Tips for amazing Spanish paella from chef Omar Allibhoy

Aug 23, 2017

Paella may be the pinnacle of Spanish cuisine. With its layers of flavors and ingredients, paella is a satisfying and fun meal to eat. On the flip-side, it also has a reputation for being intimidating to cook. But Spanish chef Omar Allibhoy, the author of Spanish Made Simple, says it should not be thought of in that way. He gave us this advice for making paella at home, and provided a wonderful recipe for Seafood Paella (Paella de Marisco). We also included Allibhoy’s kitchen demonstration video below to help make the process a bit easier to understand.

THE RICE

"I do believe rice is the hardest ingredient in the world. With paella, it’s such a technical thing that I could go on for hours, literally. But here is a snapshot. The Spanish rice that we use is called bomba rice; it's a short, round grain, which absorbs more water than any other grain in the world. That's why it's so expensive. At the end of the day, what gives flavor to the paella is the stock that you produce that is the water that will be absorbed by the rice, and that's what makes it tasty. This particular rice is delicate and it breaks as soon as it overcooks. There is a saying in Spanish that is, “Paella doesn't wait for anyone. You wait for the paella at the table.” Because, even the second serving, once we finish the main course and you go back to the paella pan to take a little bit more, you will see how it has completely transformed. It’s very delicate and starchy; it can never be done in advance. In general terms, it’s high heat for 10 minutes, low heat for another 10 minutes, and five minutes of resting. The water-to-rice ratio should be between seven to eight times if your heat is high enough."

Spanish Made Simple
by Omar Allibhoy

THE PAN

"One of the things about paella is we all know it's cooked in a paella pan. That's actually why it's called paella. It has to be very wide; that's why paellas are never thick. You cannot cook a paella in a frying pan or in a pot. It needs to go wide because you don't want a paella that is more than a finger thick. At your home, you cannot cook a paella for eight people on your stove. You cook for maybe three or four people max.

It’s about that depth of the rice. If your paella is too thick, the top will run out of water and there will still be water on the bottom, and that will overcook. We make it so thin so that the water levels – from when it touches the rice on top until it completely dehydrates from the pan – goes as quick as possible. In general, this is the essence of paella. You need to caramelize your ingredients as much as you can so that they get dark in your pan – whether it’s chicken, squid or artichokes. When you add your water, all the burned bits and caramelization dilutes in the water, creating a richer stock. That is the basis of a tasteful and rich paella."

THE RECIPE (AND VIDEO)

"For home cooks, there is a really good recipe in my book for seafood paella. It takes me quite a bit of length to explain – I dedicated four pages to it – to give people the better chance to make it right. Also, on Jamie Oliver’s FoodTube channel on YouTube, I have a video that is the most watched video for paella on the internet. You are able to see it physically being made, which is pretty good."