{classic recipe} Paella

Paella, sans shrimp and chorizo
Paella, sans shrimp and chorizo

A friend of mine just came back from a trip to Spain raving about the people, architecture, sunshine and food.  It reminded me that I wanted to try making paella.  Classic paella is made with chicken, chorizo and shrimp but I am allergic to shrimp and don’t eat anything smarter than my dog, including pigs.  I decided to make a chicken, scallops and clam version, cobbled together from some recipes I read on the internet and my own memories of the market place in southern France where I watched a man use a wooden paddle to stir paella in a four-foot wide pan.

I don’t have a paella pan and a recipe I read said you shouldn’t use cast iron, so I found our biggest 12 inch non-stick pan.  It was not big enough, it turned out, so I have scaled this recipe down a bit to match what I should have done to avoid scrubbing burned-in tomatoes off my stove top.   A real paella pan is at least 17 inches across.

There are three essential ingredients to paella; rice, saffron and smoked paprika.  All else appears to be negotiable.   For some reason I had a can of Spanish smoked paprika lying around my kitchen.  I probably would have used regular paprika otherwise and it would have missed the point entirely.  Smoked paprika has a unique flavor; don’t try to make paella without it.

Saffron threads soaking in water are utterly beautiful
Saffron threads soaking in water are utterly beautiful

The other thing about paella is that you are supposed to let it crisp slightly on the bottom.  The crispy layer is called socarrat and is probably better prepared with a true paella pan.  My socarrat was actually burnt, part of the problem of having too much stuff in too small a pan for too long.  My dog liked it.

You can cook paella on your stove, but you can also cook it on an open fire or grill.  Next time….

Paella for dinner, lunch, dinner again
Paella for dinner, lunch, dinner again



  • 30 threads of saffron crushed in ¼ cup warm water
  • Four chicken thighs, bone in, skin on, seasoned with salt and peper
  • ½ pound bay scallops, rinsed
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped fine
  • 3 tomatoes, grated on the largest holes of a box grater, skin discarded
  • 1 ½ cups Arborio or Valenica rice (short grain, white)
  • 4 to 5 cups broth
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 12 clams in the shell


Heat the olive oil in your largest pan.  Brown the chicken thighs and remove from pan, then sear the scallops for a minute or two in the hot oil and remove from pan.

Make a sofrito by adding the onion, garlic, tomatoes and paprika to the pan and cooking for about five to ten minutes until the onion softens and becomes translucent.  (Sofrito is the basis for many dishes in the Spanish-speaking world, but the spicing and ingredients vary.)  Add the rice and stir to coat, then spread it out as evenly as you can.  Do not disturb the rice again except as necessary to incorporate other ingredients into the pan.

Simmering sofrito
Simmering sofrito

Put the chicken back in the pan.  Add the saffron and broth to the pan, bring to a boil.  Simmer over medium heat for about 15 minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed by the rice.   Nestle the clams in the pan, hinge side down and cook for about 10 more minutes, until the clams are open. Add the scallops and peas. Turn the heat up to high for 2 more minutes to create the socarrat.

Remove from heat and let it sit, covered, for five minutes before eating.


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