Paella is a Spanish rice dish that has been around since the mid-19th century when it spread across the country from its place of invention in Valencia. There are now three main types of paella; Valencian, seafood and mixed as well as a whole range of other ideas that have diverted from these types. Whatever the ingredients used, the best paella pan is an essential part of the cooking process.
The paella pan is sometimes known as the paelleras and is a custom-made pan. They are round and open, usually around two – 3inches deep and spread heat across the pan. They tend to be made from carbon steel, stainless steel or enamel, have two handles at either side and can be used to cook over hot coals as well as on cookers. The design makes them perfect for the cooking of rice, the staple part of any paella recipe.
There are also different sizes of paella pans depending on how many people you are cooking for. The smallest is around 9-12 inches in diameter and is suitable for cooking for two to four people. If you are cooking for larger groups, you can get an 18-inch pan or for a big party, there are 24-inch pans that can serve up to 20 people at a time.
The traditional type of paella is the Valencia and people from the region are very strict about what they consider a part of their culture. Rice in this dish is never braised in oil, as with pilaf. Oil is heated in the pan then the meat is sauté with a little salt. Green vegetables are sauté until soft and the addition of grated tomatoes; beans and optional garlic are then added. Paprika is then added followed by water, saffron, snails and rosemary. The mixture is then boiled up to make a broth and reduced by half. At this point, the rice is added and simmered until cooked then fresh rosemary is added to garnish before serving.
Seafood paella often has meat such as chicken in it as well as the different types of seafood. Heat the pan up and add oil then sauté 1 diced onion and 2 diced tomatoes until the onions are translucent. Add the diced chicken then once the chicken is cooked, add squid then cook for another 10-15 minutes.
Rice can be added once the other ingredients are cooked then stir in for 2-3 minutes to make sure cooked and covered with oil. Finally, crush and add saffron threads to the mixture along with 4-6 cups of chicken or fish broth.
Mussels can be added around the edge of the pan, pointing upwards then clams and shrimps being added to the pan evenly. Slice up peppers add them on the top. Simmer the whole mixture, adding more broth if needed and finally sprinkle peas over the top.
The great thing about paella is that you can make large portions of the dish with the right size pan very easily and can add a whole range of ingredients to make it uniquely your own dish.