to 4 cups of liquid per cup of rice. Goya medium-grain rice absorbs about 2 1/2 cups of liquid per cup of rice.


The Pan

The best pan for paella is, guess what, a paella. Yes, the name of the pan used to cook paella is the same as the name of the dish. They are also called paellera. (Apparently, this is the subject of some heated debate! Some say the name of the pan is paella and that paellera is the name of the outdoor place where the paella is made as well as the name of the woman who prepares the paella. Paellero, then, would be the name for a man who prepares the paella. We'll refer to the pan as a paellera to avoid confusion between the dish and the pan. Our apologies if we offend anyone.) The paellera is wide, flat and has a splayed side. As you will see later, it is important that the rice be distributed over the pan in a layer no more than about 1/2 inch thick. So, to make more paella, you don't pile it up thicker, you spread it out over more area. In other words, you get a bigger pan. Paelleras may have a slight depression in the middle to allow the oil to pool there for sauteeing the ingredients. You can find paelleras made from carbon steel, stainless steel, copper, and carbon steel covered with a coat of enamel.

And there really is no need to try to substitute a different type of pan for the paellera. Basic carbon steel paelleras are very inexpensive. Take a look at the suppliers listed at the end of this article and look for the carbon steel paelleras. (Carbon steel paelleras can rust, so after you clean them, dry them thoroughly and rub with a very small amount of oil to very lightly cover the surface.) As to what size to buy, for a ceramic cooker the size of a large Big Green Egg, a 13.5" or 14" pan is the largest you can use. We will be recommending in our technique that you use a raised grid. The 14" paellera just barely fits on the raised grid, so if you want a little wiggle room, you can get a 13.5" pan. This size is sufficient for serving two to four people. (Also see the section below, Adjusting For The Size of Your Pan.) If you do choose not to use a traditional pan, use a pan that is wide and flat, and avoid the use of cast iron. A paellera is thin and gives up its heat rather quickly so that the rice stops cooking soon after the pan is removed from the fire. Traditional paella should be lukewarm when it is served. Cast iron, of course, holds onto its heat for a considerable period of time.

If you are using a round cooker other than a large Big Green Egg, measure the inside diameter of your cooker and subtract 4.5 inches to allow for the handles. This is about the largest pan you can expect to use. If you are using a Primo oval-shaped cooker, just allow enough room front to back to hold the pan with a little room to spare since the oval shape will accomodate the handles. (The Primo Oval is 21" deep at the opening, so you should be able to use a 20-inch pan if you really want to make a lot of paella!)

One further note about paelleras. The sizes that you see on the various websites are a bit dodgy. First of all, these pans are made in Europe and they are measured in centimeters, not inches. So you are at the mercy of each vendor's ability to convert centimeters into inches. Also, the size advertised is the size of the pan, NOT including the handles. This is very important since you have to fit the handles into your cooker, right? There are 3 dimensions that you probably are interested in: the size with the handles, the size minus the handles and the size of the bottom of the pan. We currently own four paelleras and here are the dimensions:


Pan "Size" Source A B C
10" Spanish Table 9-1/4" 11-1/8" 15-1/8"
13-1/2" Paella Pans 11-3/16" 13-7/16" 17"
14" Paella Pans 12" 14-1/4" 18-3/4"
17" Paella Pans 14-1/2" 17" 21-1/4"

Notice the craziness! The 14" and 13.5" inch pans both came from the same place. Even though the pan size is about 3/4" different, the size including the handles is 1-3/4" different. So, you may wish to check with someone who has already bought a pan or just resign yourself to purchasing multiple pans. You may have luck in contacting the seller and asking if they can give you the actual handle-to-handle measurement.


The Heat

Now we come to one of the best reasons for making paella on a ceramic cooker. You could buy a paella burner for anywhere from $100 to $300 to ensure that you have even controllable heat, or you can use your ceramic cooker. Also, paellas have been traditionally made over wood fires and using your ceramic cooker can help to add the wood fire flavor to your finished dish.

