I generally dislike one-use kitchen products. I think it stems from never having had the luxury of a spacious kitchen, but also my neurotic need to have things absolutely, 100% clutter free. My belief is that unless I can't make a recipe without it, or it's usefulness far outweighs the burden it puts on my precious kitchen space, it's trash. Some examples: Apple corer? Trash. Avocado slicer? Trash. Ice cream maker? Can't do without it.
It might actually be easier if I showed you a graphical representation! Bear with me now. A product's usefulness has to be greater than or equal to its space burden for me to allow it in my kitchen. Something like a rice cooker, which I find to be reasonably useful, takes up far too much room and I use a saucepan instead. Whereas a garlic press is, in my opinion, about as equally useful as a rice cooker, but it is far smaller and thus has a place in my kitchen gadgets drawer. Basically, anything above the diagonal: a-okay! Anything below: nope.
The point of all of this is that I've added paella pan to my list of acceptable one-use tools. Depending on how wide your largest skillet is, the usefulness of a paella pan might vary. If you have a skillet that is at least 14 inches wide, then you might not need a paella pan. But if you're like me and your widest skillet is a mere 11 inches, well, then it becomes more of a challenge without one.
I've tried to make paella three times previously without a proper pan, and all three times it turned out more like a sad risotto. This time I was finally successful with the proper tools at my disposal!
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty
Most paella pans are very wide. The one I use is 16 inches in diameter. For most standard gas stoves with 4 burners, a single burner (even the largest one) isn't going to cut it. This means you'll either have to put it on two burners if it fits (mine doesn't as the burners on my stove are too far away from each other) or you'll have to rotate the pan quite frequently to get it to cook evenly. A method that I also employed was taking one of the back burner grates and stacking that on top of the burner I chose to use. This kept the pan further from the flame which allowed for greater dispersal of the heat. Just remember to be careful.
Depending on what type of rice you use, you'll need to adjust the amount of liquid accordingly. The original recipe calls for Calasparra rice and 2 cups of liquid. I used Bomba rice which needs 3 cups of liquid.
Additionally, the original recipe calls for not disturbing the rice once the stock is poured and it starts cooking. Again, if you aren't one of the few lucky ones with a burner that can heat up the pan in its entirety, I say it's okay to move the rice around very gently. As long as you don't start stirring it like you're making porridge, it shouldn't get too mushy, and you should be fine.
Finally, I have tomatoes listed as an optional ingredient. I personally like them, but I don't find them entirely necessary for this dish. Their big downside is that if you don't finish the paella in one sitting, they tend to make the leftovers soggy. It's really a personal preference depending on how much you like tomatoes.
Serves 3 to 4.
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small or 1/2 large sweet onion, diced
1 small red bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
1 small orange bell pepper, slice into thin strips
1 small or 1/2 large fennel bulb, sliced into thin strips
2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 cup Bomba rice
1/3 cup Sherry
1 tsp saffron threads
3 cups vegetable stock, brought to a boil
1/2 tsp salt
8 large-ish cherry tomatoes, quartered (optional)
3/4 cup fava beans, shelled, parboiled, skins removed
15 kalamata olives, halved
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
Heat up oil on medium-high in a paella pan. Add onions and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until translucent. Add bell peppers and fennel and cook for another 6 minutes until soft. Add garlic, bay leaves, paprika, and turmeric and stir to coat the vegetables. Add rice and cook for 2 minutes, trying to get a slight brown. Add Sherry and saffron and reduce down for 1 minute. Add the boiling vegetable stock and salt, stir to evenly distribute.
Turn the heat to medium-low and let the rice cook at a simmer, uncovered, disturbing it as little as possible, for 25 minutes.
Referring to note above: If necessary, rotate pan to get an even heat distribution. You can also spoon some of the rice on the outer edges of the pan to the center, and move some of the rice in the center to the outer edges, do this as gently as possible.
After most of the liquid has been absorbed, turn the heat up to medium-high for about 2 minutes to get a nice, crusty, golden-brown on the rice at the bottom of the pan. If you need to rotate your pan to achieve this, pretend like the pan is split up into four quadrants, place one quadrant on the heat and rotate every 2 minutes until you've gotten them all.
Turn off the heat, add any additional salt to taste, and scatter tomatoes (if using) and fava beans on top. Immediately cover tightly with foil and let rest for 10 minutes.
Take foil off, scatter the kalamata olives and some parsley on top and serve!