This delicious Spanish Paella recipe is a wonderful dish made with bomba rice, savory veggies and spices, and plenty of protein in the form of chicken, sausage, and mixed seafood. The best part is you can customize it according to your own personal preference or what you have on hand!
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I have loved Paella ever since Paul and I visited Spain years ago and enjoyed it at a number of places made with a variety of different ingredients from mixed seafood to rabbit and chicken. I love them all!
Paella is a fantastic dish to make at home and incredibly delicious with lots of textures and flavors. We recommend serving it family style right in the pan you cooked it in for everyone to scoop up as much as they would like so they can get some of the crispy rice crust on the bottom, which is the best part!
I wanted to make paella as part of my American Eats series to represent Nevada, which has a large Basque population from Spain after seeing it on the menu at a Basque restaurant. After doing more research, I'm not sure how well paella represents the Basque culture, but it's most definitely Spanish and is one of their most loved dishes.
This is my best paella recipe that is as close to authentic paella as I have been able to make seeing as how I'm not from Spain or own a special pan. But the flavors, textures, and method are pretty much just what I remember from my visits to the country. I hope you try it and love this dish as much as we do!
What is Paella?
Paella is a Spanish dish that originated in the Valencia region of Spain. It is a rice-based dish that is typically made with the main ingredients of a short-grain rice, saffron threads for color and aroma, a variety of vegetables, and some type of meat or seafood.
Traditional Spanish paella is cooked over an open flame in a wide, shallow pan called a "paellera." The ingredients are added in layers and cooked slowly, allowing the flavors to meld together.
Some of the most common types of paella are:
- Valencian paella - This is the original version of paella from the region of Valencia in Spain where it is known as "paella Valenciana". It is made with chicken, rabbit, snails, green beans, and white beans.
- Seafood paella - As the name suggests, this version of paella is made with a variety of seafood such as shrimp, mussels, and clams.
- Mixed paella - This version combines both meat and seafood, usually chicken, rabbit, and a variety of seafood.
- Chorizo paella - Another common ingredient in many paella recipes is a spicy Spanish sausage known as chorizo. It's different from Mexican chorizo, so if you have a hard time finding it, andouille sausage is a decent substitute and much easier to find in most grocery stores.
- Vegetarian paella - This version of paella is made with vegetables such as bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, and artichokes.
Paella is a staple dish in Spanish cuisine and is often served in a large paella pan at family gatherings and special occasions. It is also a popular dish in many Spanish restaurants around the world. The beauty of paella is that you can adapt and adjust the ingredients to fit your liking!
Paella ingredients are simple although the list might look long. The main ones to get right are choosing the right kind of rice and finding saffron threads, which can be pricey, but worth it for the best paella. Also, note that while we used seafood, chicken, and chorizo for our paella, you can get away with just one type of protein or whatever combination you like best or have available to you.
- Bomba rice - This is a particular kind of Spanish rice that is the key ingredient for making really great traditional paella. You can also look for Calasparra rice, which is another short grain rice that can be used for this easy paella recipe. I don't recommend using regular white rice or even arborio rice, which is used for risotto.
- Chicken broth or chicken stock - The recipe is written with just the right amount so the rice cooks through without having too much liquid, which could prevent the socarrat from forming on the bottom of the pan.
- Chicken - We prefer using chicken thighs because they are more moist and less likely to overcook, but you could also use chicken breasts cut into small pieces.
- Olive oil
- Protein - In this paella recipe I like using chorizo sausage, boneless, skinless chicken thighs, prawns or jumbo shrimp, and mussels, but rabbit is another popular paella choice (although much more difficult to come by here).
- Vegetables - Chopped onion, red bell pepper, carrot, garlic, and frozen peas. Green beans, fava beans, are also popular options.
- Tomato paste - Adds depth of flavor and richness.
- Smoked paprika - We prefer the smokey, robust flavor of smoked paprika since traditional paella is cooked over an open fire, but you can sub sweet paprika if that's what you have on hand.
- Saffron threads - The orange-red threads give the paella its signature color and a wonderful aromatic quality. They can be expensive, but are worth it for the best results and most traditional flavor.
