Paella is the dish of Spain… this saffron-rice dish tops nearly every list of typical Spanish cuisine. While many sources say that snails and rabbit are the traditional protein nuggets that nestle in a savory bed of yellow rice, in Valencia the star is usually seafood.
My first experience with paella was a bit different. Ten years ago, I was a college student studying abroad in the town of Elche, a satellite town to Alicante in the the Valencian state. Our study abroad docent, Armando, presented us with paella during a weekend trip to Valencia, gleefully telling us it was the best in the country. I took a bite… and all I tasted was fish. And not in a good way. Granted, my palate probably wasn’t nearly as developed then as it is now, but I was not a fan. So when I went over to my friends’ host family for dinner a few weeks later in Elche, I cringed when they told me paella was on the menu.
The wide, flat paella pan was set in the middle of the table, and I took a tentative sniff. No fishy scent wafted toward me. In fact, the smell was heavenly. Our meal was dished up and I took a tentative bite, and immediately swooned. This must be what everyone had been raving about! Of course, this particular dish featured chicken instead of the traditional alicantino version of paella that features chicken and shellfish, but I was officially converted.
Authentic Paella Recipe
I managed to scoop up the recipe for this paella dish from the host mother who first made me believe in the power of yellow rice, and now I’m sharing my version of it with you! I’ve tweaked a few things to make it easier for American kitchens, but I still recommend investing in a paella pan. No other cooking instrument gets the rice texture right!
Photo: Jan Harenburg -[CC BY 3.0]
Without further ado, here it is!
Serves 4 servings
20 minPrep Time
1 hrCook Time
1 hr, 20 Total Time
- 4 chicken breasts, cut into 2" chunks
- 2 red peppers, cut into strips
- 1 large tomato, chopped
- 1 cup olive oil
- 1 pound arborio rice
- 5 cups water or chicken stock
- 1 tsp saffron threads, or to taste
- Special Equipment: 15" paella pan
- Heat the olive oil in the paella pan. Once warmed, add the red pepper and cook until fried. Remove from the pan and set aside for later.
- In the same pan, add the chicken and cook until browned on the outside. Once browned, add the chopped tomato and cook for about 2 minutes longer.
- Pour in the water with the chicken and tomato and bring to a boil.
- Once boiling, add the saffron and salt to taste. Continue to simmer until the liquid has been reduce by about 1 cup.
- Add the rice to the boiling water and spread it evenly across the pan. Do NOT stir the rice after it's been placed into the boiling water!
- Allow the rice to boil, uncovered, over medium heat until the liquid is absorbed.
- When the water is fully absorbed, top with the red pepper and serve.
Have you been to Spain? Do you love paella, or was your first experience as bad as mine? Tell me in the comments!
Photo Credit for Recipe Photo: Eduap [CC BY-SA 3.0]