During my study days in Spain, I developed a deep love for the cuisine here, and two dishes that held a special place in my heart (and stomach) were Spanish tortillas and paellas.
They are on top of my Spanish food list. Spanish tortilla was like a warm hug after a long day of classes. And then there was Spanish paella—a dish that practically screams Spain with vibrant colors and rich flavors.
Spanish paella is a rice dish that originated in the Valencia region. It even has a national day – March 27. The name “paella” actually refers to the wide, shallow pan in which it’s cooked, traditionally over an open flame. The dish has evolved over the years, and while there are many variations, the authentic paella Valenciana recipe is still my favorite.
I started with the basics—a paella pan, bomba rice, saffron, and a medley of fresh seafood, meats, and vegetables. The key, I learned, was in the socarrat—the crispy, golden layer of rice at the bottom of the pan. It’s a prized element, offering a delightful contrast to the tender rice above. Making the perfect socarrat is a tough challenge for a newbie like me.
So, instead of making the traditional Spanish paella, I made a baked version which is much easier. Baking allows for even heat distribution, I didn’t need to stir constantly.
As the paella simmered, memories of Spain flooded back. The lively markets, the chatter of locals, and the sizzle of paella pans in the open air. The famous Spanish rice dish brings me back to those great days there. Here is how to make baked Spanish paella:
Baked Spanish Paella
- 2 cups bomba rice or any short-grain rice
- 1 lb chicken thighs boneless and skinless, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 lb large shrimp peeled and deveined
- 1/2 lb mussels cleaned and debearded
- 1/2 cup green beans chopped
- 1 red bell pepper sliced
- 1 onion finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 large tomato diced
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 1 tsp saffron threads
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Lemon wedges for serving
- Fresh parsley chopped, for garnish
- Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C).
- In a small bowl, combine the saffron threads with 1/4 cup warm water and let it steep.
- Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. In a large oven-safe paella pan or skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Sear the chicken until golden brown on both sides. Remove the chicken from the pan and set it aside.
- In the same pan, add chopped onion, sliced bell pepper, and minced garlic. Sauté until the vegetables are softened.
- Add rice and tomatoes, stir in and cook for a few minutes allowing the rice to absorb the flavors. Add smoked paprika and season with salt and pepper. Mix well.
- Pour in the chicken broth and the saffron-infused water. Stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring the mixture to a simmer.
- Nestle the seared chicken thighs into the rice mixture. Place the shrimp and mussels evenly around the pan. Sprinkle peas on top.
- Transfer the paella pan to the preheated oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the rice is cooked and the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C).
- Remove the paella from the oven. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve with lemon wedges on the side.
This is the classic Spanish paella recipe. You can adjust ingredients to create your own version, such as a vegetarian paella or one with chorizo or spices. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!