While you may need to experiment a bit with your particular brand of ceramic cooker, here is what we have found to work very well on the cookers that we own:

Big Green Egg large: To get the fire ready for cooking, we fill the firebox up to the very top with Cowboy lump charcoal. We have found that the uniformity in this charcoal and burning characteristics produce a good fire for this dish. Make sure you give the charcoal a bit of a shake in the cooker so that you don't have any significant voids. You may find the need to add more charcoal mid-cook otherwise. Light the charcoal in several places as you want the entire load of charcoal burning across the top in order to produce an even heat. (Alternatively, you can use a chimney starter to get some charcoal going that you can then dump on top of the prepared bed of charcoal in your cooker.) You can close the lid and set the top and bottom vents wide open to get the charcoal started. However, once the cooker is at 400 degrees or so, open the dome and completely close the bottom vent. (The fire will be more than hot enough without a draft.) Allow the fire to continue spreading until you have a uniform bed of burning charcoal. Place the paellera on a raised grid over the hot fire. This produces a good temperature for sauteeing.
Komodo Kamado O.T.B.: Fill the firebox to the top with the charcoal of your choice. Use a chimney starter to get a full chimney of Cowboy charcoal burning hot. Dump the burning Cowboy on top of the prepared bed of charcoal in your cooker, spreading it uniformly over the top of the existing charcoal. Leave the dome open and completely close the bottom vent. (The fire will be more than hot enough without a draft.) Allow the fire to continue spreading until you have a uniform bed of burning charcoal. Place the paellera on the top grid over the hot fire.
Primo Oval: (This was provided to us by an Oval owner.) For a 10" pan, you can build a fire in only half of the Primo Oval, using the firebox divider. You can use Cowboy lump like in other cookers to get a hot even fire. Place the extender grid on top of the grid on the fire side, and the paellera on the extender grid. Another Primo owner has told us that to use a larger pan, you can omit the divider and build a fire across the entire bottom of the cooker. He places the paellera on the normal grid in the upper position.
Primo Kamado: (This was deduced using logic!) The Primo Kamado cooker is an exact copy of the large Big Green Egg, so all instructions for the large Egg should apply to this cooker as well.

Towards the end of the cook when you add the liquid, you will close the dome of your cooker and adjust your top and bottom vents so that you have a 350-degree cooking temperature. Also, before we close the lid, we toss in a chunk of hickory to create some smoke to finish the dish. Do as you see fit for your and your guests' taste for smoke. (If you need to remove the paellera from the cooker in order to add a chunk of hickory to fire, be sure that you do it before you add the hot broth to the pan. Carrying a paellera full of hot liquid is sort of like those sucker games at the state fair that you just can't win.)

At the very end of the cook when you are trying to form the soccarat, you may want to open the bottom vent a bit to raise the temperature of the fire. This can help to form that tasty layer of carmelized rice.


The Sofrito

The base flavor is provided by a saute of aromatics called a sofrito. The components of the sofrito vary from region to region, but the technique is the same: saute until the vegetables soften, the flavors meld and the resulting mix is thick enough to hold its shape. The mixture will darken and turn into a thick puree.


The Liquid

The liquid used to cook the rice adds flavor and color to the rice. Usually a chicken broth will be used for a chicken paella while a shrimp or seafood broth would be used for a seafood paella. If you don't have a seafood-based broth, you can simmer shrimp shells in salted water to produce a quick substitute. You can even use water if you like. Whatever you use, all recipes call for the liquid to be infused with saffron which, as we have already stated, will add color to the rice and even more flavor.

If you do use a commercial broth from the supermarket, you can enhance the flavor of these broths with small additions. Clam juice or seafood broth can be enhanced by simmering for 30 minutes with shrimp shells or scraps of fish. Chicken broths can be improved by simmering with chicken bones or other chicken scraps. Any broth can be improved with the addition of some herbs, onion and/or leek and simmering.


The Soccarat

Soccarat is the caramelized crust of rice that will form between the rice and the pan. Every recipe or instructional piece on paella will talk about the soccarat, but we think it should be added as the sixth pillar of making paella. It has been called the "prize in a well-made paella." The flavor of the rice will change and improve dramatically once the soccarat has formed, so it is well worth the effort to see that your paella forms one.

You should check the rice for doneness first. The rice should be al dente, not mushy. If you were to break open a grain of rice, you should see a tiny dot of white in the center. Note that if the liquid is gone and the rice is still not done, you can add a bit more hot broth or water and continue cooking. If the rice is getting done before all the liquid has been absorbed, then you can try to raise the heat to reduce the liquid faster.

