Perfect Paella Pans
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Perfect Paella Pans at a glance...
The idea for this business developed naturally out of love for all things Spanish, and especially the passion for paella.
Paella pans meets the needs of every type of cook. Each style has its advantages, but all the pans share these common traits: they can be used on a gas or charcoal grill or on our gas burners. They are shallow and have sloping sides, which helps the rice cook evenly and develops more intense flavor.
As the pans get larger, they grow in diameter rather than depth, which allows for more delicious socarrat. And like all authentic paella pans, they do not have matching lids (since paella is traditionally cooked in an open pan).
The rice should be medium grain. Spanish rice is rounded and short; it absorbs liquid very well, and it stays relatively firm during cooking. Those qualities make it ideal for paella, where the rice grains absorb flavor from the liquid. the rice should be dry and separate when done, not creamy like risotto. The most prestigious variety of Spanish rice is bomba, but there are other imported varieties, such as valenciano, that in my experience work as well as bomba. I’ve also had success with Goya medium grain rice, which is available in supermarkets or Hispanic groceries in many regions. Another good supermarket brand is La Preferida Spanish rice, which seems to be available in the midwest. Arborio is an acceptable substitute; long-grain rices, however, are not.
A true paella pan is wide, round, and shallow and has splayed sides. It does not have a lid. It has two looped handles and may dip slightly in the middle so the oil can pool there for the preliminary sauteing. The shape of the pan, which is called either a paella or paellera, helps ensure that the rice cooks in a thin layer. The Valencians say that the cooked rice should be only as thick as “un ditet,” or the width of one finger (about 1/2 inch). The key is to maximize the amount of rice touching the bottom of the pan because that’s where the flavor lives. For that reason, paella pans grow in diameter rather than in height.
The Heat Source
Try to find a heat source that can accommodate the whole paella pan. Depending on the configuration of your burners, you’ll need to straddle the pan over two burners or set it on your largest burner. Either way, you’ll have to move and rotate the pan to distribute the heat. Or you can cook the paella outdoors on a large gas or charcoal grill, or even over a wood fire, which is how it’s done at paella competitions in Spain. Or, easiest of all, use one of our paella burners to give even heat under the whole pan.
A sauté of aromatics, called the sofrito, provides the flavor base. The components of the sofrito vary by region. Tomato, onion, and garlic are a popular trio for the sofrito. Some cooks add pimenton, fresh herbs, or a dried sweet red pepper called ñora. The technique is simple; sauté the vegetables over medium-low heat until they soften and the flavors meld, and the water from the tomato has evaporated. This mixture should be thick enough to hold its shape in a spoon.
The Cooking Liquid
A flavorful liquid cooks the rice, while imbuing it with additional character. If you don’t have a homemade stock on hand, improvise one with the ingredients in the paella. For paella with shrimp, for example, simmer the shells in salted water for a quick, flavorful stock. If you use canned stock, choose a low-salt one. You can also use water, as many home cooks do in Spain. Almost every paella recipe calls for the liquid to be infused with saffron, which contributes color as well as a subtle background flavor to the rice.
It isn’t difficult to make a fantastic paella (though getting the toasty socarrat to appear on that bottom layer does take a little practice), as long as you keep these five elements in mind and are careful to avoid a couple of pitfalls. One of the most common mistakes is to overload the pan with too many ingredients, thereby suffocating the rice. When the rice in a paella is cooked well, nothing else matters–not the chicken, not the clams, not even the artichokes. These other ingredients do have a role to play in the pan, and that is to provide flavor to the rice. For great paella, add them with restraint, and let the rice take center stage.
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