The secret to a delicious paella is a rich tomato base, flavourful stock and essential saffron. And with the most traditional Valencian additions to top it—rabbit, chicken, and beans—what more could you ask for? Learn how to cook it like Lady Paella with this easy recipe.
Humble beginnings of the famous rice dish
Paella may be the most famous Spanish dish in the world but its origins are surprisingly humble. Yes, it’s not a singular dish created by some inspired cook. It started as the farmer’s simple lunch originally made with rice and whatever was in the fields (such as tomatoes, onions, snail and a few beans). For special occasions, rabbit, duck and chicken were added as well as saffron for extra colour and flavour. As soon as it finishes cooking, people would happily eat it straight from the pan.
Valencia in eastern Spain is the undisputed birthplace of paella. Thanks to the Moors docking on the city’s Mediterranean port, rice was introduced locally and Valencia has since been one of the most quintessential rice-producing areas in Spain. Thus, the birth too of the countless variations of the recipe. Being on the coast, it’s no surprise that most are seafood-inspired. To this day though, the true paella Valenciana has no seafood but a mixture of chicken, rabbit and snails with green and white beans.
If you feel confident to make paella at home, then this is the recipe you must try. This is from Jessica Alvarez, Melbourne’s Lady Paella herself, gold medal winner for Asia Pacific at the 56th International Paella Valenciana Competition. Jessica, who has competed with the best in Spain, teaches our paella workshops in Melbourne.
- 60ml oil
- 20g salt
- 150g chicken pieces
- 150g rabbit legs and pieces
- 120g garrofo beans (lima) or green beans, cut into 1-2cm pieces
- 5g pimento or smoked paprika
- 4 to 5 cloves of garlic, diced
- 40g fresh tomatoes, crushed
- 2L cold water and boiling water (for topping up)
- Half a gram of saffron
- 1 branch of fresh rosemary
- A can of butter beans or ½ cup cooked butter beans
- 420g Valencian rice (fallera or Bomba)
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
- Aioli (garlic mayonnaise), optional
- Prepare all the ingredients.
- Place the paella pan over medium heat, ensuring that it is flat and even. Put the oil and salt in the pan and fry the chicken and rabbit for approximately 20 minutes until golden brown.
- Add the lima or green beans and cook for five minutes.
- Lower the temperature. Add the paprika and fry off gently.
- While still on low heat, add the diced garlic.
- Add the crushed tomatoes to deglaze pan and stir to ensure it is dispersed well.
- Add water up to the bolts of the pan’s handles. Then add the saffron and fresh rosemary.
- When the mixture comes to a boil, add the butter beans. Let it cook down then top up with hot water once again up to the iron nails, if needed.
- Adjust seasoning if needed but take note that the stock will increase in saltiness as it reduces.
- Simmer for over an hour. When the stock is rich, remove the rosemary.
- Add the rice and make sure it is thoroughly combined whilst stirring gently to ensure it does not stick to the bottom of the pan yet. Cook over high heat for 10 minutes.
- Lower the temperature and let it cook for another 10 minutes. Refrain from touching the rice now to give way to caramelisation.
- In the last eight minutes of cooking, turn the pan to ensure even caramelisation and heat distribution.
- Once caramelisation is achieved, turn the heat off and leave it for five minutes.
- Serve with a wedge of lemon or a dollop of aioli (optional).
Good to know
Why do you need a paella pan?
The pan used to make paella, also called paella, from which the dish got its name, is a flat, shallow, wide, and round pan with slightly sloping sides. It is an important pan that lends authenticity to paella in taste, texture, and serving. The shape ensures that the rice cooks evenly in one layer. Experts say the best paella pan should be made of carbon steel so it heats fast but won’t retain too much heat, allowing for rice to cook and get a nice crust without burning. Though you may substitute a stainless steel or aluminum skillet, cast-iron and non-stick pans are highly discouraged.
How to select the right rice for paella
While there are many types of rice on the market, you can’t simply use any to make paella. Bomba rice which is unique in Spain is the best to use and it can be bought in specialty shops or by mail. However, it won’t be cheap. So if you want something more accessible and inexpensive, you may use short-grain rice like arborio—a rice used to make risotto—as they absorb about three times more liquid than regular rice, rendering more flavour to your paella.