Saturday, July 26, 2014


Come along for a paella cooking class.
The paella cooking class starts at the local market. Lisa and Norbert, visitors from Munich, Germany, join me to buy all the ingredients we’ll need for today’s meal.

Norbert already speaks good Spanish, as he studied a year in Mexico. As a developer of marketing programs for BMW autos, he visits Spain frequently. Lisa, a dentist, is studying Spanish. I give them a shopping list in Spanish so they can practice the vocabulary. Can you translate it?

Lista de compras

3-4 muslos de pollo
100 g jamón serrano en lonchas

8-10 mejillones
1 calamar, limpio
6 langostinos grandes
450 g gambas

1 pimiento verde
1 tomate grande
100 g judías verdes
pimientos rojos asados
1 limón

almendras fritas

arroz valenciano
aceite de oliva

Choosing a "toad-skin" melon.
”Artichokes” is followed by question marks, because I wasn’t sure if they would be available. And they weren’t. We didn’t need to go to the supermercado, as both rice and olive oil were available at the market too. The toasted almonds are to serve as nibbles while we cook. The ham is the topping for the salmorejo to serve as a starter; “toad skin” melon, an exceptionally sweet variety, will be our dessert.

Francisco offers us a sample of serrano ham.

A fish vendor shows how to clean fresh squid.
Café con leche at a plaza café.

After shopping, we stop at a café in the plaza for segundo desayuno, second breakfast—café con leche (with glasses of ice cubes to cool it down) and pitufo catalan, a toasted bun rubbed with tomato, drizzled with olive oil and topped with ham.

I tell Lisa and Norbert that paella is never, ever served at night. It’s an afternoon meal, especially for Sundays and holidays. However, we decide that it’s too hot at midafternoon to really enjoy the meal. The plan: start cooking (in my air-conditioned kitchen) about 6:30, to eat at sundown on the terrace.

In the kitchen

While Norbert and Lisa cool off by the pool during the afternoon, I do some prepping. I peel the shrimp and use the heads and shells to make a stock that will add flavor to the paella rice. I’ve also scrubbed the mussels and steamed them open. They’re refrigerated until time to garnish the finished paella.

We’re using a 12-inch paella pan with no-stick surface. No, this is not traditional. I show them a “real” paella pan, of rolled steel. It’s great for cooking outside on a wood fire, but needs care to prevent rusting. It’s hard to manage such a large pan on the stove top. What to use back in Germany? they ask. A large skillet or a flat-bottom wok are possible substitutes.

I show them the paella rice. It’s a round, medium-grain rice, preferably from Valencia (eastern Spain). Paella originated in the Valencia area, where workers in the rice fields used wild rabbit or duck, snails from the flooded rice fields and seasonal vegetables to cook with the rice in a pan on a wood fire.  (The best substitute for paella rice is Italian risotto rice, such as arborio.)

Getting Started

“I’m not so good at cutting,” says Norbert, faced with chopping up peppers and tomatoes for the sofrito, the starting point of paella. Lisa takes over on the chopping detail. A good paella starts with a sofrito, the slow sauteeing of chicken, shellfish, peppers, garlic and tomatoes. Good olive oil is the essential in this process.

First we sauté whole shrimp in the oil and remove them. The shrimp flavors the oil and will later serve to garnish the rice. Next, the chicken pieces go in the pan to brown, then the chopped green peppers and garlic.

Time to open a bottle of chilled vino rosado (rosé).

Crush the saffron threads in a mortar.
Meanwhile, Norbert crushes the saffron threads in a mortar and puts them in a cup of hot water to infuse. Saffron gives inimitable color and flavor to the paella.

I demonstrate how to use kitchen scissors to cut the squid into rings. Into the pan they go. Then the chopped tomatoes. After this mixture “fries” for several minutes, we stir in the rice. The shrimp stock is simmering nearby. We’ll need about double the volume of liquid to rice, so 4 cups of stock for 2 cups rice. (I gave Norbert and Lisa the paella recipe in metric measures.) I like to save out a cup of the liquid to add towards the end of cooking. We add the saffron water, then taste the liquid to see if it needs salt. “More salt,” says Lisa. Tasting is important-- if the stock is really salty, no more is needed.

