I love to entertain and Paella is a great way to bring food and friends together. I enjoy the way watching the food cook, out in the open, really helps create a sense of anticipation, excitement and a festive party environment. Occasionally, a friend will ask me to make a special paella. This is a paella I made for a wedding reception so no lengths were spared to make it unforgettable! —garryv
- Serves thirty
your best homemade fish stock
bomba rice, preferably from Calasparra(note other rices will require less stock!)
Medium tomatoes, grated, skins discarded
spanish sweet smoked paprika
cloves of garlic thinly sliced
garlic finely minced
grams of saffron (lightly toasted)
squid, body cut into rings, and tentacles
mussels precooked with one shell removed. I generally discard the mussel liquor because I find it overpowers everything else!
U16-20 shrimp, deveined but with shells left on. Heads-on are fine if not better!
extra colossal prawns U10 or less. I was lucky to find U3 for this paella. Prior to cooking sprinkle these prawns with a mixture of 3 parts salt to 1 part spanish smoked paprika, ideally an hour or two before cooking.
baby Lima beans. Frozen or fresh but simmer in a little stock until tender before hand
sugar snap peas or string beans (strings removed)
Red , green and yellow peppers, 2 each. Roast over a flame and rest in a paper bag for 10mins or so. Remove the skin and core and slice into 1/4 wide slices
Optional: assorted edible flowers like nasturtiums and squash blossoms marigolds are also shown and while edible, many types of marigolds are bitter so I don't use them anymore
- To a 36" paella pan, over the appropriate sized heat source- preferably a three ring, 28" propane fire ring for paella (or a large fire pit if you have experience cooking over an open fire) add your olive oil and a few pinches of salt and saute the extra large prawns until almost done. Remove to a platter
- In the same oil saute the squid. if needed add more oil. When done push the squid to the outer edges of the pan.
- Add the tomatoes and sliced garlic and saute 10-15 mins over medium heat until the color deepens and most of the liquid has cooked off. Add the smoked paprika. This reduced tomato mixture is called the Sofrito and this is but one version. Note: At the start of this step it is a good idea to determine if your pan is level by watching to see how the tomato liquid sits in the pan. Adjust the pan until this liquid sits evenly in the center of the pan. You could alternately level your pan before you start cooking using a cup of water. Either way it will be harder to deal with after this step and more stuff is added to the pan.
- Next add the U16-20 shrimp and gently toss them in the Sofrito you made in step 3 until the shells have just changed color.
- Add the lima beans, sugar snaps, and sliced peppers and toss everything together. Let everything get warmed-up and cozy for a few minutes.
- Carefully add the stock (and make sure the stock is hot when you do), the minced garlic, parsley, tarragon and saffron. Make a note of the level of the stock in the pan.
- Allow the stock to reach a gentle simmer and take in the flavors of all the ingredients for a few minutes. There should be little bubbles everywhere. Now taste it and add salt (and anything else you deem needed) until the stock is flavorful and slighty over-salted (otherwise the final paella will taste under-salted). If the stock taste great at this point the paella should taste just as good! Add a little more stock if a noticeable amount has evaporated, to return the stock to it's original level.
- Now sprinkle in the rice and distribute it as evenly as you can. Divide all the ingredients evenly throughout the pan and tease any visible rice into the stock. Wait a few more minutes and sprinkle on the green peas. Do not stir or arrange the rice after this point. From this point on the paella progresses quickly and you should be there to tend it for the next 20-30 mins it will likely take to finish. Have a glass of wine and make sure it is cooking evenly; that the heat is not too high or too low and that nothing is burning.
- When the stock appears to have been mostly absorbed start checking for doneness.This is done in three ways: 1. By taking a spoon, pushing it to the bottom of the pan and scraping it back and forth about a 1/4 inch to feel for resistance or rather sticking. Start in the middle of the pan because the sticking usually starts in the middle of the pan 2. Smell for any signs of burnt rice (get your face very close). Hopefully you will never know the smell of burnt rice but sooner or later it will happen if you make a lot of paellas and try to get a socarrat (see next step). Just stop the cooking and finish as you normally would 3. Taste a few grains from the top layer of rice. They should still be a bit under done in the center.
- By this point the sound of the paella will also have changed to more of a crackling/sauteing sort of sound. When the very top layer of rice is still a little under done to just done, and you feel resistance from the bottom layer of rice with your spoon over the whole pan, the paella is done and you should even have a nice layer of slightly to very caramelized (but not burnt) rice on the bottom called the Socarrat. Some feel this "layer" is the best part of the dish and making a good Socarrat layer, without burning the rice, is considered one of the marks of a well made paella. Tip: If you are using a propane burner made for a paella pan of this size with several rings, once you feel the middle area start to stick on the bottom you can turn off the center ring for the rest of the cooking. This will give the outer areas time to form a socarrat without the center burning. If you are working over a firepit push all the coals out to the edges of the pit. Some books recommend increasing the heat at the end but I would not try this until you have made a lot of paellas(at least 20). The heat can only be raised for a very short time and only at the right moment or you will get burning.
- When you feel the paella is done remove it from the heat and decorate the paella with the extra large prawns and mussels. Gently cover everything with a towel(s) for ten minutes to allow the paella to rest and the less done grains of rice on top to finish. Finally remove the towels and finish decorating with the flowers (if you decided to use them). By now your guest will be very hungry!
- Serve with lemon wedges and a nice salad. It is always best (and traditional) to sit around a paella and eat it directly from the pan if possible, with each person starting on the outer edge and eating their way toward the center. In this way one can best experience the various layers and textures of rice in a paella. However with a large paella it is fine to serve it on plates. Just remember to scrape up some of that caramaelized rice! If you plan to do this paella for a special event and you don't normally do paella for 33- I'd advise you to make a practice, perhaps smaller version for your friends beforehand. For a smaller paella it is just fine to divide the ingredients and proceed otherwise normally. Remember:Paella is first and foremost a rice dish! Don't worry if some of the vegetables or shrimp come out a little over done by your usual definition. That's actually normal. The rice is the star and everything else is there to make that rice the best it can be. Speaking of rice- Bomba rice is not cheap but it is easy to find on line and it really makes a big difference! I usually by a least a 5kilo bag at the start of the summer but I like to cook for a lot of people (and the price is cheaper per kilo than the one kilo bags). Count on about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of rice per person.
- Last but not least: Have fun! There is no better party dish than a Paella.