These paella recipes will bring a taste of Spain to your kitchen

Posted by for Food

Pining for a summer holiday? These evocative paella recipes will bring sunshine directly into your home.

If there’s one thing that’s been our saving grace over the last few months, it’s food. We started lockdown baking bread and pastries, and ended up taking on everything from one-tray Greek dishes to spicy Indian curries and fragrant Middle Eastern bakes.

It’s no surprise that we’ve been travelling around the world in our cooking choices: food has the power to transport us from our kitchen counters to the places we’d much rather be. For those of us who aren’t going on holiday this summer, global culinary inspiration is all the more important – and Spanish food is one cuisine that can take us to sunnier climes every single time.

From tapas to frittata, seafood stew to sugar-coated churros, the rich diversity of Spanish dishes can make choosing from a side-street restaurant menu almost impossible. But when we think of Spanish food, the first thing that comes to mind is paella. The sunny saffron-coloured rice dish originated in Valencia, but is now found in homes and restaurants all over Spain – including in Catalonia. 

Below, we’ve got three vibrant Catalan paella recipes to share, courtesy of Daniel Olivella and Caroline Wright’s beautiful book Catalan Food: Culture & Flavours from the Mediterranean (£22.50, Clarkson Potter).

First up: a classic ‘house’ paella packed with chicken, prawns, clams, mussels, squid and chorizo. Next, a seafood paella that will conjure the smell of beachside restaurants. And for something different, try the fideo noodle paella made with toasted angel hair pasta.

Note: all of these recipes call for sofrito, a classic Spanish cooking base of onion, peppers, and tomato sauce that’s easy to DIY (you can also buy ready-made sofrito online). They also refer to socarrat, the beautifully crispy rice you find at the bottom of a paella pan. These dishes require time and effort, but trust us – they’re 100% worth it. 

  • House paella (paella de la casa)

    Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 to share

    Ingredients

    • About 5 cups (1175 ml and 1 tbsp) chicken stock
    • 2 small garlic cloves, peeled
    • 2 pinches of pure saffron (about 1⁄4 teaspoon)
    • 1⁄8 tsp plus 1⁄2 tsp sea salt
    • 6 tbsp fresh curly parsley leaves
    • 2 1⁄2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1 small (3-ounce/85g) boneless, skinless chicken thigh, chopped
    • 1⁄4 cup (40g) squid bodies, sliced into rings and tentacles
    • 2 tbsp finely chopped smoked, cured chorizo sausage
    • 1 cup (200g) Spanish rice, such as bomba
    • 1⁄4 cup (90g) store-bought sofrito
    • 1⁄2 tsp pimentón (smoked paprika)
    • 1⁄4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
    • 6 littleneck or Manila clams, scrubbed
    • 6 mussels, scrubbed and debearded
    • 4 medium tail-on shrimp, peeled and deveined
    • 2 tbsp frozen peas, thawed
    • 2 tbsp fresh thin green beans or haricots verts, cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces
    • 4 small lemon wedges, for serving

    Method

    In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to a gentle simmer over medium heat.

    Make a picada by mashing the garlic, saffron, and 1⁄8 tsp of the salt to a fine paste in a mortar with a pestle. Gradually add the parsley leaves, mashing each addition completely before adding more, until you have a green paste. Stir in 1⁄2 tbsp of the olive oil and a few spoonfuls of warm stock to loosen the mixture so it is just runny enough to slowly drip from the spoon.

    In a 12-inch paella pan, heat the remaining 2 tbsp oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the chicken, squid, and chorizo. Cook, tossing, until the chicken and squid begin to shrink and turn opaque, 1 to 2 minutes.

    Stir in the rice until it is shiny with oil, then add the picada, sofrito, smoked paprika, black pepper, and remaining 1⁄2 teaspoon salt. Add about 3 cups (700ml) of hot stock to the pan, shaking it to settle and loosen any rice clusters as the stock begins to boil. Only shake the rice at this point; if stirred, it will become sticky.

    Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer the paella until about 80% of the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. When most of the liquid is absorbed, the rice will start to sizzle a bit, almost as if it is asking you for another drink. At that point, add about 1 cup (a little over 200ml) more stock by drizzling it around the edge of the pan so the stock seeps from the pan edge to the centre.

