For some reason, paella reminds me of the summer. I imagine cool Sangria, summer tunes playing, sitting outdoors and enjoying the flavors. Maybe it’s the saffron, an indulgent spice (it’s so damn expensive but so good) and summer always feel like the right time to splurge. The health nut in me also loves that this is only cooked with some olive oil, unlike all the butter many rice dishes (like risotto) call for. It’s packed with protein and veggies and is a truly complete meal!
A number of years ago, my husband and I travelled to Spain, pre-kids, and marveled at their 3 hour long leisurely dinners where Paella was always present being tossed in iron pans table-side. There’s an art to paella and it definitely isn’t a quick 20 minute rice in a pot dish-(I’ve found the Instapot has really been amazing with other dishes I’ll share soon). That being said, my husband is the one to make this dish mostly since I’ll be in and out of the kitchen while he cooks… helping him chop, getting the kids settled in a bath, helping him peel cooked peppers, then heading back to brush the kids teeth etc. But now that we have made it a few times, we are learning the steps are more like tricks to help achieve a successful paella, and while it looks lengthy, the detail is what makes it easy in a weird way.
It takes about 45 minutes to prep but the cook time is less so you can definitely get this done in an hour or so if you are efficient. The first time my husband tried it, it took him over 2 hours but then it’s gotten easier and more flavorful each time. The last time he made it, I seriously felt like I was in Spain again. Perfection.
I can’t say he made the recipe up on his own. When you want something authentic, it’s best to go to the experts. This recipe is from La Paella and while we changed a little as we cooked/added our own take, it is seriously the paella recipe you’ve been waiting for it. This is the real deal mommas…so turn on some flamenco music, pour some sangria and dance your way through creating this beauty for dinner.
p.s. if the kids are at grandma’s, sleep-away camp or wherever you just sent them to get a moment of peace, it’s the absolutely perfect recipe to cook together for a date night in.
- 4 1/2 cups chicken broth; more if necessary (can sub vegetarian broth)
- Pinch saffron threads (about 30 threads)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 organic boneless chicken thighs, chopped in half across the bone with a meat cleaver (if making this recipe vegetarian, skip step 2 below)
- 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut in 1-inch wide strips
- 1 small whole head garlic; plus 6 medium garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 small bottle of marinated artichoke hearts (I like the one from Trader Joe’s)
- Small handful green beans, trimmed and cut into 3 inch pieces
- 1/2 large onion or a whole small onion, grated on the largest holes of a box grater
- 1 large tomato, halved horizontally and grated on the largest holes of a box grater to get a coarse purée (discard the skin)
- 2 links of Tofurkey Italian vegetarian sausage, cut in rounds
- 1 1/2 cups medium grain rice (we actually used arborio)
- 1/4 cup cooked chickpeas (cooked ones taste so much better than the canned in this recipe- I premake batches in the Instapot and then freeze them for when I need to use)
- 2 lemons, cut in wedges
- In a medium saucepan, bring the broth to a boil; lower to a simmer Toast the saffron gently in a dry skillet just until it is aromatic, so for 1 to 2 minutes; don’t let the strands burn. Crumble the threads in a mortar (or between your fingers is what we did), and add to the broth. Warm and taste broth and add salt if necessary (it should be very well-seasoned, salted as if it were a soup because the rice needs to soak up the flavor). Remove from the heat until you’re ready to add to the rice.
- Season the chicken pieces generously with salt and pepper. Pour the olive oil in a 16-inch paella pan (we used our large cast iron skillet and worked awesome) like in the photo above. Over medium high heat, sauté the chicken until browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a platter.
- Reduce the heat to medium low. In the same paella pan, cook the red pepper and head of garlic until the peppers are completely limp but not brown, for about 15 to 20 minutes.
- Transfer the peppers to a plate but leave the garlic in the pan and cover the pan with aluminum foil. Drain and add the artichoke hearts to the pan, and after a few minutes add the green beans. Sauté until the green beans are soft, about 10 min.
- Meanwhile, peel the skin off the red peppers. This takes patience and you may not get all the skin off, it’s ok but do your best for the texture and flavor in the dish. Discard the skins
- Now transfer the cooked green beans and artichokes to the plate from the pan.
- Increase the heat slightly to medium and sauté the onion until it is softened, just about 5 min. Add the tomato, the six garlic cloves and season with salt. Cook, stirring often, until the mixture has darkened to a deep burgundy like color and is thick like a compote, takes about 15 to 20 min. If it starts to stick to the pan or burn, add some little water to the pan and keep heat slightly lower. This tomato-onion-garlic mixture, (something us Indians know well from our subzi bases), is called a sofrito and it is the flavor base for the paella. If you are making the paella to eat fresh, you can walk to cook from this point until you are ready. If you are ready NOW, continue on to step 8:)
- About a half hour before you’re ready to eat, bring the broth back to a simmer and set the paella pan with your sofrito over your largest stove burner on medium high heat. Add the rice, stirring until it’s opaque for about 1 to 2 min. Do not burn it. Spread the rice in the pan, put the head of garlic in the center, and pour in the hot broth. Shake the pan a bit to make sure the rice is evenly distributed to cook. Arrange the chicken, artichokes, red peppers, and green beans in the pan and for the chickpeas, distribute them on top. Do not stir the rice from this point on. Simmer vigorously, moving the pan over one and even two burners to distribute the heat and to cook the rice as evenly as possible. When the rice is at the same level as the liquid, after 8 to 10 min., reduce the heat to medium low. This step is really important so stay with it!
- Continue to simmer more gently, rotating the pan as necessary, until the liquid has been absorbed, about 10 min. more. Taste a grain just below the top layer of rice; it should be al dente, with a tiny white dot in the center. (If the rice is not done but all the liquid has been absorbed, add a bit more broth or water to the pan and cook a few more minutes)
- Increase the heat to medium-high and, rotating the pan, cook for about 2 min., until the bottom layer of rice starts to caramelize, creating the socarrat. The rice will crackle, but if it starts to smell burned, remove the pan from the heat immediately.
- Remove the pan from the heat. Cover loosely with foil or a clean kitchen towel and let the paella rest for 5 min. to even the cooking and let the flavors meld.
- While you are waiting, in the empty broth pan or another pan, add a small spoon of olive oil to lightly pan fry the Tofurkey sausage rounds and keep aside once heated through.
- Arrange the sausage around the pan as depicted above.
- Set the paella pan in the center of the table. Remove the foil. Traditionally, paella is eaten family style from the pan where people start at the perimeter and work towards the center as they squeeze lemon over their section. Alternatively you can cut sections this way and serve them on plates with lemon wedges.
- Enjoy!…an understatement- it’s amazing 😉
Serves 4 BIG portions. (leftovers are perfect for lunch the next day)