Cookbook:Paella Cooking Techniques

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A Valencian paella simmering over a wood fire

Cooking a paella requires high heat for sautéing and then moderate to low heat for simmering. While this sounds easy, it takes a bit of practice to master.

There are several technologies to choose from when cooking a paella, all of which are explained below. You'll see right away, however, the latest technology is not necessarily the best.

Cooking a paella indoors

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Cooking indoors provides you with two options: the oven or the stove.

On the stove

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The advantage of a stove top is that you can easily adjust the heat. If you've got a large paellera, you'll need a stove with an oversize ring or burner or be able to safely set the paellera over two rings/burners at once then rotate it frequently to ensure even cooking. Start with very high heat for sauteing. Use moderate heat for simmering and then work your way down to low heat to cook the rice. If you've got a small paellera that fits over one burner then you don't have to rotate it. Also, never cover a paellera while making paella.

In the oven

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Using an oven is the worst way to cook a paella because the only way to check the paella's progress is to remove the entire paellera. Also an oven won't allow for the development of toasted rice at the bottom of the pan, an important part of making a paella. Finally, misjudging the cooking time will burn the entire paella. Despite these problems, many people insist on using an oven because of its convenience, so below is a brief explanation on how to do it.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (170 degrees Celsius, Gas Mark 3). Sauté your ingredients in a paellera on a stove. Then add the rice but not the broth. Place the paellera in the oven and carefully ladle the broth into the mixture. Now close the oven.

Check the rice's texture after 20 minutues. Your goal is to cook the rice until it's slightly firm to the bite. If the rice isn't cooked then put the paellera back in the oven and check it about once every 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 300 degrees (150 degrees Celsius, Gas Mark 2) if you notice anything burning. Add more broth or water if the rice dries out too quickly. Continue cooking until the rice reaches the right texture.

Cooking a paella outdoors

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Cooking outdoors allows you more space to evenly distribute the heat under the paellera, something that's tricky to do on a stove. The reality is, cooking outdoors makes for a better paella. Spaniards know this, and for that reason many of them prefer the outdoor method.[1][2]

On a gas burner

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The easiest way to cook a paella outside is on an outdoor gas burner specifically made for paelleras. This is, without a doubt, the best method. Unfortunately, these burners are expensive and they are only suitable for cooking paellas. But if you have the money for one, simply follow the cooking instructions above for cooking a paella on a stove top. However, you won't have to worry about rotating the paellera because the burner provides evenly distributed heat.

On a charcoal grill

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A less expensive approach is to use a charcoal grill sturdy and large enough to support the size and weight of a paellera with all its ingredients. The best design for this is a grill with adjustable height settings. Use the lowest setting to sauté and the higher ones for simmering. If you don't have these setting then you're in for a tough time. You'll have to remove hot coals to reduce the heat on your paella as it cooks which means removing and replacing the grill and the paellera each time. If you do this, be sure to place the hot coals in a small, dirt pit. Never pour water onto hot coals while cooking. This will cause a mini explosion of steam thereby throwing ash into your paella.

Over a wood fire

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Cooking a paella over a wood fire is both effective and inexpensive. It's also the method favored by paella purists in Spain. You won't have to worry much about reducing the heat on a wood fire because it will cool off gradually on its own. If your fire grows too cool, build it up with twigs and kindling. Dry pine needles work beautifully for this. However, if your fire is too big, pour small amounts of water around the edges of the flames or simply wait for it to cool down. Never pour water into the center of the fire while cooking. You'll get all of your firewood wet and you won't be able to light it again.

The most popular way in Spain to cook over wood is with a trivet (a low, metal tripod or stand capable of supporting a cooking pot or pan over a fire). This website sells all of the outdoor paella cooking gear you'll need. Another way is to create a temporary cooking pit out of heat resistant bricks or cinder blocks.[3]

Serving Tip

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Always allow the paella to rest five minutes after cooking by taking it off the heat and covering with a clean, white towel.

It's customary to place the entire paellera with the freshly cooked paella on the dinner table rather than transferring the paella into a fancy serving bowl. Also, paella purists insist dinner guests should eat directly from the paellera with large spoons

Fixing mistakes

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  • The most common beginner's mistake is to cook with too much heat. You'll wind up with undercooked rice and no broth left to cook it with. Fix this by adding either a cup of water or leftover broth from the previous steps.
  • The less common mistake is to use too much broth. In this case, you'll wind up with a soupy paella once the rice is done. There are two ways to fix this: Chefs recommend increasing the heat just long enough to boil off the excess water. However too much heat will burn the rice. What also works well is to remove the excess broth with a large serving spoon.

See also

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Chef Juanry Segui cooks a Valencian paella over a wood fire