To form the socarrat, you may need to increase the heat at the end of the cooking. Pay attention to the sound made by the cooking rice. Once it starts to crackle, you are close. You can gently run a spoon under the rice towards the edge. If the rice comes away from the pan cleanly, you aren't done. Once the spoon feels like there is something sticking to the pan, you are there. The rice should smell toasty, but not burned. When cooking paella on your ceramic cooker, if your cooker is hotter at the back than at the front, you may wish to rotate the pan a few times during this stage to aid in even formation of the soccarat.

Another change to recommended procedures when cooking paella on a ceramic cooker is that you probably don't need to put a layer of foil over the pan during the last several minutes. Cooking inside of a ceramic container seems to eliminate the need to cover the rice which is often done to ensure that the rice cooks evenly.

Finally, once you feel the paella is ready, remove it from the heat, cover with foil and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.


Equipment

  • Raised Grid (See our Ceramic FAQ for information on making a raised grid.)
  • Paellera, the pan
  • Smoking chunks, if you want a little extra smoke
  • Soccorat scrapers (for serving)
  • Wooden spoons (for eating)


How To Practice

We did a dry run at paella before we risked a bunch of meat and vegetables to our first attempt at paella. We wanted to see if we could sautee vegetables and cook the rice, something we had not done before on a ceramic cooker. If you want the peace of mind of having a go at it before you invite your Spanish boss over for an authentic paella, here is what you might like to try. This will actually make a reasonably good rice dish, so you don't have to toss it if it turns out. You will need the following ingredients:
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 medium onion grated with the largest holes on a box grater
  • 2 small tomatoes, grated with the largest holes on a box grater, discard the skins
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups medium grained rice
Prepare a fire in your ceramic cooker as explained above in the section on heat. Heat the chicken broth on the stove and bring to a simmer. Place a 13.5 or 14-inch paellera on the raised grid and allow it to heat up, making sure the pan sits level. When hot, add the oil to the pan. Then add the grated onion and sautee the onion until soft, about 3-5 minutes. Add the tomato and crushed garlic and continue to sautee the mixture until all the water from the tomato has cooked out and the mixture has deepened in color and thickened.

When the sofrito is sufficiently reduced, add the rice and stir until translucent, 1-2 minutes. Slowly add the simmering broth to the pan. Once all the broth has been added, use a spoon or other implement to gently distribute the rice evently throughout the entire pan. Once the rice is distributed, you should not stir the mixture again.

Close the dome on your cooker and adjust the vents to achieve approximately 350 degrees. Now you wait. Take a look at the rice occasionally. When the liquid disappears below the rice, about 8-10 minutes, you are getting close. Now you should monitor the rice for any crackling noise. Once you hear a little crackling, you can start testing the rice as mentioned in the section above about the soccarat, using a spoon to gently test to see if the rice is sticking to the pan. You can open the lower vent to increase the heat at the end of the cook, if necessary, to help form the soccarat.


The Basic Approach

Ok, we have pontificated and practiced, so it is time to make paella. One last tip, though. Paella is a dish that really benefits from mis en place! Have everything cut, poured, minced, measured, peeled, chopped and ready to go so that you can take it all out to your cooker and have it ready when you need it. Here is the basic approach we will be taking:
  • Heat the broth with saffron on the stove, bring it to a simmer and have ready for later.
  • Sautee the meat destined for the dish, then set aside.
  • Sautee the vegetables destined for the dish, then set aside.
  • Prepare the sofrito.
  • Sautee the rice in the sofrito.
  • Add the broth and lay the meat and vegetables on top of the rice.
  • Cook until done.


A Chicken Paella Recipe

Paella with Chicken, Artichoke, and Red Peppers
Adapted from a recipe by Norberto Jorge
Click here for printer-friendly version

Serves 4, for 14-inch paellera.

Ingredients

  • 3 Cups chicken broth (not pictured)
  • Pinch of saffron threads, toasted and steeped in another 1/2 cup of hot broth (not pictured)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 chicken thighs, skin on, cut into thirds across the bone
  • Six inches of Spanish chorizo, cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 1 red pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1-inch strips
  • 1 head of garlic with most of the paper removed and the top sliced off, as you would prepare to roast it
  • 12 large cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 can of artichoke hearts, drained
  • 4 oz. green beans trimmed
  • 1/2 medium onion, grated on largest holes in box grater
  • 2 small tomatoes, cut in half then grated with the largest holes on a box grater, discard the skins
  • 1 1/2 cups bomba rice
  • 1/4 cup canned garbanzo beans, drained
  • Lemon cut into wedges for serving (not pictured)


Instructions

First, make sure you read the information at the beginning of this article about building the fire and setting up the cooker.

