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The Paella Guide: How to Make Paella (Tips & Recipes)

How to Make Paella

Paella is probably the best known Spanish food the world over. Originally cooked on an open fire, it has numerous local versions and variations. If you’re wondering how to make paella, it’s not hard, and it makes a great family lunch, as well as an intriguing main course for your party. We’ll share key paella secrets, as well as some useful tips and easy recipes below.

Key Takeaways

  • Paella is a rice-based dish, which usually includes chicken, rabbit, beans, and seasoning. There’s also seafood paella and mixed paella that combines chicken and seafood.
  • Paella is a traditional Valencian dish meant to be shared with family and friends; it remains a popular party and festival food in Valencia and other parts of Spain.
  • Part of the Mediterranean cuisine, paella contains important nutrients and fresh products, making it a healthy diet choice.

What Is Paella?

What Is Paella

Image by Saveur

Paella is rice cooked with meat or seafood and vegetables, often high in protein. The unique way it is cooked ensures that the rice absorbs the flavor from the meat and spices, creating a crust at the bottom of the pan. The recipes of traditional Valencian paella are relatively strict. Deviating from the standard ingredients is possible and will probably also result in delicious rice dishes, but these variations aren’t real paella, according to Spanish tradition.

What Is Paella Mainly Made of?

Traditional paella (paella valenciana) contains the following ingredients: rice, chicken, rabbit, snails, beans, and Valencian butter beans (garrofón). Nowadays, there are also several variations. Seafood paella (paella de marisco) is made with rice, seafood, saffron, and other spices. There’s also a mixed variant made with chicken and seafood. Paella is often flavored with saffron, thyme, smoked paprika, turmeric, garlic, and rosemary.

Related: The Comprehensive Guide to Cauliflower: Unveiling Its Astounding Health Benefits

History and Origins of Paella

History and Origins of Paella

Image by The Paella Company

Paella was originally a Valencian farmer’s food. Rice has been grown in Spain since its introduction by the Moors in the 8th century AD. This made it a common Spanish farmer’s food. Easy to cook, it could be made in one big pan and shared within a family or group of laborers. The best rice for paella is called the bomba rice. It’s short-grained and absorbs flavor without going soft as quickly as normal rice.

Who Invented Paella?

While it’s unknown who invented paella, it’s likely that it was a group invention, traceable to the farmers and laborers in the region of Valencia. The first paella recipe appears in the writings of Josep Orri in the 18th century.

Related: Frittata: The Complete Guide (With Tips & Recipes)

How to Make Paella

How to Make Paella Tips

If you’re wondering, how to make paella the traditional way, you’ll need to begin with finding the right pan to cook it in. Traditional paella pans are very large, as they are meant for cooking over an open fire. If you don’t have space for such a pan, the important thing to remember is that the pan you choose should be flat, large, and heat evenly. You first add the meat, cooking until it’s browned on all sides, then the vegetables and spices, and finally the rice. The paella forms a crisp underlayer of rice, called the soccarat. It’s very delicious and a crucial part of the dish.

Tips to Make Paella (Dos & Don’ts)

There are several significant points to remember when cooking paella. These paella tips will help you make a delicious dish that you can eat with family and friends. They’ll likely ask for second helpings, so make sure to prepare plenty!


  • Use the right kind of rice. Bomba rice is considered the best by most cooks, since it retains the flavor without getting overcooked quickly. The texture should be dry, not creamy, like risotto.
  • Distribute the rice evenly throughout the pan. Make sure that the rice forms an even layer of several inches only.


  • Do not add chicken broth or seafood broth to the rice. In traditional paella, rice is cooked in water. As the dish cooks slowly, the ingredients produce a broth of their own that flavors the rice.
  • Avoid using the wrong pan. To achieve the best results, don’t use any cooking pot for your paella but invest in a specially designed pan that is wide enough and flat to cook the famous rice dish.

What Can You Not Put in Paella?

Real paella does not include many ingredients that go into other rice dishes. Some of these include onions, peas, mushrooms, carrots, and chorizo. While all good combinations with rice, these aren’t part of the traditional paella recipes.

Should Paella Be Sticky?

Unlike risotto, paella is not supposed to be sticky. Each grain of rice should be slightly golden and separate from the others.

Do You Stir Paella While Cooking?

Whatever you do, don’t stir the rice! Stirring it will only make the rice mushier, and it interferes with the way it absorbs the flavor. If the rice starts getting burned, lower the heat or add a bit of water. The only steps where you can stir the ingredients are before you add the rice - when you’re preparing the meat or frying the vegetables.

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Related: How to Meal Prep a Salad: Dos & Don'ts (+ Recipes)

Tasty Paella Recipes

Keeping the above paella tips in mind, try some of the recipes below, and see if your friends and family can resist this tempting Spanish treat!

