Paella has been a favorite in Spanish homes for centuries. Most historians agree that this rice-based dish originated in the Spanish city of Valencia, which has been a major producer of rice for more than a thousand years.
Paella's historical roots are very humble, as it was primarily a food for working-class people who would often eat right out of the communal pan it was cooked in. Rice-based dishes are still a staple for family gatherings and religious feasts, and paella continues to be a popular dish worldwide.
The wore paella actually refers to the type of cooking pan and not the ingredients. There are as many variations on paella as there are cooks, and most original recipes included things like rabbit and snails in addition to chicken and beans.
The following is a family-friendly recipe for four that includes chicken and sausage, with variations at the end to incorporate seafood or make the dish vegetarian. Try creating your own family tradition based on this delicious and historical classic.
Adapted from The Heritage of Spanish Cooking, by Alicia Rios and Lourdes March.
1 cut-up chicken, with bones left in (with or without skin)
½ lb chorizo or chicken sausage, in ½-inch slices (optional)
⅔ cup olive oil
1 large onion, diced
⅓ lb large lima beans, fresh or frozen
½ lb Fava or green beans, trimmed and halved
1 tomato, cored and chopped
2 pinches saffron
2½ cups short-grained rice, preferably Arborio or Spanish
4½ cups water, plus more if needed to finish rice
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 lemon, sliced into wedges, for garnish
- Heat the olive oil in an 18-inch paella pan and fry the chicken until brown.
- Add the diced onion, rice, lima and fava beans, and stir to coat the rice with oil, then let it brown a moment.
- Add tomato, salt, and 2½ cups water. Continue to add water as needed without allowing the rice to dry out. Once rice begins to swell, add the green beans. Do not stir.
- Taste the rice—it is done when soft and expanded yet still a bit firm inside.
- Add salt as needed and garnish with lemon slices. Serve immediately.
Serves 4. Prep time 20–30 minutes; cook time, 1 hour.
Cook's note—For vegetarian paella, replace water with vegetable broth and replace meat with vegetarian chorizo and/or another vegetarian protein of choice.
To incorporate seafood into the above recipe, add:
½ lb fresh calamari, cut into rings
½ lb shrimp, with some unpeeled (for flavor)
4–8 fresh mussels, in the shell
Add the calamari and the shrimp at the same time as the green beans. Just 2–3 minutes before the rice is done, arrange the mussels around the edge of the pan. Remove paella from heat once the mussels have opened completely. (Discard any mussels that do not open.)
Rebecca Taggart is a San Francisco–based yoga instructor.