What Is Paella?

A classic one-pot meal from Spain

What Is... Paella?
Stock.XCHNG/MeiTeng

An aromatic and filling staple from Valencia, Spain, this party-friendly rice dish is a great alternative to pasta, risotto, and casseroles when feeding a large group. It’s easy and presents a complete meal packed with flavor.

Historically, paella was cooked outside over an open flame in wide, shallow, concave pans called paellera and featured a bevy of ingredients that most people probably wouldn’t recognize as paella today. It was common to find rabbit, snails, and beans, cooked along with the short-grain rice grown in the area. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. These days, it’s more common to find mussels, shrimp, chicken, onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, and Spanish chorizo (a smoked pork sausage redolent with the flavor and aroma of garlic and paprika). The defining characteristic, however, is saffron, picked by hand from the flowers of a plant in the iris family, which gives the rice its well known yellow hue. (Photo courtesy of Stock.XCHNG/ArminH)

There’s no need today to build a bonfire in the backyard and haul a 30-inch diameter pan out there, although it might be fun for everyone to gather around and eat straight from the pan, just as farmers used to do in the old days. Rather, a regular stainless steel skillet over a stove should do just fine, although carbon steel is often preferred by connoisseurs because it heats up and cools down quickly. The most important thing, though, is to spread the rice out in an even, thin layer so that it stays dry and cooks evenly. (Photo courtesy of Stock.XCHNG/kasseckert)

So the next time there’s a large social gathering headed your way, whether it’s a birthday party, potluck, or just a Sunday dinner with friends, and lasagna just seems a little tired, try this easy alternative. It’s sure to surprise and delight even the most discriminating palates.

Click here to see Wolfgang Puck’s Vegetable Paella Recipe.


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