How to make perfect paella

  • By
    Gregor Shepherd - olive magazine chief sub-editor

Perfecting a paella recipe is no easy feat. Gregor sets out to create a truly authentic dish...

Quick prawn paella

I've been trying to perfect my paella recently, so I was very pleased to be asked along to Pinchito Tapas in London, WC1 for a paella masterclass.

Paella fried riceI learnt there isn't really one, true paella recipe from which all others deviate, and many people from Valencia, where it originated, have different opinions on what paella should be, and how it should be cooked. Valencian paella, generally, is cooked with meat (chicken, rabbit, pork ribs, snails), tomatoes (peeled and grated), paprika, rosemary, saffron, garlic and various types of bean or sometimes artichoke. Seafood paella dispenses with the meat, and usually the beans and rosemary, and replaces it with seafood of various types. Mixed paella is the most widely eaten in Spain outside Valencia, and also abroad, and is made with chicken and various types of seafood.

A mixed paella with chicken and cuttlefish was demonstrated, and the tips I picked up were as follows:

Easiest ever paellaDon't use an onion, as it produces too much liquid. A whole head of garlic (peeled and chopped) was used for a paella to serve six. The saffron was folded up in a piece of foil and toasted, briefly, over an open flame before being added, as this way it releases more flavour.

The meat was fried first, followed by the seafood, then the vegetables. You're trying to get all of the flavour from all of the ingredients into the rice. In Valencia, people eat paella straight from the pan, all eating the triangle in front of them, and discarding the meat and fish in a pile at the centre of the pan - the rice is the treat, and these bits are only eaten at the end if you are still hungry.

Paella in panWhen the veg, meat and fish are cooked (this is called a sofrita), the paprika should go in and be mixed through, quickly, to avoid burning, which gives it a bitter flavour. Then the rice should be mixed in, then the stock should be quickly stirred in. From that point forward, it shouldn't be stirred at all, because the grains of rice should stay separate. To stop it from sticking though, what you can do is shake the pan. Towards the end of the cooking, stop shaking it, because you do want it to stick then, in order to have a thin, crispy layer of toasted rice on the bottom, known as soccarat (the most delicious bit of all). Take it off the heat before the rice is totally cooked through, and cover the pan in tinfoil, leaving it to cook under its own steam for 5-10 minutes.

Finally, don't serve it with lemon wedges - if you do, people will immediately squeeze the lemon onto the paella without tasting it - in Valencia, apparently, lemon is only used to adjust the flavour if the paella hasn't turned out right (and alioli should only be served with arroz negro).

Do you have any paella rules? Share them with us below...