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Fresh parsley and lemon wedges - For serving.
How to Make Paella
- Sear the chorizo. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat to medium-high heat. Brown the chorizo on both sides for 2-3 minutes per side. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. If you aren't using chorizo sausage, just skip this step, but we like to do it first to flavor the oil before cooking the vegetables in it.
- Saute the veggies. Add onion, carrot, bell pepper, and garlic and saute for 5-7 minutes until the onion is translucent.
- Add seasonings. Add tomato paste and stir for 1 minute. Then add the paprika, saffron, and season with 1 teaspoon salt & ¼ teaspoon pepper. Continue to cook and stir for 3-5 minutes to really let all of the flavors develop.
- Add chicken. Season chicken thigh pieces with the remaining 1 teaspoon kosher salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Add the chicken to the pan with the vegetables and oil. Return the chorizo to the pan. Cook and stir for 1 minute. We're not trying to cook the chicken through at this point - just get a little color on it and get it incorporated with all the other ingredients before adding the rice and the liquid.
- Stir in paella rice. Add the paella rice to the pan with the veggies and meat. Stir everything together so the individual rice grains are coated in the seasonings and oil from the pan.
- Add liquid. Slowly pour the broth or chicken stock around the pan. Give the pan a shake to settle the rice grains into the liquid so they cook but do not stir from this point onwards. You want a crusty layer of rice to form on the bottom of the pan. This is called the socarrat and it is key to a really good paella. Stirring not only prevents the crust from forming but it also results in mushy rice, which is not what you want in this dish.
- Cook. Bring the liquid in the pan to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for 15-18 minutes uncovered, shaking the pan once or twice during the cooking process.
- Add seafood, if using. Add any seafood like shrimp, prawns, mussels, clams, or calamari at this point, if using, and sprinkle the peas on top. You can nestle the seafood down into the rice a bit. Continue to cook uncovered for 5 more minutes until done. The liquid should be mostly absorbed and the rice should be tender.
- Let rest. Once the paella is done, remove it from the heat and let it rest for 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve with lemon slices.
Note: Paella is a dish that can be customized to your liking, so feel free to add or substitute any of the ingredients listed above. Also, remember that the key to making a good paella is to cook it slowly and let the flavors meld together.
What kind of rice should you use for paella?
The type of rice you use for paella is crucial to achieving the perfect texture and flavor. The traditional rice used in paella is a short-grain variety known as Bomba rice. Bomba rice is a high-quality rice that absorbs the flavors of the other ingredients and retains its texture when cooked in the broth.
Another type of rice that can be used for paella is Calasparra rice, which is another short-grain variety also grown in Spain. Calasparra rice is similar to Bomba rice in that it can absorb a lot of liquid without becoming mushy, making it ideal for paella.
In general, it's best to use short-grain rice with a high starch content for paella, as this type of rice can absorb the liquid and flavors of the other ingredients without breaking apart or becoming sticky. Other types of rice, such as long-grain rice, will not work as well and may result in a less-than-perfect paella.
What kind of pan should you use for paella?
There are special paella pans which are shallow and wide that can be specially purchased for making paella, but most of us probably don't have one. And if you are anything like me, I don't have room in any of my cupboards for a specialty pan like that when I have a large 12" skillet that does the trick just as well.
I will say that I don't recommend using a cast iron pan for paella. The main reason being that cast iron retains heat and I have found it hard to cook paella properly in cast iron versus my all-clad regular pan because of the heat regulation that happens when cooking paella.
If you don't have a large enough pan, you may want to cook your paella in two separate skillets to make sure you have more surface area for the rice to get nice and crusty on the bottom.
The crust that forms on the bottom of the paella pan is known as "socarrat" and it is absolutely delicious! The caramelized golden brown rice layer that many people consider the best part of paella is usually formed by increasing the heat right at the end of cooking to form the crispy crusty bottom layer of rice that is the mark of really excellent paella.
The most common paella variation is to change the protein. You can make rabbit paella by adding ½ pound of rabbit at the same time that you add the chicken thighs, which is a common addition to Paella in Spain. Also, chorizo paella is made by using chorizo, chicken paella obviously has chicken, and a seafood paella recipe will use all kinds of different seafood depending on what is fresh and available.
