How to make next level paella

Serve up the perfect paella with our 10 top tips. This fragrant one-pan Spanish dish of rice and seafood evokes summer, sunshine and al fresco dining.

Next level paella title sign

One of the most recreated holiday dishes, paella is a recipe that can cause arguments among the Spanish without us getting involved. But despite frequent disagreements over the best way to make the genuine article, there are a few key elements that make up a paella – after that it’s fair game, with each cook adding their own stamp. What we’ve tried to create is something we’ve come to think of as paella, even if it is a little turistica.

This traditional rice and seafood dish is as much about the shopping as the preparation, and once you’ve got the right components, the cooking and serving are easy. A good paella relies heavily on the right ingredients, with a great stock at its base. Getting good fresh stock is hard so we’ve come up with a quick solution to making your own. In our next level paella recipe, we've kept the key ingredients authentic but still taken a few liberties in the name of ease and flavour.

Discover even more delicious Spanish eats with our top 10 foods to try in Spain

10 tips for the perfect paella

1. The right rice
2. The perfect pan
3. Homemade seafood stock
4. Spanish saffron
5. Controversial chorizo
6. Ripe summer tomatoes
7. The freshest seafood
8. Simmered not stirred
9. Smoke without fire
10. Serve warm, not hot  

1. The right rice

Risotto rice being poured out of a packet

As the main ingredient, it’s worth hunting down paella rice (also known as bomba or Calasparra rice). This highly absorbent short-grain Spanish variety will give you the authentic ‘sticky rice’ finish.

2. The perfect pan

Wide shallow steel pan on a grey background

A paella pan is a wide, shallow, flat-bottomed pan that cooks the rice in a thin layer. If you don’t have one, a large frying pan makes a decent substitute.

3. Homemade seafood stock

Tomato stock in a glass jug

Great paella relies on great stock – here we’ve made our own with the prawn heads and cooking juices from the mussels.

4. Spanish saffron 

Saffron threads on a plate

If you’re after authenticity in a seafood paella then you have to add saffron for colour and flavour. Spanish saffron should be bought as strands, not powdered, and it needs to be steeped in liquid so it's evenly distributed. Yes, it’s an expensive spice but a little goes a long way.

5. Controversial chorizo

Chopped chorizo slices and stock in wide steel pan

Okay, chorizo isn’t authentic in a seafood paella, but it’s an easy way of adding the flavour of smoked paprika without buying a jar – and let’s face it, a touch of chorizo in any dish is never a bad thing.

6. Ripe summer tomatoes

Chopped fresh tomatoes on a plate

Chopped fresh, very ripe tomatoes are best, but if you’re making paella out of season, use a 200g tin of chopped tomatoes. Anything more and the tomato becomes too prominent.

7. The freshest seafood

Seafood paella with peas, arranged in symmetrical pattern

Use whichever seafood is available to you. If you can only buy frozen, use that and 700ml of fresh fish stock, instead of the prawn head and mussel stock.

8. Simmered not stirred

Paella stock and rice in wide pan

For the best finished texture, try and stir the rice as little as possible. Over-stirring will release the rice starch and give the dish more of a creamy, risotto texture. True paella greatness has a slight crust on the bottom called socarrat which can only be achieved by not stirring.

9. Smoke without fire

Pot of smoked salt slivers

The best paellas are cooked over bonfire embers. To recreate that smoky flavour at home without getting the barbecue out, season the finished dish with smoked sea salt.

10. Serve warm, not hot

Paella in a wide pan and served in a bowl

For all the different flavours in the paella to truly sing, it’s best eaten warm, not hot. Leave it to cool a little after cooking.

See the full recipe for our next level paella.

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Which ingredients do you think make the perfect paella? Leave a comment below...

Comments, questions and tips

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RenePF's picture
17th Jun, 2018
John, Sean & David: We're waiting for your authentic paella recipe. If you don't have one, it's okay. Maybe you can post a link to one you'd recommend. Otherwise . . .
17th Jun, 2018
Definitely NOT paella. Anything that takes less than 3 hours is just a risotto-of one sort or another.
John Patton's picture
John Patton
17th Jun, 2018
STOP! I live in Valencia, where paella comes from. I have lived here for almost 20 years. My wife is from here and my daughter also. THIS IS NOT PAELLA... it is rice with random things thrown into the pan. Please don’t insult this dish, it is full of culture and tradition, not peas, chorizo and smoked sea salt!
David Clark's picture
David Clark
17th Jun, 2018
Well said, John. This is not a paella recipe.
17th Jun, 2018
Ok, John Patton, tell us how it's done.
Christopher Gollop's picture
Christopher Gollop
17th Jun, 2018
I live in Valencia, too. I know it sounds arsey what John Patton said, but really this is not paella, it's a horror show. Valencians wince at the idea of chorizo in paella, and after Jamie Oliver's paella disaster you'd hope that food journalists might perhaps visit Valencia to learn about the dish before writing their "top 10 tips". Sorry to the writer, I know you work hard but please don't research the internet to write up paella recipes.
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