Few dishes are as synonymous with Spain than paella. The flavorful Valencian rice dish tantalizes the senses. First, with its heady aroma, then, with a visual feast of color, and finally with the crunch of a prawn or crack of a mussel shell.
You don't have to travel to Barcelona or Valencia to indulge, though. Marc Vidal, the executive chef at Boqueria restaurant in New York City and author of a new cookbook by the same name, has spent years perfecting the recipe. "The mark of a good paella is the socorrat (the crispy, caramelized base), a succulent center, and lots of amazing flavor," he tells MyDomaine.
"Of course, there's a debate about what ingredients belong in a paella based on varied preparations in different regions of Spain," he continued. "We love to make ours Catalan-style with sofrito (caramelized tomatoes, onions and garlic); picada (parsley and saffron-scented olive oil), lobster stock, cuttlefish, squid, mussels, clams, and cod."
If it's your first time attempting the iconic dish, Vidal says it's worth buying a proper paella pan. "If you are in a pinch, you can still make paella in a regular pan following our recipe, but you won't find yourself with the desired crispy texture of the rice on the bottom," he says. The other major mistake people often make? "Stirring the rice! Don't do it, or you will end up with a risotto instead!"
If you only learn to master one Spanish dish, this should be it. Ahead, Vidal shares the best paella recipe from Boqueria: A Cookbook From Barcelona to New York.
Paella de Mariscos
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
4 ounces monkfish or cod, cut into 1⁄2-inch slices
6 large shell-on, head-on shrimp, preferably red shrimp
1⁄4 pound cuttlefish, cut into 1⁄2-inch dice 7 ounces squid bodies and tentacles, bodies cut into 1⁄2-inch rings
3 tablespoons Sofrito (recipe below)
3 tablespoons Picada (recipe below)
1 1⁄2 cups bomba rice
12 mussels, beards removed, cleaned well (discard any that have opened) 12 manila clams or cockles, scrubbed well (discard any that have opened)
4 cups Lobster Stock (see Boqueria for recipe)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring the lobster stock to a boil in a large saucepan. Reduce the heat to keep warm until ready to use.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a 16-inch paella pan over high heat. Season the monk sh and shrimp with salt and pepper and put in the hot oil in a single layer. Cook until well seared and browned, turning once, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
Heat another 2 tablespoons oil in the pan. Add the cuttle sh and squid to the hot pan in a single layer, season with salt, and stir well. If the pan is dry, add another tablespoon oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until nicely seared, browned, and popping, about 5 minutes.
Add the sofrito and cook, stirring, then reduce the heat to low and stir in the picada. Add the hot lobster stock and raise the heat to high. Bring to a boil and season to taste with salt. Sprinkle the rice evenly in the pan. Stir it a little to make sure it’s evenly distributed and submerged in the liquid, but then don’t touch it again. You don’t want to activate the starches and make the mixture creamy like a risotto. You want the grains to cook separately from each other.
Bring to a boil over high heat and boil vigorously for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the rice is al dente, about 10 minutes.
Tuck the mussels, clams, shrimp, and sh into the rice, evenly spacing them around the pan. Drizzle the remaining tablespoon oil over the rice and raise the heat to high. Cook until the mussels and clams open (discarding any that don’t), all of the liquid evaporates, and the rice forms the socarrat crust on the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Let rest for about 5 minutes. Uncover and serve directly from the pan.
Ready to master the recipe? Shop Marc Vidal's new cookbook, Boqueria, below and stock up on these essentials for Spanish cooking.