Perfect paella - recipes

Published Dec 29, 2013


Paella has humble origins – it was a Valencian dish cooked over an open fire in the fields and eaten directly from the pan by peasants and fishermen.

With the rice, they cooked chicken, rabbit, duck, seafood and snails. Paella has since been adapted, and can contain a whole host of ingredients including chorizo and Serrano ham. There are even vegetarian paellas.

The dish has evolved from being a cheap means of feeding many people to a beautiful, exciting dish steeped in tradition.

The dish was named after the pan it is cooked in, a Paellera. It is traditionally and preferably made of iron but now also comes in stainless steel. The base of the pan is flat and should be of a good thickness. It is circular and shallow, and has two round handles on opposite sides.

Today paella is almost always associated with seafood, chicken and vegetables. There is no right or wrong recipe as ingredients vary from place to place and there are as many variations as there are cooks.

Anything from fresh garden produce to holiday left-overs can inspire a cook to create an original version of this one-dish feast.

There are however a few basic ingredients which should be included for the paella to be authentic and the rice used is the most important one.

True paella rice comes from Valencia and is known as “arroz de calasparra”, a short grain rice which has good absorption characteristics.

When cooked, paella rice should be soft, moist and each grain needs to be separated, totally different from risotto rice which goes creamy and sticks together.

Another characteristic of perfect paella rice is it produces a delicacy known as “socarra” which is when the rice sticks to the pan at the bottom and becomes crispy. This is best achieved by cooking the paella over an open fire or on a braai. You can also achieve the same effect by cooking it on a stove top and turning up the heat carefully to get the crispy crust to form on the bottom of the pan.

Saffron is probably the next most important ingredient which gives the rice the lovely, deep, golden yellow colour. Colourants can be used but there is nothing quite like the true taste and smell of saffron. Although saffron is quite expensive, only a small amount is needed.

* Traditional Spanish paella rice is not easy to find, and a good substitute is short grain Arborio rice.



Serves 6

a pinch of saffron threads

15ml boiling water

15ml olive oil

500g deboned chicken thighs, sliced

225g chorizo sausage, thickly sliced

1 onion, thinly sliced

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

10ml sweet paprika

4 medium tomatoes, chopped

375ml Arborio rice

1 litre of chicken stock

12 prawns, peeled, tails intact, deveined

250ml frozen peas

chopped parsley, to garnish

lemon wedges, to serve

Combine saffron and boiling water in a heatproof bowl. Stand for 5 minutes.

Heat oil in a deep frying pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Add chorizo, onion and garlic to the pan and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until the onion has softened.

Add the saffron mixture and paprika and cook for 1 minute or until fragrant.

Add tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes or until softened.

Add rice. Stir to coat. Add stock and bring to the boil. Reduce heat.

Return chicken to the pan. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until the stock has been absorbed.

Top the rice with prawns and peas. Cook, covered, for 10 minutes or until rice is tender. Garnish with parsley and serve with lemon wedges.



Serves 6

375ml chicken stock

300g medium-grain rice

30ml olive oil

4 small whole calamari (with tentacles), cleaned, body cut into rings

225g chorizo sausage, sliced

12 black mussels, cleaned and debearded

125ml white wine

12 medium prawns

1 cucumber, peeled, halved lengthways, seeds removed and sliced

6 spring onions, sliced

125ml cherry tomatoes

1 yellow pepper, thinly sliced

60ml black olives, pitted

Lemon dressing

100ml olive oil

60ml lemon juice

3ml sweet paprika

30ml honey

5ml salt

Place the chicken stock and rice in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 10-15 minutes until the rice is cooked.

Drain well and cool. This can be done the day before and refrigerated until needed.

Heat half the oil in a frying pan over high heat until hot and add the calamari. Fry for about 1-2 minutes.

Season and remove from the pan.

Wipe the pan clean, then return to the heat and add the remaining oil. Fry the chorizo until crisp and remove from the pan.

Place the mussels in a saucepan with the wine and cover with a lid. Place over high heat and bring to the boil.

Cook for 3 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, removing each mussel as it opens. Discard any that do not open.

In a large bowl, mix together the rice, calamari, chorizo, prawns, cucumber, spring onions, cherry tomatoes, yellow pepper and black olives.

Pour over the dressing and mix to combine.

Transfer to a serving dish and top with mussels and parsley.

DRESSING: Whisk all ingredients together.



Serves 6

a pinch of saffron

30ml boiling water

15ml olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

200g Arborio rice

600ml vegetable stock

5ml dried thyme

5ml dried oregano

6 tomatoes, skinned and chopped

12 green olives, pitted

100g char-grilled artichokes in oil, drained and halved

1 red pepper, diced

125ml frozen peas

125ml green beans, chopped into short lengths

30ml finely chopped parsley

30ml lemon juice

30ml pumpkin seeds

salt and pepper

Add the saffron to the boiling water and allow to infuse.

Heat the oil in a pan and sauté the onion and garlic until soft. Add the rice and stir for a minute.

Pour in the stock, saffron, herbs, tomatoes, olives, artichokes and red pepper. Simmer, covered, for 20-25 minutes until the rice is cooked, stirring often.

Add more liquid if necessary.

Add the peas and beans and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Before serving, add the parsley, lemon juice and pumpkin seeds and stir to combine.

Season if necessary.

Serve with extra pumpkin seeds and lemon slices.



Serves 6

300g whole prawns with shells

90ml olive oil

3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

500ml fish stock

150g firm white fish, cut into chunks

1 onion, finely diced

5ml smoked paprika

200g Arborio rice

6 tomatoes, skinned and chopped

60ml white wine

a pinch of saffron soaked in 15ml boiling water

150g baby squid tentacles and body cut into rings

150g mussels in shells, scrubbed

150g clams in shells, scrubbed

60ml chopped parsley

half a lemon, cut into wedges

Shell the prawns and put the flesh aside.

Heat 15ml olive oil in a large pan and sauté a clove of chopped garlic for 2 minutes.

Add the prawn heads and shells and sauté for 3 minutes, stirring to break them up. Pour in the stock and simmer gently for 30 minutes, strain, season to taste and keep warm.

Heat the remaining oil in a 26cm paella pan or wide, thin-based pan and add the fish. Fry until slightly browned, then remove and set aside.

Add the onion and remaining garlic and cook until softened. Stir in the paprika and cook for 1 minute. Add the rice and coat well.

Tip in the tomatoes and wine and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add 400ml of fish stock and the saffron with soaking water. Simmer vigorously for 10-15 minutes, then arrange the fish chunks, prawns, squid, mussels and clams on the top, pushing them well into the rice. Cook for about 8 minutes.

If the dish looks very dry before the rice has cooked completely, then add a bit more stock. Cover the dish with foil and remove from heat.

Allow to rest for 10 minutes.

Garnish with parsley and lemon wedges. Discard any unopened mussels and clams. - The Star

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