This simple Spanish Paella recipe delivers amazing flavor from chorizo, shrimp, and traditional paella ingredients. It’s quick and easy enough for a weeknight family meal, but impressive enough for dinner guests!
Traveling is not really my thing – I’m quite happy being a homebody, plus I hate flying. But there are some countries on my bucket list to visit, including Spain. Mainly to experience authentic Paella. Is that weird? It’s their most beloved dish and too many American restaurants screw it up.
What is Paella?
Paella is an iconic rice dish of Spain and practically synonymous with Spanish cuisine. It’s a colorful mixture of flavored rice and various meats or seafood, getting its name from the paellera, the flat, round pan in which it’s cooked.
While it’s incredibly easy to make, it’s also easy to get it wrong. There are 4 elements that separate it from just any ‘ol rice dish.
What are the key elements to Paella?
- Paella Rice – the core of this dish is the rice. Spanish rice, called Bomba, is preferred for this dish because it is round, short, absorbs liquid very well, and yet stays pretty firm while cooking. It can be hard to find sometimes, though. Arborio rice is the closest thing to it, and an acceptable substitute. The rice should be dry and separate when the dish is done cooking, not creamy like risotto. (Make sure to read the packaging for the amount of liquid and defer to what is recommended, if different than what my recipe calls for.)
- Sofrito – this provides the base for all the flavor, which typically includes tomato, onion, garlic, paprika, saffron, and seasonings. These ingredients get sautéed and then coat the rice, giving it that gorgeous golden-orange color.
- Liquid – a good stock can elevate any rice dish and is pretty critical with paella. If you’ve got time and patience, homemade stock is the way to go. But I’m guilty of never doing this and instead just buy a really high quality, low-salt broth.
- Socarrat – unlike risotto, where you stir constantly, paella is actually best with minimal stirring, so the bottom layer of rice in the pan develops a chewy, crispy, and caramelized crust, referred to as socarrat. It’s achieved by turning up the heat in the final minutes of cooking. It’s so amazingly flavorful. Having said that, the bottom of the paella can burn if you’re not careful, so keep your heat on low and pay attention, stirring 1-2 times only if absolutely necessary.
Do I need a Special Paella Pan?
For real authentic Paella, yes. A true paella pan is large, round, and shallow with two looped handles. The emphasis is on diameter, rather than height. The flat bottom ensures the rice cooks in a thin layer and is what helps develop that awesome socarrat that I mentioned above. The pan is actually so important that it’s where the name comes from – the word “paelle” means “pan.”
What if I don’t have a Paella Pan?
If you don’t have a paella pan, an acceptable alternative is a skillet. Use one that is stainless-steel or aluminum. Stay away from cast-iron (which retains too much heat) or nonstick pans (which will never give you the socarrat we’re after.) Try to use a heat source that can accommodate the whole paella pan or skillet. If your burners are a bit spaced out, you’ll need to move and rotate the pan a bit while cooking to evenly distribute the heat.
What else goes in Paella?
Interestingly enough, true authentic paella, dating back to the 1800’s, usually consisted of rabbit, snails, chicken, maybe some eel, and lima beans. Sounds delicious, right? Not. Luckily, that list is in the history books and not typically used today. But purists will argue anything other than those ingredients and you’ve simply got arroz en paella (rice in a paella pan.) But I say if you stick with the 4 elements I talked about, it’s Paella!
There’s really no limit to the ingredients you can use. Seafood, sausage, and vegetables are all wonderful additions.
Paella Recipe Variations
- Andouille sausage can be used, if you can’t find chorizo.
- Leaving the tails on the shrimp lends more flavor to the dish and also, IMHO, looks nicer, but if it grosses you out, feel free to take them off.
- If using table salt instead of Kosher salt, reduce the amount to 1/2 teaspoon.
- Saffron threads are a staple ingredient in paella, but I know they’re expensive. If you’re not able or willing to spend the cash, I get it! Simply omit it.
Now that I’ve probably scared you off from making this paella recipe, make it anyway! LOL. The fact is, paella, while super easy, does take practice to get it right, and I still bungle it from time to time. Even if you don’t have the right size pan, or burners close together, or accidentally use too much liquid, or stir it one too many times, this is still a delicious dish!
I simplified the steps and ingredients to make this easy and a great option for any weeknight meal. You’re going to love it!
Paella Recipe Video
Other Recipes To Try!
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 5 ounces cooked smoked Spanish chorizo sausage , cut into 1/2-inch rounds (the kind that is dried and cured NOT Mexican chorizo which is ground)
- 1 medium sweet onion , cut into 1-inch wedges
- 3 cloves garlic , minced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3/4 teaspoon paprika (sweet or smoked)
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt (not table salt)
- few turns freshly cracked black pepper
- pinch of saffron threads
- 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
- 3 1/2 cups low sodium chicken stock
- 1 pound medium shrimp , thawed if frozen, peeled and deveined, tails on or off
- 1/2 cup frozen peas , thawed
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
- Warm olive oil in a 12 to 14-inch paella pan (or large stainless-steel skillet) over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add in the chorizo and onion; saute for about 3 minutes. Add in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Stir in the tomato paste and cook until completely mixed and coated.
- Add in the paprika, salt, pepper, and saffron; stir to combine.
- Add in the rice and stir to coat completely.
- Pour in the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Gently flatten the rice with the back of a spatula; reduce heat to low and lightly simmer for 15 minutes, without stirring.
- Add in the shrimp and nestle them in the liquid; cook 10 more minutes until the liquid as been absorbed.
- Stir in the peas and warm through.
- Sprinkle parsley on top, serve and enjoy!