Paella: it’s all in the rice

(Space is still available in my fall Yeast Baking class; read more about it here.)

The secret to good paella, Spain’s national dish, is in the rice.  When made with long-grain rice, the results are a perfectly ordinary, slightly mushy mix (like a poorly executed jambalaya, paella’s culinary cousin).  But substitute a rice traditionally used in paella, and the dish’s texture and taste improve dramatically.  I found some “Bomba” rice on sale at Williams-Sonoma for $6, which led me to concoct a chorizo, chicken, and shrimp paella.

Bomba rice looks like an arborio rice used for risotto:  short, fat, rounded grains.  Unlike arborio rice, it doesn’t release beaucoup starch as it cooks, so paella isn’t sticky like risotto.  In comparison to long-grain rice, it can absorb much more liquid, so each cooked grain becomes a flavor-packed morsel, soaking up every taste added to the pan.   Of course, using a good shrimp or chicken stock as the cooking liquid also is important to the flavor (I had shrimp stock in the freezer).  Still, paella is a rather forgiving dish, allowing for widely varying amounts of protein, aromatics and embellishments.

Purists will claim that paella requires a special pan and cooking over an open fire.  I can attest that a gas stove and a wide, 12″ nonstick skillet, while inauthentic, yield a delicious result.  See my stovetop recipe below–in the absence of Bomba rice, try another Spanish rice like Calsparra or La Marjal.  A final key element to this paella’s flavor is dry Spanish style chorizo sausage.  Fra Mani’s salametto piccante (made in the style of dry chorizo) is available locally at Whole Foods, Martin’s Wine Cellar, and St. James Cheese Company.

Chicken, shrimp, and chorizo paella

  • 3 T olive oil
  • 3/4 cup dry chorizo, cut into quarters and thinly sliced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 medium red and green bell peppers, chopped
  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces (about 3/4 lb)
  • 3/4 cup Bomba rice (or other paella rice)
  • 1 large tomato, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup Spanish white wine
  • 1-1/4 cup shrimp stock
  • pinch of saffron
  • pinch of pimenton (Spanish smoked paprika)
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen small green peas
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 lb small shrimp, peeled
  • freshly ground black pepper
Heat olive oil in a 12″ nonstick skillet.  Add chopped chorizo, and saute until the chorizo begins to brown.  Add onion and bell pepper; continue cooking until onion begins to brown.  Push contents of skillet to outer edges of the pan and add the chicken.  Saute chicken pieces until lightly browned, then add rice.  Stir skillet’s contents thoroughly to mix with rice.  Add chopped tomato, white wine, shrimp stock, saffron, pimenton, green peas, and salt, stirring to ensure that all rice is submerged in the liquid.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and arrange shrimp in a single layer over the top of the rice and liquid.  Cover loosely; cook for 20 minutes until rice is tender.  Remove cover; increase heat slightly, and cook 5 to 8 minutes more, until a light crackling is audible (this creates the desirable browned socarrat layer on the pan’s bottom).  Serves 6-8.

2 thoughts on “Paella: it’s all in the rice

  1. I learned about paella about 30 years ago from my friend Norma who had learned to make it in Spain. She always used Uncle Ben’s . . . now of course that was before the easy availability of bomba and the like, but I have made it with converted rice and it’s turned out quite good. I imagine the bomba has more body and I will try it one of these days, but for those who can’t or don’t want to go searching for the more authentic types of rice, a very good tasting paella can be produced with the lowly Uncle Ben’s, which is, after all, a short grain rathern than long grain type of rice… (Could this be because the starch has been washed away in the parboiling process?)

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