I have loved Paella from the moment the first forkful of saffron infused rice hit my lips. This was back in 1998 (OMG – Old!) when I was studying abroad in Segovia, Spain. My obsession grew with each experience. In fact two of my top 5 meals of all time were paella.
If you are not familiar with paella, please let me explain. It’s a classic spanish dish that hails from Valencia. It is riced based and can include meat, seafood or a combination of the two. There are typically vegetables involved plus the spice of the gods, saffron, which gives it its lovely golden hue.
Over the years, I’ve made it myself a variety of ways, adapting as I go to make it just the way I like it. The last time I was actually in Spain was during the holidays in 2001/2002. For part of our trip, Brette and I stayed with a spanish professor from our college who had moved back to Valencia. Her husband gave Brette his tutorial on how to make paella. That became the base of how I do mine but I changed it quite a bit after going to a class in Minneapolis led by a couple of awesome spanish women. I now have my own paella process down pretty well and according to our friends, the results are excellent. I’ve made it for a few different groups of friends and for my brood of siblings and it’s always a blast. It’s a dish that you can involve other people in and it’s made to cook with a glass of wine or sangria in one hand. When I can, I make it outside on the grill. It cuts down the mess in my kitchen and I think it adds a certain flare.
Even though Brette and I have made paella for various gatherings, we were both interested in having an even bigger party that required an even bigger pan. It became one of my food goals for the year.
The new weber grill was measured and a perfect fit 22-inch paella pan was ordered. Brette was careful to season it properly (let it cook with some oil over the grill a few times) so it would be ready for its maiden voyage.
Knowing we would have close to 30 people, I was concerned that the new pan would still not be big enough, so I also busted out our now “little” pan. I’m glad I did. We went through almost everything. I think we had enough leftover for 2 meals. I think we were both a little bummed that we didn’t have more leftovers.
I’m not going to go through exactly how I make paella. As I mentioned, most of it is the method and the feel of it. Plus, if I tell everyone how to make it, they might not come back for another party!
I will tell you a few things that I find key in a good paella.
- You need a supervisor. One who will really be on his toes to jump in to fix a crisis.
- Good rice. I prefer bomba or calasparra rice. You can find them locally at Kitchen Window, or you can order it online. This rice can absorb a lot of liquid – in fact, it’s a 3:1 water to rice ratio. It’s also really hard to overcook which makes it perfect for this dish.
- Real Saffron. If you’re going to go the length of making paella, please don’t buy saffron powder of some sort of coloring. Buy the real stuff. Yeah, it’s expensive. It’s not like you’re making this every Tuesday night. Live a little.
- Fresh lemon. Please believe me when I tell you that squeezing fresh lemon on your paella makes the dish. It is just not complete without it. Don’t skimp on the lemon!
- Fresh ingredients all around. This is not the time to dig out that chicken that’s been in your freezer since 2004. Get something fresh from the farmer’s market and opt for the freshest and best seafood you can afford. I believe it is all worth it.
- Socarrat is key. Socarrat makes life better. Socarrat is reason to get out of bed in the morning. What is it? It is the crust that forms at the bottom of the paella. If you don’t have socarrat, you don’t have paella. You have to be careful not to stir the paella too much as it cooks so not to disturb the socarrat that is forming. It is crunchy and delicious and will be fought over by your guests.
*Note: All photos were taken by Anne, the official paella fest photographer.