    Arrange the clams and mussels around the outer edge of the pan, and bury the shrimp throughout the rice. Simmer until about 80% of the liquid is absorbed and the rice starts to sizzle again, 5 to 6 minutes more. 

    Drizzle about 1 cup (a little over 200ml) more stock around the pan edge, and scatter the peas and green beans over the rice. Continue to simmer the rice until it is just beginning to become tender, 5 to 6 minutes more. At this point, the shrimp should be pink, the vegetables cooked through, and the clams and mussels should be open. 

    Test the rice by taking a bite. The paella is done when the rice is plump, glossy, and tender on the surface with a rm white centre when bitten into.

    The edge of the paella pan should also have a dark rim of oily starch, which is a good sign of the crispy socarrat below. To test the socarrat, use a spoon to scrape the bottom of the paella pan. If the spoon doesn’t move through the rice but instead the rice is firm and the pan moves, then the socarrat has begun to form. 

    When the socarrat has begun, rotate the pan for even browning. The rice will talk to you as it cooks; the crackle will get faster as the rice dries out, then it will go silent when the socarrat is finished forming. Your nose will tell you if it’s beginning to burn; just add a spoonful of stock to the scorching spot if so.

    Serve the paella at the centre of the table with spoons for guests to serve themselves and lemon wedges for squeezing.

  • Seafood paella (paella de la barceloneta)

    Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 to share

    Ingredients

    • about 5 cups (1175 ml and 1 tbsp) fish stock
    • 2 small garlic cloves, peeled
    • 2 pinches of pure saffron (about 1⁄4 teaspoon)
    • 1⁄8 tsp plus 1⁄2 tsp sea salt
    • 6 tbsp fresh parsley leaves
    • 21⁄2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1⁄4 cup (40g) squid bodies, sliced into rings and tentacles
    • 2 ounces (55g) firm white fish, such as monkfish or snapper, cut into 1-inch (2.5cm) pieces
    • 1 cup (200g) Spanish rice, such as bomba
    • 1⁄4 cup (90g) store-bought sofrito
    • 1⁄2 tsp caramelised onion marmalade
    • 1⁄2 tsp pimentón (smoked paprika)
    • 1⁄4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
    • 4 littleneck or cherrystone clams, scrubbed
    • 4 medium tail-on shrimp, peeled and deveined
    • 2 tbsp frozen peas, thawed
    • 4 small lemon wedges, for serving

    Method

    In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to a gentle simmer over medium heat.

    Meanwhile, make a picada by mashing the garlic, saffron, and 1⁄8 tsp of the salt to a fine paste in a mortar with a pestle. Gradually add in the parsley leaves, mashing each addition completely before adding more, until you have a green paste. Stir in 1⁄2 tbsp of the olive oil and a few spoonfuls of warm stock to loosen the mixture so it is just runny enough to slowly drip from the spoon.

    In a 12-inch paella pan, heat the remaining 2 tbsp oil over high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the squid and fish. Cook, tossing, until the squid and fish begin to shrink and turn opaque, 1 to 2 minutes.

    Stir in the rice until it is shiny with oil, then add the sofrito, onion marmalade, smoked paprika, black pepper, and remaining 1⁄2 tsp salt. Add about 3 cups (700ml) of hot stock and the picada to the pan, shaking it to settle and loosen any rice clusters as the stock begins to boil. Only shake the rice at this point; if stirred, it will become sticky.

    Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer the paella until about 80% of the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. When most of the liquid is absorbed, the rice will start to sizzle a bit, almost as if it is asking you for another drink. At that point, add about 1 cup (a little over 200ml) more stock by drizzling it around the edge of the pan so the stock seeps from the pan edge to the centre.

    Arrange the clams around the outer edge of the pan, and bury the shrimp throughout the rice. Simmer until about 80% of the liquid is absorbed and the rice starts to sizzle again, 5 to 6 minutes more. 

    Drizzle about 1 cup (a little over 200ml) more stock around the pan edge and scatter the peas over the rice. Continue to simmer the rice until it is just beginning to become tender, 5 to 6 minutes more. At this point, the shrimp should be pink, the peas cooked through, and the clams should be open. Test the rice by taking a bite. The paella is done when the rice is plump, glossy, and tender on the surface with a rm white centre when bitten into.