Lightly toast the saffron threads in a small heavy skillet, then add them to the 1/2 cup of hot broth. Allow to steep for several minutes. Meanwhile heat the 3 cups of broth to a simmer, then add the saffron-infused broth to the simmering broth. Keep just hot until ready to add to the pan later.

Place your paellera in your ceramic cooker on a raised grid and allow to heat up, as described earlier. Add enough olive oil for sauteeing. Add the chicken pieces and sautee for about 10-15 minutes, until cooked through. Set aside on a platter.

Place the garlic head, cut side down, into the pan. Add the garlic cloves and red pepper strips. Sautee for about 7 minutes. Move the garlic and pepper strips to one side and add the green beans. Sautee everything for another 7 minutes. The peppers should be soft but not brown. The green beans should be soft and wrinkly. When done, remove the garlic cloves, pepper and beans to a dish and set aside. Leave the garlic head in the pan.

Paella on the Big Green Egg
Sautee the chicken.
Paella on the Big Green Egg
Next, sautee the peppers and garlic.
Paella on the Big Green Egg
Then add the green beans.

If there is more than one or two tablespoons of oil in the pan, remove the excess oil. Sautee the grated onion until soft, about 3-5 minutes. Add the tomato to the pan and stir with the onion, cooking until all the water is cooked out of the tomato and the resulting mixture darkens and thickens to a paste, 5-10 minutes. Also, while the sofrito is reducing, peel the skin off the red peppers and discard the skin.

Paella on the Big Green Egg
Sautee the onion.
Paella on the Big Green Egg
Next, add the tomato and sautee until the water cooks out.
Paella on the Big Green Egg
The sofrito reducing.

Add the rice to the sofrito and sautee 1-2 minutes until the rice is translucent. (If you want to add smoking chunks to the fire, do it now while you can remove the pan and the grid easily. You don't want to move the pan after the hot broth is added.) Then add the hot broth to the pan. Give the pan a shake, or gently stir the rice so as to distribute an even layer of rice all across the entire pan. Place the head of garlic in the center of the pan. Lay the peppers and green beans around the pan, star fashion. Place the artichoke hearts around the garlic head. Distribute the chicken pieces, garlic cloves and slices of chorizo evenly over the top of the rice. Finally, distribute the garbanzo beans evenly over everything.

Paella on the Big Green Egg
Add the rice and sautee until translucent.
Paella on the Big Green Egg
Add the hot broth, and distribute the rice.
Paella on the Big Green Egg
Gently place the vegetables and meat on top of the rice.

Close the lid of your cooker and bring the cooker temperature to 350 degrees, dome temperature. Allow the rice to cook and absorb the broth. Once the liquid disappears, (you can raise the lid occasionally or possibly look down through the top vent, if possible, with a flashlight) start listening for the rice to start crackling. Rotate the pan front to back occasionally if your cooker is hotter in the back than in the front. Once you hear the rice begin to crackle, occasionally test the rice for the soccarat as described earlier. You may find that you want to open the bottom vent to increase the heat of the fire in order to help form the soccarat.

When you feel the paella is done, remove the pan from the cooker and allow to rest, covered with foil, for about 5 minutes before serving.

Paella on the Big Green Egg
The finished paella on the table!


A Seafood Paella Recipe

Seafood Paella
Adapted from recipes by Penelope Casas and Sarah Jay
Click here for printer-friendly version

Serves 4, for 14-inch paellera.

Ingredients

  • 3.5 Cups shrimp or fish broth
  • Pinch of saffron threads, toasted
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 12 large shrimp, peeled with tails on
  • 8 large scallops
  • 12 frozen mussels on the half shell, thawed (look for these at your local supermarket, see note below)
  • 6 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 medium onion, grated on largest holes in box grater
  • 3 oz oyster mushrooms, stemmed and cleaned, coarsely chopped
  • 2 small tomatoes, cut in half then grated with the largest holes on a box grater, discard the skins
  • 12 strips of roasted red peppers, or roasted piquillo pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups bomba rice
  • 1-2 Tbsp flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped for garnish
  • Lemon cut into wedges for serving


Instructions

First, make sure you read the information at the beginning of this article about building the fire and setting up the cooker.

