Dating back to the early 1800s, classic paella consists of saffron-scented rice cooked in a shallow skillet with rabbit, chicken, snails (yes, snails!) and three types of beans.
These days, tinkering with the recipe and adding your own flair seems to be inherent in the culture of paella. The key to making a perfect paella is perfecting your socarrat (the crusty, nearly burnt, layer of rice at the bottom of the pan) so enticing that your guests will keep reaching for more. The trick? Don’t be tempted to keep stirring up the rice. Once cooked, let it cling to the bottom of the pan and wait for the magic to happen.
Chef Corey McGuire with Tzin Wine & Tapas in Edmonton loves working with paella and putting his own spin on things.
“Paella is a boundless, versatile canvas to showcase various seafood, meats, and seasonal vegetables,” he says. “I like to change it up frequently, and am inspired by local producers and the current season. Our winters are long and cold, so our paella may feature a hearty sausage, while our summer offering will be lighter and with more emphasis on seafood and local vegetables.
Paella is a great way to highlight regional ingredients, but owner Florin Serban from Las Canarias in Calgary says it’s also a fun dish to make to bring friends and family together around a big pan full of your favourite ingredients.
“And best of all, children love it!!” Serban jokes. “We offer six different traditional paella at Las Canarias, including the traditional Valenciana, as well as the Fideuà variation made with pasta rather than rice.”
Kitchen manager Meiko Pennock from Willow Park Wines & Spirits takes a less traditional approach to making paella, but elevates the dish with ingredients like fire-roasted tomatoes. She cooks and seasons each component separately, and then combines them at the last moment to serve a large number of guests.