Chicken Paella

Guess who loves black pepper?!

I can´t believe I´ve done so many posts without doing one on the famous Spanish Paella!  Paella traditionally comes from Valencia, up towards the north of Spain, and very good it is too.  People think of prawns and mussels when they talk of paella (which here is pronounced along the lines of pie-eh-ya) but there are meat versions and mixed meat and seafood versions, although not many vegetarian ones.

If you can buy proper paella rice, it does make all the difference.  Use long grain and it won´t be able to soak up all the flavours.  Use risotto rice and it will go creamy.  Paella rice plumps up, absorbs the flavour but the grains stay separate.

In Andalucía they tend to make more Arroz or Arroz Caldoso, which translates as Rice or Brothy Rice.  This is exactly the same as a paella, but with more stock, giving a more soupy dish. Whether you make Arroz or Paella, the technique is the same, it´s just the quantity of liquid that varies.

And now, allow me to let you into a little secret.  The beautiful colour of a Paella?  Saffron? Well, sometimes, but most housewives here use artificial colouring.  I was shocked when I found out – perhaps even more than when I realised how expensive saffron is, but I´m just letting you know.  I try not to use anything artificial in my cooking, and have been known to slip a little turmeric in, which doesn´t really affect the taste but gives a good golden colour.  You can also use paella spice sachets which contain salt, garlic, paprika, saffron and ground cloves….oh, and a little colouring too.  There´s no getting away from it.  I leave it to you…make your own mix with a few strands of saffron, or use a mix.  I won´t judge you!

So, here´s how I made this paella.  I can´t claim my version today is typically Andaluz, it was a ”what have we got in the fridge?” kind of day.  The beauty of this is that you can make it however you fancy.

  • A cup of cooked chicken
  • A quarter cup of diced jamon
  • Two cloves of crushed garlic
  • One small onion, finely chopped
  • One long thin green pepper, finely chopped
  • A stick of celery finely chopped
  • A cup of chopped tomatoes
  • About 3 cups of chicken stock
  • One and a half cups of rice
  • Seasoning
  • Olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons of hot pimentón (optional)
  • Paella spices
  • Lemons to serve

You can make this in a large frying pan if you don´t have a paella pan, or a saucepan if you want to make arroz. The paella pan in the photo is meant to serve four (!).  We ate about two thirds of it between the two of us and there was enough left over for a few tapas portions the next day.

Soften your onion, celery and pepper in olive oil and then add the crushed garlic.  When the garlic has softened, add your pimentón (or chilli powder) and spices and stir in. Now add your tomatoes and cook gently for a minute or two then put your chicken, jamon and stock in and allow to boil.  I find that for a paella I use double the quantity of liquid to rice, 3 times for arroz. 

When the liquid is boiling, add the rice and some seasoning, stir it all around and reduce the heat.  I often partly cover the dish with a large lid.  You don´t need to stir it like a risotto, some will stick on the bottom, but in my house we fight for those bits!  I can´t be more precise about quantities as a lot will depend on how much liquid your rice absorbs. Have a pot of boiling water or stock on the side and if you feel it´s cooking too quickly add a little more.

When the rice is almost cooked, but not quite there, turn it off and cover it.  Use tin foil or a lid.  These last few minutes “resting” are important.  Here they say that arroz can be “mal cocinado, pero bien reposado” which means badly cooked but well rested.  Hopefully yours will be both bien cocindao and bien reposado!

Laid back and rested rice

And that´s it, serve with plenty of lemons to squeeze over and a glass of your favourite wine.

I´ll do a seafood version soon – my two best girlfriends in the world are coming to stay tomorrow, so no doubt we´ll have plenty of cooking, eating and wine drinking sessions together that I can share with you all!

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