A paella pan is a large, flat cooking vessel. The pan is used to make a Spanish rice dish called paella, where it gets its name.
The pan is large in diameter, but it is also shallow. Some varieties may have higher sides and more depth. However, most paella pans are 14 to 16 inches in diameter only. Most look like medium-sized, shallow skillets.
What is interesting about these pans is that they don’t come with lids.
There is a good reason for it. The liquid in the paella has to be allowed to evaporate when the rice is cooking. The rice remains tender without getting mushy. It also ensures that the paella has a beautiful, crunchy base.
What is Paella?
Paella is a Spanish rice dish that contains medium-grain rice because of its high absorption rate.
The ingredients used in the dish may differ from one region to the next. However, it usually contains vegetables, poultry, seafood, and fish.
The dish is a favorite among foodies. They just cannot get enough of the brown crusty rice layer that forms at the bottom.
This crust is called ‘socarrat.’ It forms when the rice is cooked uncovered and unstirred on an open fire once you add liquid. It is how you can cook paella traditionally.
If you are cooking it on a stovetop, finish the dish in the oven uncovered. Bake for 10 to 20 minutes and rotate the pan in between to ensure the rice cooks evenly.
Also read: Best Paella Pans for your Kitchen
Types of Paella Pans You Can Buy
You can get paella pans in a range of materials as per your personal preferences.
Here are some you materials you can look into:
Carbon Steel Paella Pan
Carbon steel paella pans are popular in Spain and among paella enthusiasts.
This material conducts heat well and ensures even heating throughout. These are quite similar to cast iron skillets, so you need to season the pan before use.
Plus, you will need to maintain the pan after use as well. Otherwise, it will get rusty.
Also read: How to Season a Carbon Steel Pan?
Enameled Steel Paella Pan
If you don’t have time to maintain your paella pan, go for enameled steel ones. The best thing about these pans is that they do not rust.
The pan is made from carbon steel and has a thin layer of enamel that prevents it from forming.
While it does not heat up as well as a carbon steel pan, cleaning and maintaining it is easier. Plus, you have to be careful while handling an enameled steel pan. These can chip easily with rough use.
Stainless Steel Paella Pan
Like enameled paella pans, stainless steel pans do not rust either. Plus, you don’t have to season these before using them either, so they are easy to maintain. The step can save you a lot of time and effort.
Stainless steel pans have a shiny surface so that you can serve your paella in it. The best ones comprise of 18/8 stainless steel.
Any lower than that and the pan corrodes. The pan has moderate thermal conductivity so you may need to use a lot of heat.
How To Buy And Care For Your Paella Pan
Traditionalists will always go for a carbon steel paella pan.
Even though it is high maintenance, it cooks this rice dish perfectly. It doesn’t take a lot of work to maintain either.
You just need to clean and re-season it between uses. Here are some tips that can help:
Before using a brand new paella pan, you need to prep it:
- Pour about a quarter cup of water in it as well as some vinegar.
- Set the pan over medium heat on your stove. The heat will remove the anti-rust coating.
- Discard the mixture and wash the pan. Use water and soap.
- Dry the pan thoroughly with paper towels.
- Oil the inside of the pan lightly with a thin layer of olive oil. This step will seal the surface and make it rust-proof at the same time.
After using the pan:
- Scrub it clean using hot soapy water and steel wool.
- If it is crusty, soak it in water for some hours to soften the crusty paella.
- Rinse and dry the pan before coating it with a thin layer of fresh olive oil.
- Store it in a dry place.
Wipe off the oil before you use the pan again. If the paella pan rusts, scrub it off with steel wool before washing and oiling it.
You have to take some precautions if you cook paella on an induction range.
A traditional paella pan is dimpled on the bottom. It keeps the pan rigid and promotes even cooking. However, the texture also makes the pan slightly convex.
In other words, you cannot place it flat on top of a smooth burner. Use a flat bottomed paella pan instead.
Tips on Making Mouthwatering Paella
You don’t need to visit Spain to eat perfect paella. But, chances are you’ve never had an original one before. The best ones have a thin layer of rice which is about half an inch thick.
Plus, they are served in the paella pan the dish is cooked in and has a caramelized bottom.
Here are some tips you should follow if you want to make paella on your own:
Choose Medium Grain Rice
Spanish medium grain rice is round and short. It also absorbs water well and can remain firm as it cooks. These characteristics are what make it ideal for paella.
The rice also absorbs flavor well and remains separate after being cooked.
The best Spanish rice for paella is called ‘bomba’, but you can also get Valenciano. Just don’t use any long grain rice to make your paella. You will regret it.
Choose A Well-Shaped Pan
The paella pan should be shallow, round, and the sides should be splayed. Plus, it does not have a lid and has two looped handles.
Many paella pans also dip in the middle to allow the oil to pool for the sautéing.
The shape of the pan is iconic to the point that it has a name – paellera. It ensures the rice cooks evenly and in a thin layer without getting mushy.
As a rule of thumb, the cooked rice should be about half an inch thick in the pan. Plus, you should maximize the rice that touches the bottom where the flavor is.
Choose An Accommodating Heat Source
To cook the perfect paella, use an open heat source. Since the pan is spacious, you may need to use two burners to accommodate it. However, you will still need to rotate the pan to ensure even heat distribution.
Traditionalists usually cook paella outside on an open fire such as a charcoal grill.
The heat source is large enough to accommodate the large pan to ensure even heat distribution. Paella cooked on a stovetop doesn’t have a depth of flavor.
You smell paella before you see it. The heavenly aroma is due to a sauté of aromatic ingredients that give the dish its flavor base.
Called ‘sofrito’, it contains tomatoes, onions, and garlic. Some people also use dried sweet red pepper and fresh herbs.
All you need to do is sauté the vegetables in the sofrito over medium-high heat.
The flavors will merge, and the water from the tomatoes will evaporate as well. The mixture should be thick so you can eat it with a spoon, not a straw.
Use A Flavorful Cooking Liquid
A cooking liquid that has flavor will add more depth to your paella.
You can use any stock you have, or you can make one especially for the dish. If you are using shrimp in your paella, simmer the shells in some salt water to make fresh stock.
If you use stock from a can, make sure it has low levels of salt. You can also use water if you don’t have stock. Just infuse it with saffron to add color to the paella. It will make it look good on your dinner table.
A paella is ideal for large dinner parties, especially if you are the only one cooking. However, if you invite ten people, you should invest in an outdoor paella tripod kit.
It comes with a stand, a paella pan, and a burner. You can use a gas grill propane tank as a source of fuel. Just make sure you get a hose to connect it to the burner.
Paella can be a delicious addition to your next family reunion. Use the tips that are mentioned above to ensure your dish shines.
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