18 May 2020
Make a Real Paella
Richard James

Following on from Leon's lockdown running tips and some revitalising yoga with Fran, our Content Editor Rohan looks into his book Menu del Dia and takes you to Ibiza for the perfect paella... 

Can Salinas is a simple, block-built, road side place, tables all outside under a dozen or so olive trees, that overlooks the salt flats just outside Ibiza Town. The menu features half a dozen paellas and a fideua, nothing more, but a better paella or fideua you'll be hard pushed to find. Owner and chef Manuel Ribes is from Valencia, the home of paella, and paella has been his business for some thirty years.

Paella was originally a basic, land workers dish, prepared outside in the rice fields, over open fires of – preferably - orange or olive wood and, as today, only served for lunch. It's a method of cooking rice as much as it is a dish, and endless variations abound, two particularly delicious ones being hare and artichoke and salt cod and cauliflower.

While an authentic Valencian paella will feature - as it would have featured a couple of hundred years ago - small pieces of rabbit, a handful of snails, a few butter beans, half a dozen sliced green beans and a lot of saffron yellow rice, the more contemporary, common place paella (the picture postcard dish) can by contrast appear almost vulgar with its altogether richer, more luxurious ingredients of prawns, langoustine, clams and chicken.

Indeed – and as any true paella aficionado will tell you - for all the fancy ingredients with which you can dress up a paella, the rice always has been and always will be the star element. And, for many, the very best bit of the rice is the soccarat, the thin crust, caramel sweet and chewy, that - get it right – forms on the base of the pan in the cooking. Many a Spaniard will dismiss as substandard any paella that comes without soccarat.

This paella de marisco is very simple and very good. The rice is firm and just a touch chewy and the bottom should reward you with a scraping of soccarat. Adjust the amounts of pimenton and saffron to taste and use half a cup of stock less if, like me, you prefer your rice drier. And to finish, cover it with a newspaper (never foil, which will result in your paella being dripped on) and let it stand for ten minutes off the heat before serving.

You will need a large paella pan, cazuela  or frying pan: 18 to 22 inches diameter is the ideal size, but 14 inches will just about suffice. 

Ingredients (serves 4-6)

2½ cups short grain rice (Spanish Bomba, preferably)

5½ cups fish stock

16 clams

16 mussels

8 large prawns or langoustine

1 small yellow or white onion

2 cloves garlic

2 ripe tomatoes

6 threads saffron (or 1 teaspoon, dried, if you must...)

1 level teaspoon sweet pimenton (or paprika)

1 level teaspoon hot pimenton (or paprika)

3 tablespoons olive oil

Medium chop the onion and cook slowly in the olive oil in your largest paella pan (both the flat pan in which it is cooked and the dish are known as paellas), cazuela, skillet or frying pan. When the onion has softened considerably but not browned, peel, medium chop and add the garlic. Stir well and cook through for three minutes. Add the flesh of the tomatoes (top tip: just cut them in half and use a grater to remove the flesh) and stir well. Add the sweet pimenton and hot pimenton (or one or the other if you prefer). Stir well. Add the saffron (you can lightly toast the saffron beforehand in a dry frying pan to intensify its flavour if you choose). Up the heat to medium and stir well. Heat the stock separately. Add the clams, mussels, prawns and langoustine to the pan and stir well to coat with the mixture. After two minutes, remove half of the shellfish, set aside and add the hot stock to the pan. With the stock simmering, add the rice, spreading it evenly across the pan. Arrange the shellfish you have set aside on top. Don't stir! Cook over a low to medium heat for twenty five minutes - moving the pan every five minutes to spread the heat - until the stock has all but evaporated and the rice is beginning to stick to the bottom of the pan (you can check this with a wooden spatula or spoon). Cut the heat and cover with a newspaper. Leave for ten minutes. Remove newspaper, take in aroma and serve.

NOTE: Paella is traditionally eaten warm, not piping hot.

NOTE: Paella traditionally features as a starter on Spanish Menus (in the same way that pasta does in Italy). That said, it is also served as a traditional Sunday lunch main course.

NOTE:  It is important to ensure that the heat is spread evenly when preparing a paella. In Spain, there exist extremely useful, diffusing, gas ring contraptions that plug into the hob. If you can't find one, it is extremely important that you gently move the pan around over the heat as you go. Alternatively, try the barbecue.

NOTE: In Valencia, the stock is generally added to the pan before the rice. In other places, it can be the other way around. Use whichever method you prefer.

NOTE: There are two camps with regards to paella and onion, with one of them arguing vociferously that the dish should never include it. The choice is yours.

NOTE: There are also two camps with regards to paella and stock or water. Stock will give a fuller flavour but can smother the taste of more delicate ingredients such as shellfish. Again, the choice is yours.