    The edge of the paella pan should now have a dark rim of oily starch, which is a good sign of the crispy socarrat below. To test the socarrat, use a spoon to scrape the bottom of the paella pan. If the spoon doesn’t move through the rice but instead the rice is firm and the pan moves, then the socarrat has begun to form. 

    When the socarrat has begun, rotate the pan for even browning. The rice will talk to you as it cooks; the crackle will get faster as the rice dries out, then it will go silent when the socarrat is finished forming. Your nose will tell you if it’s beginning to burn; just add a spoonful of stock to the scorching spot if so.

    Serve the paella at the centre of the table with spoons for guests to serve themselves and lemon wedges for squeezing.

  • Fideo noodle paella (fideuà)

    Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 to share

    Ingredients

    • 4 ounces (115g) store-bought toasted fideus or vermicelli pasta
    • 3 1⁄2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
    • about 5 cups (1175 ml and 1 tbsp) fish stock
    • 1 small garlic clove, peeled
    • 1⁄8 tsp plus 1⁄2 tsp sea salt
    • 6 tbsp fresh curly parsley leaves
    • 2 ounces (55g) firm white fish, such as monk fish or snapper, cut into 1-inch (2.5cm) pieces
    • 2 ounces (55g) cuttlefish or squid steaks, cut into 1-inch (2.5cm) pieces
    • 1⁄4 cup (40g) squid bodies, sliced into rings and tentacles
    • 1⁄4 cup (90g) store-bought sofrito
    • 1⁄2 tsp caramelised onion marmalade
    • 1⁄2 tsp pimentón (smoked paprika)
    • 1⁄4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
    • 4 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails left on
    • 2 tbsp frozen peas, thawed
    • 2 tbsp store-bought aioli, for serving
    • 4 small lemon wedges, for serving
    • Pimentón oil (optional), for serving

    Method

    Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

    If you use vermicelli pasta, use your hands to break the pasta into 1-inch (2.5cm) pieces over a large sheet pan. Drizzle 1 tbsp of the oil over the pasta or fideus and toss to coat it well. Shake the noodles into a single layer, then toast in the oven until deep golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes, shaking the pan once or twice for even browning. Remove and let cool completely. This step can be done a day or two ahead.

    Increase the oven temperature to 450°F (230°C).

    In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to a gentle simmer over medium heat.

    Meanwhile, make a picada by mashing the garlic and 1/8 teaspoon of the salt to a fine paste in a mortar with a pestle. Gradually add in the parsley, mashing each addition completely before adding more, until you have a green paste. Stir in 1⁄2 tablespoon of the olive oil and set aside.

    In a 12-inch paella pan, heat the remaining 2 tbsp oil over high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the monkfish, cuttlefish, and squid. Cook until the fish begins to shrink and turn opaque, 1 to 2 minutes, tossing frequently. Stir in the toasted noodles until they are shiny with oil.

    Add the picada, sofrito, onion marmalade, smoked paprika, black pepper, and remaining 1⁄2 tsp salt. Add about 3 cups (700ml) of warm stock to the pan, shaking it to settle and loosen any noodle clusters as the stock begins to boil. Only shake the noodles at this point; if stirred, they will become sticky.

    Simmer the fideos over medium heat until some stock is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Test the noodles for doneness – they should be about halfway cooked by now. If the noodles no longer have room to swim, add about 1 cup (a little over 200ml) more stock. Continue to simmer the deuà until only a thin layer of stock rests on top, up to 10 minutes more.

    Bury the shrimp throughout the noodles and scatter the peas over the top. Transfer the pan to the oven and cook until the shrimp turn pink, all the stock has evaporated, and the crispy noodles stand up in the pan, 5 to 7 minutes.

    Spoon the aioli onto the centre of the noodles. Serve at the centre of the table with spoons for guests to serve themselves and lemon wedges for squeezing. Stir the aioli into the noodles only after the dish is on the table. Drizzle with the pimentón oil.

    From Catalan Food: Culture & Flavors from the Mediterranean by Daniel Olivella and Caroline Wright (£22.50, Clarkson Potter), out now

Photography: Johnny Autry

Share this article

Christobel Hastings

Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.