Bring the shrimp or fish broth to a simmer. Lightly toast the saffron threads in a small heavy skillet, then add them to the hot broth. Keep just hot until ready to add to the pan later.

Place your paellera in your ceramic cooker on a raised grid and allow to heat up, as described earlier. Add enough olive oil for sauteeing. Add the shrimp and scallops sautee for about 2 minutes. You only want to partially cook them. Set aside on a platter.

Place the onion, garlic and mushrooms in the pan. Sautee for about 3-5 minutes. When the onion is translucent, add the tomato to the pan and stir with the onion, cooking until all the water is cooked out of the tomato and the resulting mixture darkens and thickens to a paste, 5-10 minutes.

Add the rice to the sofrito and sautee 1-2 minutes until the rice is translucent. (If you want to add smoking chunks to the fire, do it now while you can remove the pan and the grid easily. You don't want to move the pan after the hot broth is added.) Then add the hot broth to the pan. Give the pan a shake, or gently stir the rice so as to distribute an even layer of rice all across the entire pan. Once evenly distributed, you don't want to move the rice again.

Close the lid of your cooker and bring the temperature to 350 degrees, dome temperature. Allow the rice to cook and absorb the broth. Once the liquid has almost disappeared below the level of the rice (you can raise the lid occasionally or possibly look down through the top vent, if possible, with a flashlight), open the cooker and gently place the shrimps, scallops and pepper strips on top of the rice. Then lay the mussels in their shells on top of the other ingredients.

Close the lid of your cooker and allow the rice to finish cooking. Listen for the rice to start crackling. Rotate the pan front to back occasionally if your cooker is hotter in the back than in the front. Once you hear the rice begin to crackle, occasionally test the rice for the soccarat as described earlier. You may find that you want to open the bottom vent to increase the heat of the fire in order to help form the soccarat. When you feel the paella is done, remove the pan from the cooker and allow to rest, covered with foil, for about 5 minutes before serving. Sprinkle the chopped parsley over the top for garnish.


Notes

  1. We used mussels that were partially cooked and then flash-frozen, available at our local supermarket. If you use fresh/live mussels, you will need to scrub them and cleanse them of grit by allowing them to soak in salted water in the refrigerator overnight. Sprinkle a tablespoon of cornmeal over the water before refrigerating. To prepare them for use in the paella, boil them in a covered skillet using 2/3 cup of water or wine, removing them to a plate as they open. If you desire, you can use the remaining broth as the base for your broth, adding enough fish or shrimp broth to make 3.5 cups.

  2. Note that in this seafood paella, we did not add the seafood to the dish until after the rice had cooked for a while. The seafood requires less cooking than chicken, so we waited to add it until later in the cook.

  3. We have to admit that the paella pictured above has too many pieces of seafood. Remember the rice should take center stage, so you might wish to reduce the number of shrimp and mussels.


Serving Suggestions

Paella is a meal in itself and doesn't require much in the way of side dishes. Perhaps a light salad would be appropriate. Norberto Jorge likes to precede the paella with an escalibada, a mixture of grilled onions, tomatoes and peppers served on toasted bread. We preceeded our seafood paella with a bowl of gazpacho and baguette rounds. A Spanish rioja wine or perhaps some sangria would round out the meal.

Tradition is to have your guests eat the paella straight from the pan. Place the pan in the center of the table so everyone can reach it. Then, everyone stakes out their wedge of pan and works from the outside to the center. If desired, they can squeeze lemon juice over their wedge. You should provide a few soccarat scrapers to allow the diners to scrape the soccarat from the pan so it can be eaten! But most of all, eating paella should be fun! If you do decide to plate your paella before serving, make sure that prior to doing so, you bring the uncovered and undisturbed pan of paella to the table for presentation to your diners. It is worth the ooh's and aah's that doing so will produce!


