Paella ‡

Americans view paella as Spain’s national dish. Spaniards view it as a dish from its Valencia region. Valencians view it as one of their identifying symbols. All view it as a wonderful casserole of various meats, rice, and spices. It tends to be highly caloric with the addition of olive oil, and highly carbohydrated in rice. There is no one classic recipe for it, as it has been eaten in various guises in the region for the last 150 years or so.

The word “paella” refers to the pan, and, by association, the dish in which it is made. If you have such a pan, by all means use it. If you don’t, don’t let that deter you from enjoying the recipe.

The recipe appearing below hails from a 5” × 7” card bearing the date 29 July 1978, when we hosted a family dinner in our tiny condo in Pasadena. That date is the earliest, but one, of all of the recipe scrawls that I accumulated on my desk over the years. Most were undated, so I cannot attest how many preceded it in origin.

It is evident from the ingredients below that I was not worried, at that time, as now, about calories, carbohydrates, and salt. I do recall, however, I had written the recipe out in anticipation of the event, rather than during or after its preparation, as would later become my modus operandi. There had been a recent Los Angeles Times article on the subject that gave several distinctive lists of ingredients indigenous to particular regions of Spain. Moreover, my young JPL secretary’s family owned a Cuban restaurant that featured Paella, which we had recently tried and were well pleased in their rendition. These events triggered our decision to serve it at our own dinner party.

The ingredients we chose turned out to be an admixture of many recipes, guided by availability, cost, and our estimate of what the end result would be. Our expectations were not in error. The dish was very well received by our guests. For those whose makeup, metabolism, and medications allow it, I highly recommend this dish for any occasion for which you seek the effusive praise of guests. For a more dietetic version, see my Paello, following.

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 ½ lb pork loin, cubed
  • 2 lb hot Spanish (not Mexican!) chorizo sausage, cut in 1” pieces
  • 6 chicken legs, bone in, halved crosswise
  • 12 chicken thighs, bone in, halved crosswise
  • 2 ½ large Spanish onions, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
  • 2 large green bell peppers, sliced
  • ½ lb mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 ½ lb squid, head and viscera removed, cut in rings
  • 5 large tomatoes, parboiled, skinned, and diced
  • ½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 generous pinch (or more) saffron
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 2 tsp dried leaf oregano
  • salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 5 cups long grain white rice
  • 2 (13-oz) cans chicken broth
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 lb medium raw shrimp, in the shell
  • 3 lb clams in the shell, steamed
  • 1 (12-oz) can artichoke hearts
  • 1 lb frozen English peas, cooked
  • ¼ cup parsley, chopped
  • 4 lemons, cut in eighths

In a large enough skillet, pan, wok, paella, or pot, heat the oil and add the meats and saute until the chicken is browned. Add onions, garlic, bell peppers, and mushrooms and saute everything together until the onions are limp and begin to brown. Add the squid and saute a few more minutes, until the squid has curled up and become firm. Add the tomatoes, parsley, spices and seasoning, rice, broth, and water, bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until the water has been absorbed into the rice. You may wish to add the water in steps as it becomes absorbed.

Add the shrimp, clams, and artichoke. Keep the heat on low while these cook enough that the shrimp become pink and the clams all open. Discard any clams that do not open. When the paella is cooked and the rice looks fluffy and moist, turn the heat up for about 40 seconds until you can smell the rice toasting at the bottom; then it’s perfect. The ideal paella has a toasted rice bottom the Spaniards call socarrat.

Remove from heat and rest for 5 minutes. Garnish with peas, more parsley, and lemon wedges. A serving of crusty French bread accompanies this dish very well.

Makes about 20 to 25 portions, depending on appetites.