Traditional Valencian Paella Recipe

Valencian Paella Recipe

Image by Spanish Sabores


  • 14.1 oz bomba rice
  • 15 pieces of chicken meat (preferably chicken thighs)
  • ½ rabbit
  • 7 ounces snails (optional)
  • 10 ounces green beans
  • ⅓ lb butter beans
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 pinch saffron
  • Salt

Step-by-Step Instructions:

  1. Cut the meat and vegetables into medium-sized chunks.
  2. In a small cup, infuse the saffron in boiling water. One or two pinches are normally enough.
  3. Put your skillet or paella pan on medium-high heat and add olive oil. Add the meat chunks and cook for 10-15 minutes until brown on all sides.
  4. Push the meat to the sides of the pan, and add some more olive oil. Then add the vegetables. First cook the tougher green beans, then sweep them to the sides of the pan. Add the garlic and the butter beans. Sprinkle with paprika.
  5. You can stir the meat and vegetables to make sure that all the pieces are flavored evenly.
  6. Add the rice. If there isn’t enough broth from the meat and vegetables, add a few cups of water. Remember, don’t stir the rice!
  7. Add the steeped saffron and salt.
  8. Increase the heat to medium-high for the first 10 minutes, then lower it to medium. Cook until the rice absorbs all the liquid. When the rice starts to crackle, cook it on medium-high for a few minutes to form the crisp soccarat.
  9. When the rice is ready, let the paella sit for 5 minutes, then serve.

Did you know that Cookunity offers a meat-free version for everyone on a plant-based diet - the popular Vegan Vegetable Paella? You can pair it with vegan chicken for extra proteins.

Easy Seafood Paella

Easy Seafood Paella

Image by La Tienda


  • 2 cups bomba rice
  • 1 dozen mussels
  • 1 dozen clams
  • 12 large shrimps
  • 1 ½ lbs fish
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 large tomato (chopped)
  • Up to 8 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons parsley (chopped)
  • 6 small scallions (chopped)
  • 5-6 lemon wedges (for decor)
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme
  • 2 tsp paprika (or smoked paprika)
  • 1 pinch saffron
  • Salt

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Preparatory steps: Cut the fish and vegetables into small chunks before you begin. Make sure that the mussels are debearded and soak the clams in salted water. Infuse the saffron in a cup of boiling water.
  2. Put your paella pan on medium-high heat and pour some olive oil into it. Add the fish and cook for 2-3 minutes until brown on all sides. You don’t need to cook it until ready. If your pan isn’t large, place the fish in a separate bowl while you cook the vegetables.
  3. Pour some more olive oil into the pan. Then add the scallions, garlic, and bell pepper. When the vegetables soften a bit, turn the heat down and add the chopped tomatoes. Cook for 4-5 minutes until the vegetables resemble a sauce. Add white wine.
  4. Add rice, making sure it is distributed evenly across the pan. Let it boil for 3 minutes.
  5. Add the seasoning: saffron, parsley, thyme, and salt.
  6. Then add the fish. Cook for about 10 minutes until the rice soaks up most of the liquid. Add water if it starts to burn. Then carefully tuck the mussels, shrimps, and clams into the rice. The mussels’ shells should face up so that they catch the sauce and get thoroughly cooked.
  7. Cook for a further 10-15 minutes, until the rice is almost done. Turn the shrimps over when they start turning pink.
  8. Remove the paella from the heat, and cover with foil for 10 minutes to make sure all the seafood is ready. Throw away any mussels or clams that didn’t open.
  9. Decorate with lemon wedges and serve.

Or why not try Cookunity’s Mexican Seafood Paella with Bay Scallops and Shrimp to save time and effort preparing seafood paella yourself?

Related: Scallops: The Complete Guide - All You Need to Know

The Paella Guide: The Complete Guide – FAQs

Q: Why is it called paella?

A: Paella is called after the big pan it is cooked in. Traditionally, paella is eaten directly from the pan, with everyone seated around it and each person using their own spoon.

Q: What are the three types of paella?

A: The three most popular paella recipes are as follows:

  • Paella with rice, beans, chicken, rabbit, snails, and spices;
  • Seafood paella with rice, seafood, and spices;
  • Mixed paella with rice, seafood, meat, beans, and spices.

Q: Is paella healthy?

A: While paella contains lots of minerals and nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy, it is also rich in carbs and fats. Like most Mediterranean food, it is considered balanced and good for your health. Perhaps the most important health tip here would be not to overeat, which can be difficult since paella is so delicious.

Q: What do you eat with paella?

A: There are many different combinations that go well with paella depending on how filling you want the meal to be. You could serve tapas (Spanish snacks served with drinks) before the paella, or simply slice some fresh bread to help gather the remaining sauce. Salads also go well with paella.

Q: Should I rinse paella rice?

A: No, it’s best not to rinse the paella rice because the extra layer of starch protects the rice from getting too soft during cooking.

Q: Why do you not put onions in paella?

A: Traditional paella doesn’t contain onions, as they may make the meal a bit soggy. If you want to add some, it would be considered a different type of rice dish (called arroces) by the Spanish.


Paella is one of the most recognizable and spectacular of the traditional Mediterranean recipes. Originally an outdoor meal, paella retains its festive and friendly mood, making it a dinner party favorite. Making paella isn’t that difficult if you know the principles behind the preparation of this awesome rice dish Try it yourself and impress your friends with a delectable Valencian meal!