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Step 1: Choose the Right Pan for Paella
There are many versions of the famous rice dish called Paella. From the original Valencian version that includes rabbit and snails to vegetarian and seafood Paella (Paella de Marco) to Paella mixtape's chicken, meat and shellfish, paella comes in several varieties. As you learn how to make Paella, it's important to know how many people you want to serve — and what you'll need to make the perfect meal.
Paella pans, sometimes called paelleras are made especially for the job. They are round, open, metal pans, which are approximately 2 to 2.5 inches deep (5 to 6 centimeters). These pans spread the heat and withstand cooking over hot coals. Paella pans can be made of carbon steel, stainless steel or enamel and have two handles. The material, shape and shallow depth of the pans are what make them perfect for cooking rice, which is the focus of the Paella.
Paella pans are readily available in sizes from a 9-inch pan that makes one to two servings and costs about $10, all the way to a 45-inch pan that makes 120 servings and costs upwards of $400. Carbon steel Paella pans in three typical sizes used by home cooks are shown in the photo above.
Two to Four Servings
To prepare a Paella for up to four people, you can use a 12-inch heavy-bottomed pan, 3-inch deep frying pan or a 12-inch Paella pan. You can also use a large electric skillet with a thermostat control.
For Larger Groups
An 18-inch paella pan makes up to 12 servings, while a 24-inch pan makes up to 19 servings. Remember: due to the shape of the pan, the amount can be reduced to half as many servings without negatively affecting the quality of the paella.
Perfect Paella Tip
Don't worry if the pan looks "old" after its first use. Simply wash, dry and immediately rub with oil, and it will last many years.Continue to 2 of 7 below.
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Step 2: Choose the Cooking Method -- Stove, BBQ or Gas Burner
After you've decided how many people will be enjoying your Paella and picked the pan, you must decide which cooking technique you will use:
One to Four Servings
If you are cooking a smaller Paella (up to four servings), you can use your stove top burner as long as you are able to accurately control the heat.
If you will be preparing a Paella for larger groups, you will need a heat source that is large enough to provide even heat to all areas of the pan. If the heat is not even, rice in one area will cook, while rice in another area will not. There are two basic choices:
Use a kettle-style charcoal barbecue, which allows you to raise and lower the grill in order to regulate the heat. It is important to be able to regulate the heat, so that the rice cooks but does not burn. A typical 22-inch barbecue can handle a Paella pan up to 23 inches.
Ringed Gas Burner
Use a gas burner with two or three rings, which allows each ring to be controlled independently. These gas burners are commonly used in Spain to cook outdoors. A two-ring burner with an inner ring of 8 inches and outer ring of 16-inches will cook a Paella pan up to 24 inches (19 servings). However, using only the inner ring, cook for 6 using a smaller pan of 13.5 inches. These gas burners require a tripod and a propane tank with a hose and regulator.Continue to 3 of 7 below.
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Step 3: Prepare the Ingredients for the Paella
Decide which kind of Paella you will prepare. No matter which type you choose, you will need clean and chop ingredients, such as onions, tomatoes and peppers. If you choose to make a Paella with meat or seafood, you'll be cleaning clams, mussels and shrimp and cutting rabbit, chicken or pork. So allow yourself plenty of time to prepare.
Gather the ingredients and prepare them. As you chop and clean, put each ingredient in a separate bowl or plate. Then keep them handy near the stove or barbecue where you are cooking.
Perfect Paella Tip
If using a charcoal barbecue, be sure to allow approximately 20 to 30 minutes for the coals to get hot and covered in white ash.Continue to 4 of 7 below.
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Step 4: Begin Cooking the Paella
Once the ingredients are cleaned and chopped, it is time to start cooking. Saute the ingredients (like onions, tomatoes, chicken and pork) according to the recipe.
Remember that if you are using a charcoal barbecue, the coals need to be covered in ash. As soon as the charcoal is ready, begin cooking so that the heat does not die out before the Paella is finished cooking.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
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Step 5: Add the Rice and Stir to Coat
Add the rice to the pan and stir to thoroughly coat the rice grains with the oil and juices from the pan.
Rice or "arrow" in Spanish is the most important part of any Paella. It is, after all, a rice dish. The most appropriate rice for Paella is the kind grown in the region of Valencia. This type of short-grain rice is often referred to as arrow bomb and is pearl-colored.
Although you may use any kind of rice in Paella, short-grain is the most commonly used in Spain. Why? Because Arroz bomba absorbs more water and flavor. It also expands two to three times its original size.
How much rice do you need? Although this will depend on the type of rice you use, the general rule is to use 2.5 to 3.5 ounces (75 to 100 grams) of dry rice per serving. So, to make a Paella for eight people, you would need 1.25 lbs. of dry rice.Continue to 6 of 7 below.
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Step 6: Add Saffron and Broth to Paella
A few fragile saffron threads give an entire Paella its characteristic yellow rice and add a unique and delicate flavor. Crush saffron threads between your fingers and stir into the broth you will use. Slowly pour the broth into the pan until the contents are covered. Spread rice and other ingredients evenly over bottom of pan using a wooden spoon or paddle. Simmer to cook the rice. Monitor the progress and add more broth if needed.
Add any other ingredients (like strips of pepper) over the top.
For Seafood Paella Versions
Arrange mussel halves around outside edge of the pan. Place raw clams and shrimp on top and spread evenly around the pan.
Perfect Paella Tip
Do not stir or disturb the rice while it is cooking.Continue to 7 of 7 below.
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Step 7: Remove from Heat, Cover and Let Paella Rest
When rice is cooked, remove from heat. Cover the entire pan with aluminum foil, allowing Paella to "rest" for five minutes before serving.
Perfect Paella Tip
Allowing the rice to "rest" or repose allows the plump Arroz bomba fully absorb the broth but does not let any liquid to evaporate.
Remove the aluminum foil and serve.