I don’t know about you, but come Christmas, my Facebook feed is filled with pictures of people making paella. And yet, the best paella I ever had was on a sunny day at an outdoor café in Barcelona, Spain. In other words—why make it only once a year? In winter?
Fortunately, I’ve known a true Spaniard (from Madrid) long enough that she was willing to share her mother’s paella recipe with me. (Thanks, Fabiola Arredondo!)
Two Christmases ago, I made a version very close to her original recipe, but it didn’t turn out like I wanted it to… no fault of the recipe, although I did find it complicated and requiring ingredients that must be purchased from Spain or a specialty store like La Tienda. And of course, it included wine, which I never have in the house. And when I thought back to the taste of that paella in Barcelona it was…simple.
So I took liberties. (Which, according to Fabiola, is a very Spanish thing to do: “Every good Spanish woman has her own version of paella.”) And this Christmas Eve? Success! You know it’s good when all the leftovers are gone by breakfast the next day and kids who are world travelers say that it was the best they ever had (including the daughter who was with me in that Barcelona café!). Here it is, my simplified version of authentic paella…
Authentic Paella, Simplified into 4 Easy Steps
- 6–7 cups chicken broth, preferably homemade
- ½ teaspoon saffron
- 1 small onion, peeled
- ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ cup olive oil
- 4 chicken thighs, with skin
- 1 onion, chopped
- 4 scallions, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 pound shrimp (fresh, not frozen)
- 1 pound squid, sliced into rings (tentacles OK as is)
- 1 pound chorizo, sliced
- 3 cups paella rice or risotto rice
- 1 large handful chopped parsley
- ½ cup frozen peas
- 1 dozen clams (rinsed)
Step 1: Pour the broth into a pot to heat. Add the saffron, the smoked paprika and the whole peeled onion. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Step 2: In a metal paella pan, add some of the olive oil and brown the chicken pieces, then remove from pan. Add the chorizo and brown and remove from pan. Add the chopped onion, garlic, and scallions and sauté (keep adding olive oil as you need it). Then add the shrimp and squid and sauté for a minute or two; remove from pan.
Step 3: Add the remaining oil then put in the rice and stir it around a bit. Add the parsley and peas and then add the broth. Take all the sautéed fish and meats and reunite with the rice and broth. Feel free to decorate—I like arranging it so the skin of the chicken thighs is on top so that it gets crispy—also, of course, artfully positioning the shrimp and clams.
Step 4: Bake at 325 uncovered for 20 minutes. Finally, take out and let sit on top of the stove, covered with foil, for another 10 minutes. Enjoy!
Optional introductions: green olives; roasted red peppers (Spanish ones are called piquillos); all sorts of seafood—mussels, lobster, king crab, salted cod (but not too much).