Tips and Suggestions
- Use a big enough skillet. You can buy specially made paella pans, which are wide and shallow for more surface area for the crispy rice crust on the bottom. I don't recommend using a cast iron skillet, which retains heat and is not the best choice for making great paella. My largest 12" all-clad skillet barely contains all of the ingredients (you can see that it is brimming full).
- Try making this on the grill! Traditional paella is cooked over an open fire, so if you have a pan that you can use on the grill I say go for it!
- Don't add the seafood too soon. Seafood cooks quickly and becomes rubbery and tough if overdone so wait until close to the end before adding it. Once the shrimp have turned pink and are cooked through they are done.
Storage & Reheating Instructions
Leftover paella is absolutely delicious and we always fight over who gets it for lunch the next day. It will keep for 2-3 days in an airtight container in the fridge or you can freeze leftovers for up to 2 months.
To reheat, you can cover it with foil and stick the paella in a 375°F oven for 10-15 minutes or microwave individual portions. You will lose some of the crustiness of the bottom layer of rice with this approach, but it's still going to be pretty darn delicious paella.
More Rice Dishes
Spanish Paella Recipe (Seafood, Chicken, and Chorizo)
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 Spanish chorizo, cut into ½-inch discs (Andouille sausage is a good substitute)
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon saffron threads (about 2 pinches)
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley, divided (or carrot tops or chives)
- 2 cups Bomba rice or Calasparra rice
- 5 cups chicken broth or vegetable stock
- 8-12 ounces prawns or jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails on
- 8-12 ounce cleaned mussels, beards removed (optional)
- ½ cup frozen peas
- Lemon wedges, for serving
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Brown the chorizo on both sides for 2-3 minutes per side. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Add onion, carrot, bell pepper, and garlic and saute for 5-7 minutes until the onion is translucent. Add tomato paste and stir well, cooking for 1 minute. Add paprika, saffron, and season with 1 teaspoon salt & ¼ teaspoon pepper. Continue to cook and stir for 5 minutes.
- Season chicken thigh pieces with remaining 1 teaspoon kosher salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Add chicken and rice to the pan with the vegetables and oil. Return the chorizo to the pan. Cook and stir for 1 minute. The chicken will not be cooked through and that's okay.
- Add rice to the meat and veggies. Stir well to coat each of the rice grains in seasonings and oil from the pan.
- Slowly pour the broth around the pan. Give the pan a shake to settle the rice grains but do not stir from this point onwards. You want a crusty layer of rice to form on the bottom of the pan. This is called the socarrat and it is key to a really good paella. Stirring not only prevents the crust from forming but it also results in mushy rice, which is not what you want in this dish.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Cook uncovered for 15-18 minutes, giving the pan a shake once or twice during the cooking process, but do not stir. If it sounds like the paella is drying out before the rice has cooked through, you can add a splash of extra liquid or reduce the heat a little more.
- Add any seafood like shrimp, mussels, clams, or calamari at this point, if using, and sprinkle the peas on top. You can nestle the seafood down into the rice a bit. Whether you are adding seafood or not, continue to cook the paella uncovered for 5 more minutes until done (about 20 to 23 minutes total time after adding the liquid to the rice). The liquid should be mostly absorbed and the rice should be tender.
- Remove the paella from the heat and let it rest for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve with lemon slices.
- Rice: You can substitute a medium-grain rice like Calrose rice, if necessary, although Spanish rice like Bombo or Calasparra is more authentic. Do not rinse the rice before cooking.
- Protein: Other popular options other than the seafood, chicken, and chorizo listed above include pork or ham, turkey, rabbit, or a combination of any of the above.
- Storage: Leftover paella is absolutely delicious and we always fight over who gets it for lunch the next day. It will keep for 2-3 days in an airtight container in the fridge or you can freeze leftovers for up to 2 months.
- Reheating: To reheat, you can cover it with foil and stick the paella in a 375°F oven for 10-15 minutes or microwave individual portions. You will lose some of the crustiness of the bottom layer of rice with this approach, but it's still going to be pretty darn delicious paella.