We put in par-boiled green beans, frozen peas and all of the small peeled shrimp. Won’t they be overcooked? That’s not the point. Think of them as flavoring, adding to the total flavor of the rice. We stir in the saffron water. Look! the rice is turning golden.

Unlike risotto, I tell my paella trainees, this rice gets stirred hardly at all, once at the beginning to distribute the ingredients, maybe again part way through cooking.

We leave the paella to cook on a medium-high heat for 10 minutes, while we make our salmorejo—a thick gazpacho. Tomatoes from the garden, a chunk of country bread, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and salt into the food processor until it is a smooth cream. Garnished with strips of serrano ham and chopped hard-cooked egg, it makes a lively starter. (Recipe here.)

Top the paella with mussels and shrimp.

Norbert garnishes with strips of red pepper.
We stir the remaining hot stock into the paella and reduce the heat to low. Ten minutes more to cook, until the rice is just barely tender and all of the liquid absorbed. Lisa places the cooked mussels and shrimp around the top and Norbert gives the paella a final touch with strips of roasted red pepper. Covered with foil, it sets for 10 minutes.

Serve the paella!


Serves 4-6.

6-12 mussels or clams, steamed open, liquid strained and reserved
4 oz/100 g green beans, cut in short lengths and cooked until tender
6 large unpeeled shrimp, with heads on if possible
¼ cup/60 ml olive oil
1  lb/450 g boneless chicken thighs, each cut into 3 or 4 pieces
12 oz/ 350 g squid, cleaned and cut in rings
1 large artichoke, trimmed, cut in sixths, choke cut out
1 green bell pepper, cut into 1-inch squares
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 cups/ 375 g medium-short grain rice
4 cups/ 450 ml chicken broth, shrimp broth, clam liquid or water
pinch of saffron, crushed and mixed in 1/4 cup hot water
1 lb/ 450 g shrimp, peeled
freshly ground black pepper
salt to taste
strips of roasted red pepper for garnish
lemon wedges for garnish

Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the whole, unpeeled shrimp and saute them until pink on both sides. Remove the shrimp and reserve.

Add the pieces of chicken to the oil and saute on a medium-high heat until they are browned on both sides. Add the squid and fry. Add the peppers and garlic and continue sauteing. Add the artichokes. (If you cut them immediately before adding to the pan, they do not need to be rubbed with lemon.) Next add the tomatoes and continue frying.

Add the reserved mussel or clam liquid to the stock. Bring the stock to a boil in a separate pan. Add the rice to the paella pan. Stir it in to combine all the ingredients. Stir in all but 1 cup of the hot stock. Add the saffron water, pepper and salt to taste (depending on the saltiness of the stock). Let everything cook on a medium-high heat for 10 minutes, then add remaining hot stock, turn the heat down to low and continue to cook until rice is just tender, about 10 minutes more.

Scatter the green beans over the top of the paella. Place the sauteed shrimp and cooked clams or mussels on top and garnish with strips of red pepper. Remove from heat, cover with foil and let the paella rest 10 minutes. Serve garnished with lemon wedges.

Want to learn to make paella? Follow this  link to read more about cooking classes in My Kitchen in Spain.

Paella at sunset.


  1. In Valencia (the land where paella was born) never mixes fish (or seafood) with any meat. This option is called "Paella mixta" and was invented for tourist demant. The Original paella recipès are Valencian paella, with meat (chiken rabbit and sometimes a small piece of duck) and the seafood paella (done with fish and seafood fumet )

    1. Valencia paella: Thanks for your comments. I always tell my readers/students about the "real" Valencian paella. But we often make other versions. Here in Andalusia paella usually includes both chicken and shellfish. See this blog post for more about versions of paella: