Paella is one of those dishes that is intensely personal.  All over Spain, provinces and towns jealously exalt and tout their paella, and none more so than Valencia, the original birthplace of the dish in the mid-1800’s.  I’ve seen this same sense of competition outside Spain and amongst home chefs.  Everybody has his/her own “best”, or most “traditional” recipe and they vary wildly.  What they all have in common is short grain white rice, saffron, olive oil and gentle cooking in a shallow pan.  The best of them come out with a beautiful brown crust on the bottom called socarrat, the rice having become just a bit crispy. I had been thinking about writing this post on paella for a while and then just the other week Mark Bittman wrote about paella in the New York Times Magazine.  At first I was disheartened, if Mark wrote about it, and who doesn’t love reading Mark, maybe I should write about something else.  But then I realized that paella, deserves to be written about over and over again with all its glorious variations.




When I think of paella these days, I think of a big gathering. Even though for me that usually only means about eight people because I have never had the joy of owning a true paella pan, a massive, round, shallow pan with two handles, that you could potentially cook over a blazing fire.  I’ve also never cooked over a blazing fire — adding that to the bucket list now.  I get by just fine with a heavy-bottomed frying pan, if it’s a cast iron pan, all the better.  I make paella religiously every summer as my housemates in Montauk, where I spend the summer, can attest to. There is something about paella and white wine, with the ocean and the sun that is just perfect.  But I had a great paella recently and it definitely wasn’t summer. There was no sunlight, no ocean and it was cold outside, but there was the easy breezy feel of cooking something for hours while chatting and drinking and nibbling with friends waiting for the spectacular main dish to come together. My friend E.V. made the exquisite Mixed Paella With Seafood And Chicken on that cold early spring night, which is featured in this post and I’ll definitely share my own all seafood version with you this summer, because the world could always use one more paella recipe!









I associate paella not only with summer, but with love.  When I graduated from college in New York, I moved to Paris and met a wonderful man who lived in Barcelona.  I would try to jump on a train, or a plane every other weekend to see him. You would think I know Barcelona inside and out, but I don’t!  I can honestly say I barely remember anything about Barcelona from that time.  I was so in love, in that all-consuming way you love in your early twenties, that now when I think about Barcelona I can only see fleeting glimpses of us; rays of sunshine crossing our faces in the Barcelona sun, the ocean behind us, and the taste of my favorite meals.  Arriving on the weekends from Paris, which is so strikingly beautiful, but so gray, all I ever wanted to do was walk by the beach and eat paella in one of those little non-descript restaurants by the sea, drink cold white wine and then drop down into the sand, stretching out and closing my eyes until it was time to walk home as intertwined shadows with the warmth of the sun disappearing around us. I cannot tell you the name of a single restaurant where I ate those paellas, yet, in my mind, they were all perfect meals, so I just recreate them now myself, or some version of their sweet magic to share with my present loved ones.








My favorite trick to make a quick seafood stock is to use the heads and shells of the shrimp I will be using in the dish.  Dry fry the heads and shells in a pot until they turn red and then cover with water and simmer for 25 minutes.  Pour the liquid through a sieve and discard the rest.  The typical rice used in paella is Bomba rice, a short grain, white Spanish rice, but if you can’t find it, substitute another short grain white rice.  I’ve used Italian Arborio rice many times and it always comes out great.

Serves 6-8

4  tablespoons olive oil
2  cloves of garlic, crushed with the back of a knife
1  lb large shrimp (with or without heads)
1  lb chicken thighs, cut into small pieces
2 ½  cups Bomba rice
1 ½   lb calamari, a mix heads and tentacles cut into rings
5  cups seafood stock
2 lb  fresh mussels
½  cup white wine
1  small red pepper, seeded and diced
1 small green pepper, seeded and diced
2  ripe tomatoes, chopped
2  tablespoons parsley, minced
1 ½  teaspoons paprika
a large pinch of saffron
2  tablespoons parsley, chopped
1  lemon cut into wedges for serving (optional)

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat, add garlic and sauté until garlic is golden.  Discard garlic and keep the oil to sauté the next ingredients.

Sauté the shrimp with a tablespoon of the olive oil until just pink, add a pinch of salt and put aside.

Sauté the chicken with a tablespoon of the olive oil until just browned, add a pinch of salt and put aside.

Sauté the calamari with a tablespoon of the olive oil for two minutes, add a pinch of salt and put aside.

Sauté the peppers with a tablespoon of the olive oil for a couple minutes until they begin to take on some color, then add the tomatoes and a pinch of salt.  When the tomatoes begin to break down, after about 5 minutes, add calamari, chicken and mussels back to the pan and add white wine. Cook for 5 minutes (until the mussels begin to open).  Add one spoonful of paprika and stir for a minute.  Add rice, stir for a couple of minutes, toasting the rice.

Warm the stock in a saucepan and then mix it into the skillet with the other ingredients.  When the liquid comes to a boil, lower the fire down to a gentle simmer.

Dry toast the saffron in a small pan for 15-30 seconds and then add to the skillet, stir. After this step do not stir the rice again. This is very important, left alone that tasty crust should form on the bottom of the pan.

When the liquid has evaporated almost completely from the pan scatter the shrimp on top.  After a few minutes, when the rest of the liquid has evaporated and the rice is cooked through, take the paella off the fire, tent with aluminum foil and let it rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.  Decorate with chopped parsley and if you like serve with sliced lemon wedges.