Friday, December 24, 2010

Let’s Talk About Food: Paella

In an average week in Los Angeles, Bryan and I made spinach lasagna, grilled chicken with garlic drizzle, grilled salmon, pasta with sardines, various salads. (Let me digress here for a moment: I miss making the black kale salad from the New York Times. I haven’t been able to get black kale here in Spain. I also miss going out to sushi, and the sashimi salads we got as take out. There is sushi in Spain, good sushi, but it’s too expensive). Since moving to Spain, our usual cooking looks like this: grilled mackerel, baked sea bass, pizza, roasted chicken with sweet potatoes, potatoes, onion, garlic and tomato, and paella.

My dad makes a great seafood paella, and has for years. A few times over the years he’s told me how to make it, but the instructions did not sink in. I’ve made OK paella following my recollections a couple of times in Los Angeles. But it was nothing special.

Then we went to Valencia, home of paella. We ate amazing paella at Borja Azcutia, a small neighborhood restaurant which serves several types of paella to order, and my ideas about the dish changed. We ordered a paella valenciana and a seafood paella. When you call to reserve, you need to tell them in advance which paellas you’ll be having. The paellas can be of different sizes (for 2, for 4, etc). We were four adults and three kids, and they told me to order two different paellas, and I did. For me, up until this point, paella had been a seafood festival.

Paella is a country dish, in the old days cooked outdoors over an almond wood fire, made of rice and whatever else you had at hand. Rice is important. The type of rice used for paella, bomba, is a short-grained rice that absorbs the broth and becomes creamy but not soft. A generous amount of oil is important, because a paella without enough oil is dry. The version of the paella valenciana we had at Borja Azcutia has pieces of bone-in chicken and rabbit, some beans similar to fava beans, slices of flat green beans and snails. No seafood. This humble dish, closest to the original idea of paella, became my favorite one.

After coming back from Valencia, I looked up some recipes for paella valenciana. Everybody does it their own way, so I took some ideas from recipes and with the paella from Borja Azcutia as my ideal, I set out to make paella. Now I’ve made it several times, and it comes out very well.

Ana’s Paella Valenciana

3 big cloves of garlic, minced
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, or more (from Spain if possible) [I don't measure, so it's approximate]
1 tb extra virgin olive oil
3 roma tomatoes, grated
½ tsp pimenton
½ lb pieces of chicken (bone-in)
½ lb pieces of rabbit
4 oz (100 g) of flat green beans, cut both across their length and width
2 oz (50 g) fava beans [I use frozen favas]
1.5 cups bomba rice (or other short-grained rice)
3 ¼ cups of chicken broth
1/4 tsp saffron (a pinch)
½ tsp turmeric
salt to taste

In a paella pan or a large wok-type pan, heat the oil at medium heat and add the garlic until fragrant (30 seconds). Add the pimenton, stir for a few seconds and add the grated tomatoes. Add salt to taste. Cook for a few minutes (adding a little water if it gets too thick). While the sofrito cooks (this is the tomato and garlic mix), in a different pan, brown and salt the chicken and rabbit pieces in a tbsp of oil and set aside. Also, after the chicken and rabbit are browned and set aside, brown the green bean pieces (at medium-high heat). Add salt to the beans and set aside.

Peel fava beans (defrosting them first if you’re using frozen ones). Add the favas and the green beans to the sofrito. Stir.

Prepare the broth by heating it to nearly boiling and adding both the saffron and the turmeric to it. Taste the broth for salt (it should taste good). Add the chicken and rabbit pieces to the sofrito, so that they are evenly distributed and pretty flat. Add the rice and stir a bit, so the rice is covered by the sofrito and not sticking to the sides. Make sure all is flat. Add the broth and cook at medium to medium low heat for about half an hour. It may take more or less time, depending on how high the flame is. Taste the rice as you go, to see if it’s done. It always takes a bit longer than you think it should. When the rice is al dente, turn off the heat, cover the paella, and wait 5-10 minutes to serve.

If you'd rather get someone to make the paella for you:

Borja Azcutia
C/ Almirante Cadarso, 16
46183 Valencia, Spain
963 161 270


  1. After reading this and the previous post, I'm starving. Have you ever had the chance to compare paella? I wonder how Cuban paella fares against Spanish?

  2. Michelle, I've never had the Cuban paella, but I'm intrigued. You should go have it and tell me about it!

  3. I am sure cuban paella and the spanish one have nothing to do with each other, although I have not tried the cuban one either!! I have tried some cuban rices, and were much simpler than the paellas or arroces caldosos, etc.. viva Valencia!! :)
    I have to say I have tried my sister´s paella once at her house and was very good! Gracias Ani!!

  4. I've never had the Cuban paella, but I'd love to try it.

  5. I've had it and my mom used to make it as well, but it's been years. Too long for me to accurately describe it. Every paella I've had here has chicken, seafood, sometimes sausage. I've never had anything like the valencia paella you describe!

  6. I've had paella in Valencia - fabulous! Can't wait to try this recipe!

  7. Michelle: the seafood paella in Spain has seafood only, no chicken or chorizo (at least all the ones I've had were like this). Time for paella for you! It's been too long!

    Sonja: let me know how the recipe comes out! :)