If making this prawn paella seems daunting, I understand. I’ve been trying to write a recipe for it since I started my blog. But, finding cohesive recipes that can help me understand the traditions and which of the many important ingredients has proved challenging. Cooking a paella, however, is quite a simple task.
It’s World Paella Day today, 20th September, so I decided to give it a go with a dish that has taken the world by storm in whatever untraditional forms it’s now served in.
What is Paella?
Paella is commonly known as a dish originating from Spain, specifically the Valencia region, hence its original name of Paella Valenciana. Usually, it consists of short round grains of rice, beans, chicken, and rabbit, cooked in chicken stock with Saffron until the rice is al dente and the stock has been absorbed.
However, Paella has a double meaning as it’s also the name of the special pan used to make this dish. It has two handles on either side of a round base with shallow edges. Paella means pan in the Catalan language. The paella pan’s size and shape create a unique texture as it allows for even cooking of the rice, resulting in cooked but separate rice.
In Valencia, Paella was traditionally cooked over an open fire. This fire was fuelled by burning pinecones and branches, which resulted in a fragrant, slightly smoke-infused rice dish. As the rice cooks, a thin layer of roasted rice should coat the bottom of the pan, which is usually considered a good thing.
Cooking a paella is a communal experience, and large pans serve whole communities as it did at his apparent invention. Paella is thought to have originated on Valencian farms to feed the workers using whatever ingredients were on hand, including snails, ducks, and rabbits. Traditionally, diners would eat Paella directly from the pan, negating the need for serving plates.
Rice for Prawn Paella
The rice used for this prawn Paella should always be short or medium-grained. These types of rice can absorb a lot of liquid without turning to mush, which is vital in achieving that signature dry rice texture found in Paella. In Valencia, they use a version of this rice called Spanish Bomba. Still, Italian Arborio rice, the type used in risotto, will also work. However, most supermarkets sell a generic short-grain rice labelled Paella rice.
Sofrito in Spanish cookery plays the role of the mirepoix in classic French cuisine. However, the constituent components may change. You’ll usually find onions, garlic, green peppers, and sometimes tomatoes in a paella sofrito. Some chefs call for Paella without onions, as onions have a high moisture content that may result in wetter rice, meaning we may lose that coveted dryer texture. However, I’ve ignored them.
Herbs and Spices
This recipe uses thyme, bay leaves, Spanish paprika, or pimenton. But most notably, it uses the world’s most expensive spice: Saffron.
I always used Saffron, and not turmeric, which is often used to replicate the colour of a paella. This is done because Saffron is more expensive by weight than gold. However, 1g of Saffron can outlast several different recipes. Now, without that in mind, Saffron is a must. Just use it sparingly.
I prefer to infuse my stock with a few strands of Saffron before adding it to this prawn paella. It’s essential to allow the stock to stand for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse.
Cooking a Prawn Paella in A Traditional Pan
I recommend using a paella pan as they are thin and heats quickly, resulting in evenly cooked rice while ensuring it is spread evenly across the base. This allows the bottom to toast and achieve that roasted rice flavour and texture that should be desired.
Water will also evaporate quickly with the larger surface area, resulting in the trademark drier texture. The rice should be left uncovered as it cooks as it allows excess moisture to be lost as steam.
However, if you don’t have a paella pan, can’t find one, or can’t find one, use a suitable wide-bottom frying pan, preferably one with a thin aluminium base. Whatever pan you use, remember not to stir the rice; it needs time to roast if you want to achieve that highly coveted socarrat.
- 1 Paella Pan
- 1 Tbsp Olive Oil
- 150 g Chorizo Diced
- 1 Large White Onion Diced
- 1 Green Pepper Diced
- 1 Red Pepper Diced
- 3 Cloves of Garlic Chopped
- 2 Bay Leaves
- 1 Tbsp Pimentón or Smoked Paprika
- 300 g Paella Rice
- 60 ml Sherry or White Wine
- 7-8 strands of Saffron
- 900 ml Stock
- 300 g Prawns Head on, Peeled.
- 5 g Parsley Chopped
- Lemon Wedges
- Place the saffron threads into the stock and allow to stand for about 30 minutes to infuse.
- Heat the oil over medium heat in a paella or large frying pan.
- Gently cook the chorizo until it begins to brown, then add the onions and peppers. Cook for 8-10 minutes until the onions start to soften.
- Add the garlic, thyme, bay leaves, and paprika. Cook for 1-2 minutes until the garlic has cooked out its harshness.
- Stir in the paella rice and stir to coat with all the other ingredients, then deglaze the pan with the sherry or white wine.
- Add the infused stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered for 14-16 minutes until the rice is just about cooked.
- Lay the prawns across the rice and cover with tin foil or a tight-fitting lid if you have one. Cook for another 3-4 minutes and then remove from the heat and allow to stand for 5 minutes.
- Season to taste and serve with chopped parsley and lemon wedges.