Home/ Leisure / Five ways to perfect your paella

The toughest test for chefs in Valencia is making the perfect paella," says chef Miquel Lajarin. A Valencian who has been taught by the likes of the legendary Ferran Adria and Martin Berasategui and now teaches at a catering college himself, Lajarin should know. “Everyone claims to have eaten the best paella at home," chef Leon Benmergui pitches in. I wonder if this Venezuelan who has worked in a series of Michelin-starred kitchens in Spain, including El Bulli, La Arquería and LaVinia, has been bowled over by the Valencian “national" food himself. It’s like everyone loves their mother’s cooking, I venture. “Their dad’s," I’m promptly corrected.

Rice plate: (above, right) Chefs Leon Benmergui (left) and Miquel Lajarin; and paella gets its name from the distinct, wide wok-like pan it’s cooked in. Photograph by Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Lesson No. 2: The Paella Valenciana did not originally include seafood. A rustic dish, it was made with inexpensive meats, such as rabbit and chicken, beans and mushroom. “In the summers, seafood was plentiful along the long coast, so meat was substituted by fish," says Lajarin. There is no fixed recipe for paella; as its popularity grew, the versatile dish readily accommodated the change in seasonal produce, tastes and culinary traditions. “The rich man’s version of the paella has chorizo, pork belly and lobster," Benmergui adds.

Lesson No 3: If there is no fixed recipe, what is the trick to getting the seafood paella right? First, do not overcook the prawns. “Lightly sauté them and take out. Prawns should be succulent, not rubbery," says Benmergui. If using soft meat, lightly brown it and then add vegetables.

Lesson No. 4: Choose the rice carefully, Lajarin says—medium-short grains, with high starch content to allow it to absorb the flavours, but not so high in starch as to break down. “The paella differs significantly from risotto in texture. Risotto is creamy, paella dry. Chefs prefer senia rice, because it can absorb a lot of flavour. But it’s delicate, and a slight variation in the fire or the amount of stock would ruin it. A safer choice is bomba," he says. Once all the ingredients are put in, do not stir, never mind if the rice sticks to the bottom. “It helps in caramelization. Too much stirring also breaks the rice and releases more starch," Benmergui adds. The best rice is at the bottom—the slightly burnt, crunchy, sticky grains, infused with all the spices and flavours, are the most rewarding

Lesson No 5: Don’t bother to plate it. “It’s meant to be a shared meal," says Lajarin. And, remember to scrape the bottom, vigorously.


Serves 3-4


200g bomba rice (or any medium-short grained rice)

1 tsp Valencian pimentón (or smoked paprika powder)

3 tbsp olive oil

1 medium tomato, peeled and grated

2 medium onions, minced

4 garlic cloves, minced

100g assorted seasonal vegetables (peas, bell peppers etc), diced

100g assorted seafood (squid rings, fish fillets, prawns, clams, mussels etc, washed and cleaned. If using mussels and clams, lightly steam them beforehand)

3 cups seafood stock

A pinch of saffron (lightly roasted and soaked in 1tbsp olive oil)

1 lemon, cut into wedges

Salt to taste


Use short grained rice varieties like bombaand vegetables and seafood in season in your paella.

Once the rice is cooked, turn up the heat and let all the stock evaporate. Let the rice crackle for a minute or so—or, as the Valencians say, "speak to you"— then take off the fire. Drizzle a tablespoon of allioli (garlic and olive oil), decorate with prawns and lemon wedges and serve hot.


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Updated: 17 Mar 2011, 08:50 PM IST
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