Making A Meal Of It

When you make Paella, you don't really need a whole lot of other dishes to surround or accompany it. It has been suggested that you serve only a light salad with it. That is a good suggestion and we have found out first hand how much paella you can consume! However, we have found that it is great fun to serve Paella to guests and you may wish to make it an authentic Spanish event. We were lucky enough to visit Spain for a week a long time ago, and there are several things that still stick in our memories about meals, two of which are gazpacho and sangria. Lately, from our readings on Paella, we have also learned about tapas. To quote Penelope Casas in Paella!: Spectacular Rice Dishes From Spain ,
"Eating tapas style is fun, and tapas go hand in hand with Spain's exuberant lifestyle."
Sounds good to us! So we suggest the following menu for an authentic Spanish night centered round a paella dish. Click on the links to see the recipes:


Adjusting For The Size of Your Pan

You should recall that one key to making paella is that the rice is kept in a thin layer while cooking. If you wish to cook for more people, you don't pile up the food, you get a bigger pan. We have focused on the 14" size because it fits in our ceramic cooker and many recipes are written for 14" or 15" pans. Listed below are all the various pan sizes that we have been able to find on the web. The column marked "Paella Pans" shows the multiplier to use for ingredients if you use a bigger pan, according to the website www.paellapans.com. In theory, though, you should just be able to adjust based upon the surface area of the pan. These multipliers are shown in the column marked "Calculator"

Also, how many servings can you get from a pan of any particular size? There is enormous variation depending on who you ask, as shown in the table below. The first five columns are numbers from web sites; the last column comes from the book La Paella by Jeff Koehler.


Where Do You Go From Here?

Lynne Rossetto Kasper, of The Splendid Table fame, recommends that initially you resist the urge to experiment while you master the technique. The secret to great paella is to practice, but once you have mastered the basic technique, then you can be creative. Stick to the six pillars of paella outlined above and then feel free to devise your own recipes using the ingredients that are good and fresh in your market. Check out other recipes for seafood and vegetable paellas. Lord knows, there are a lot of them out there!


Books on Paella

We have purchased two books on Paella, so far. The first book by Penelope Casas is titled Paella!: Spectacular Rice Dishes From Spain . You will find this book recommended and sold on a number of websites that sell Paella products. We have read through this book and tried several of its recipes. What makes this book an ideal first choice for someone who wishes to learn about Paella is that not only does this book offer a boatload of Paella recipes, it also offers recipes for Spanish tapas and first courses, as well as recipes for Spanish desserts. You can use this book to plan an entire authentic Spanish meal centered around Paella! (See our section on planning an entire meal below.)

Here is a brief list of some of the major sections contained in this book:

  • Tips for Perfect Paella
  • A Few Tricks
  • Pairing Spanish Wines with Paella
  • Seafood Paellas
  • Meat, Poultry and Game Paellas
  • Mixed Meat and Seafood Paellas
  • Vegetable Paellas
  • Tapas and First Courses
  • Deserts
  • Broths, Sauces and Dips
In addition, she provides a short list of sources for Spanish Products as well as sprinkling the text here and there with small sidebars that go into detail on subjects such as the rice, saffron, olive oil, piquillos, noras, smoked paprika, broths, clementines, turron, pork, rabbit, salt cod, horchata, and Las Fallas, Valencia's Orgy of Fire. (Sorry, you'll have to buy the book....) And finally, the book also includes several very interesting photographs of very large paellas.

All in all, this one single book probably covers everything you need to know about paella and planning an authentic Spanish meal centered around a Paella. We highly recommend it.


The second book is La Paella: Deliciously Authentic Rice Dishes from Spain's Mediterranean Coast by Jeff Koehler. As the title implies, this book is focused on rice dishes so you won't find any recipes for first courses and only two rice-based desserts. However, it covers all aspects of making paella and other rice dishes. History and origin, basics, techniques, ingredients are all covered. There are 16 recipes for paella as well as 12 recipes for other Spanish rice dishes. Finally there are the two recipes for rice desserts and a short list of sources for Spanish products as well as a list of restaurants in Spain where you can eat authentic paellas and rice dishes.


Sources

You can purchase paella pans, socorrat scrapers, wooden spoons, bomba rice and other paella ingredients from the following sources. We have purchased items from the first three and have been happy with the service:
Paella Pans - www.paellapans.com
La Tienda - www.latienda.com
The Spanish Table - www.spanishtable.com
Hot Paella - www.hotpaella.com


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