10% OFF CYBER WEEKEND SALE! ALMOST EVERYTHING ON SALE! PANS, BURNERS, AND MORE! *some exclusions apply USE CODE CYBER15.
Entire books have been written (in Spanish, mostly) about the correct way to make paella. I haven't read them all, but I've read enough of them to know that paella cooks are passionate and unyielding in their convictions. I have traveled far and wide in Spain, the U.S., and other countries, tasting, analyzing, and comparing notes with paella chefs. And I have discovered that each chef believes his method is best. I'm as opinionated as the next guy when it comes to paella, but if there's one chef whose approach to paella parallels my own, it's Norberto Jorge of Madrid, whose restaurant, Casa Benigna, specializes in authentic paellas and rice dishes. Norberto and I collaborated years ago on a paella article for Fine Cooking magazine, in which he identified the following five essential elements to any paella:
It isn't difficult to make a fantastic paella (though getting the toasty socarrat to appear on that bottom layer does take a little practice), as long as you keep these five elements in mind and are careful to avoid a couple of pitfalls. One of the most common mistakes is to overload the pan with too many ingredients, thereby suffocating the rice. When the rice in a paella is cooked well, nothing else matters--not the chicken, not the clams, not even the artichokes. These other ingredients do have a role to play in the pan, and that is to provide flavor to the rice. For great paella, add them with restraint, and let the rice take center stage.
Another egregious offense is to serve the paella on a plate rather than from the pan. I think that this destroys the texture of the rice, which when cooked properly creates a thin cohesive blanket across the paella pan. I urge you to seat yourself and your guests around the paella pan (a round or square table works best), and eat the paella right from the pan, starting from the perimeter and working toward the center. This communal style is the traditional way to eat paella, and I can vouch for at least one family in Granada that still does it, every Sunday afternoon without fail.