Are you ready for a party? Mix up a pitcher of sangria and call your friends and neighbors!
A festive occasion calls for a big statement, and this paella is just that: a colorful rice dish bursting with clams, mussels and shrimp along with smoky chorizo and saffron for tons of flavor. You don’t need much else to serve alongside it, but you could make a green salad if you feel inspired.
Set the whole pan of paella on your picnic table, and bring out some crusty bread and wine glasses. Summer is just too short not to celebrate it with friends.
Video: How to Make Seafood Paella
What Is Paella?
The origins of paella are ancient, rooted in the area around Valencia, Spain near the Albufera Lagoon, where both fishing and rice growing dominated the region for centuries.
Paella was the food of farm workers who cooked dishes of rice over wood fires, embellished with whatever ingredients they could find.
The dish is named for the wide, shallow pan in which the paella is cooked. The word "paella" is from a Valencian dialect meaning “pan,” probably derived from the Latin word "patella" for pan.
Do I Need a Paella Pan?
Since I don’t possess a paella pan, I used the largest sturdy skillet in my collection of pans. A cast iron pan would be ideal but mine was not big enough and I found my heavy skillet worked just fine. Lacking a large skillet, you could also use a medium-size roasting pan (approximately 14x10 inches).
How to Make Paella at Home
Although you can cook paella entirely indoors on top of the stove, when you consider paella’s wood-fired origins, it makes total sense to cook it outside on the grill. For this recipe, I started it on the stove indoors while the grill heated, and then finished it on the grill. Even, steady, medium heat is the goal.
The Basic Ingredients for Making Paella
Paella is the mother of all the one-pot meals, so it makes a supreme party dish. Improvisation rules the day, since even in Spain the issue of what ingredients should go in paella is hotly disputed, making it impossible for foreigners, let alone Spaniards, to dictate them strictly.
Okay, I know I just said that improvisation is the name of the game, but here are a few guidelines:
The Paella Rice
Paella is essentially a rice dish, and the type of rice does make a difference. Spanish bomba rice, a medium-grained stubby rice that absorbs liquid well but maintains some firmness when it cooks, is preferred.
Since it is hard to find and pricey, you can substitute Italian Carnaroli, Calrose, or another short-grain rice.
The crispy bits! Once the stock comes to a simmer, don’t stir it. As the paella cooks, the rice stays on the bottom and forms a crusty golden bottom layer in the finished dish. This crust of rice is called socarrat and is coveted by true paella lovers. The vegetables rise to the top while cooking.
For this seafood paella, you can use fish or shellfish stock if you like and if you can find a good source for it, but I actually prefer chicken stock. It adds a depth of flavor, and as the shellfish cook, you get plenty of sweet, briny juices to flavor the rice. Be sure to taste the stock and season it with salt if necessary.
Saffron is a key ingredient, too. These orange-red threads are actually the dried stigmas of crocus flowers. Crumbled into a pot of hot stock, saffron adds an earthy, floral, and somewhat mysterious flavor to your paella. It imbues the rice with a gorgeous golden color, too.
Saffron is a fairly expensive spice, but thankfully you only need a few threads to season a whole dish of paella. It also keeps for a fairly long time as long if it's stored in an airtight container and kept out of direct sunlight, so you don't need to worry about using up your extra saffron right away.
Most well-stocked grocery stores should carry saffron, such as Whole Foods or Trader Joe's. Look for it in the spice section.
Paella starts with a sofrito—finely chopped onions, garlic, and tomatoes or red peppers sautéed gently in olive oil. It is akin to the Italian soffrito or French mirepoix. Sofrito lays the groundwork for all the flavors in the dish to mingle; think of it as priming a canvas before making a painting.
The Seafood and Chorizo
I chose shrimp, clams, and mussels for this seafood version of paella, and Spanish dry-cured chorizo for its smoky, meaty flavor. Chorizo can be a controversial add-in and not all Spanish cooks agree that it belongs in paella, so skip it if you like. You can also substitute other cooked sausages and add some smoked paprika to taste to achieve the desired flavor.
Thoroughly scrub the clams and mussels before cooking and discard any with cracked or broken shells.
More Spanish Recipes to Try!
- Spanish Baked Chicken
- Spanish Roasted Potatoes and Tomato Sauce
- Spicy Pork Stew with Chickpeas and Sausage
- White Gazpacho
- 4 1/2 cups chicken stock
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled and then loosely measured
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 6 ounces mild dried chorizo sausage, sliced into thin half-moons (See Recipe Note)
- 3 cups short-grain rice, such as Spanish Bomba rice or Italian Arborio
- 1 (14-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
- 1 cup frozen green peas
- 1 pound large (21-24 per pound) shrimp, peeled and deveined, with tails left on
- 1 pound mussels, rinsed and scrubbed
- 1 pound littleneck clams, rinsed and scrubbed
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley, for garnish
Preheat the grill:
Heat a gas grill to medium-high heat (375oF), or light a charcoal grill and let burn until the charcoal is covered with gray ash.
Steep the saffron:
In a saucepan over medium heat, bring the stock to a boil. Add the saffron and salt. Turn off the heat and let the saffron steep for at least 15 minutes. Taste and add more salt, if needed.
Cook the sofrito base:
In a 12- to 14-inch stainless steel skillet or cast iron pan, heat the oil over medium heat on top of the stove. Add the onion and red pepper, and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Stir in the garlic and chorizo.
Assemble the ingredients by the grill:
On a table next to the grill, set the skillet with the sofrito, the rice, tomatoes, infused stock, salt, peas, shrimp, mussels, and clams.
Begin cooking the paella:
Set the skillet with the sofrito on the grill. Add the rice, and cook, stirring often, for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the rice is coated with oil and lightly toasted.
Stir in the stock, tomatoes, and peas. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, if you like.
Spread the rice evenly over the bottom of the pan. Close the grill cover and simmer the rice without stirring for 15 minutes, or until the rice absorbs most of the stock. If the mixture looks dry, pour about 1 cup of hot water over it, but do not stir.
Add the seafood:
Nestle the mussels and clams into the rice with the hinge sides up so they release their juices into the rice. Arrange the shrimp around the shellfish.
Cover the pan with foil, close the grill and cook for 6 to 10 minutes longer (depending on the heat of your grill), or until the rice and shrimp are both cooked through and the mussels and clams are open. (Discard any shellfish that remain tightly shut once everything else is cooked.)
Check to see if the bottom is browned:
Slip a spatula under the rice and check to see if you have achieved the elusive golden brown socarrat. If not, set the pan over the heat, uncovered, for a few minutes to lightly caramelize the bottom.
Sprinkle with parsley and bring the whole pan to the table for serving.