A Three Ring Paella Circus

Northeast Magazine - August 2004


Most times we’re pretty much spur of the moment people. And this was the case when we decided to throw an impromptu paella party on what promised to be a beautiful weekend. We started inviting the usual stalwarts but before long it had erupted from a small intimate party to a full-blown paella contest involving nearly 30 people.

The idea for a paella contest began a few years back. Spanish aficionados and wine importers Alex and Steve Province insisted that their Spanish grandmother had the recipe for making the perfect paella. We believed ours to be the best. And at the last moment Richard Meehan, friend and master salmon smoker, took up the challenge with his favorite version too.

The competition started at 4 pm. At 4.05 the heavens opened up with torrential rain.

But like the die-hard foodies we are, we didn’t allow such a deluge to squelch our fun. After the rains we coaxed and cooked our paellas, and retired to our half finished porch to eat our creations, and completely forgot about judging them!


A paella is an open flat round shallow pan with two handles. When referred to as a food, paella is a rice dish cooked in a paella pan. It’s the national dish of Spain.

Paella Valencia is the traditional Paella. It started as a farmer’s lunch dish made for the family or workers toiling in the rice fields. A freshly caught rabbit and local vegetables, usually broad beans (fava beans) or artichokes, formed the basis of the dish. Tasting of the rosemary they feed on, snails were also added. The paella was seasoned with onions, olive oil, paprika, and saffron.

Alex and Steve’s grandmother’s paella included chicken, rabbit, peas and sweet peppers. But the secret of their great tasting paella was a slow simmered stock containing carrots, parsnips and onions. Richard’s delicious paella took to the sea with scallops and mussels. We found out his secret was using a short grain brown rice.

Today any rice dish cooked in a paella pan is referred to as paella. We’ve made curried vegetable paellas with cilantro, raisins and toasted almonds as well as numerous seafood versions. Camping in Nova Scotia we even made a smoked pheasant and chanterelle mushroom paella on the campfire. This creation mightily intrigued our fellow campers!

Traditionally paella is cooked over an open fire. A fire made from twigs was ignited as there was no time to wait for hot coals. The shallow open pan allowed the dish to be cooked very quickly. It was then eaten directly out the pan. An invisible, but implied line, would determine which was your portion.

We never order paella in a restaurant because the twig fire is essential. The fire, hot and yellow licks over the sides of the pan and gives the paella a smoky taste, and creates a crusty rice base called “socarrat.”

Perhaps one of the best things about paella is that it’s a one-dish dinner that can easily feed a crowd depending on the size pan used. Classic paella pans are made from carbon steel and range from 8" in diameter to around 30".

Serving Sizes

10"2 people





A few rules to keep in mind when making paella.

•  Paella is a rice dish so don’t overload it with meats, fish, etc.

•  Use short grain variety rice. Italian Arborio rice is similar to the short grain Spanish rice and is readily found in the U.S.

•  Start out using a little more than twice the volume of liquid to rice. You can always add more liquid or regulate the heat to slowly evaporate the liquid.

•  For even distribution initially stir the rice once. Do not stir again.

•  The raw rice should be about 1/4" deep in order to cook evenly.

•  The rice is perfect at the al dente stage, when it’s still slightly hard in the center. The paella will finish cooking while resting.

•  Paella should be eaten warm, not hot.

Basic Paella Recipe

These are basic guidelines depending upon the size of your pan. For a large portion use 1/2 cup raw rice per person. For example a size 12" pan with 1 1/2 cups rice will serve about 3. To serve 4, use 2 cups rice and increase the liquid to about 5 cups. Add raw rice to the dry pan and fill up to 1/4" to 1/2" deep. This will tell you how many serving the pan will hold. Adjust liquid and seasonings.


Prudence Sloane's version

Serves 3 - 12" Pan

2 lb. chicken (6-8 thighs) or a combination of chicken and rabbit

1/2 teaspoon paprika

2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 medium onion, chopped

1 plum tomato, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

4 +- cups chicken stock

1/4 teaspoon - 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads

1 1/2 cup Arborio rice

1 artichoke, cleaned and sliced or.

1/2 cup cooked Lima or fava beans (can be frozen)

1/3 cup of rosemary sprigs (instead of Spanish land snails)

1 lemon cut into wedges

Sprinkle the chicken or rabbit with freshly ground black pepper and salt. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil to the paella pan and sauté the meat, skin side down for 15 minutes or until lightly brown – it should not be completely cooked through. Remove and set aside. Drain off any fat. Add the remaining oil to the pan and sauté the onion until wilted. Add the garlic and sauté for one minute. Add the tomato, wine and saffron. Simmer for one minute and then add the paprika and wine.  Sauté for 3 minutes or until soft. Add the rice, saffron and paprika and sauté for 2 minutes or until coated in oil.  Add stock until barely covering the rice. Shake the pan to evenly distribute the rice. Top with the chicken or rabbit, artichokes, beans and rosemary.

Light a twig fire with paper as kindling in a Weber type BBQ grill. Place the pan directly on the fire allowing the fire and smoke to envelope it. Turn the pan periodically to evenly distribute the stock. Do not stir. As the stock evaporates add more stock. Repeat until all the liquid has evaporated, the rice is al dente, and the rice on the bottom is beginning to brown and stick to the pan. This should take about 20-30 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover and let rest for 10 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges.

Paella Pan Source Information

86-17 Northern Boulevard Corp.

Telephone: (718) 779-4971

Fax: (718) 779-7438

Importers & Producers of Spanish Products

UPS delivery available


As we watched the paellas cook we nibbled olives and tapas and quaffed Spanish Cavas. These zesty sparkling wines tend to be less austere than their French counterparts. The best ooze warm Mediterranean fruit.

Mont Marcal Cava Brut Reserva, Spain - $14

Heratat Mas Tinell Brut Reserva, Spain - $22

When it came to the main course we switched tactics. Because of the smokey flavors even seafood based paellas are best with creamy whites with not too much acidity.

Elsa 2002 Semillon/Chardonnay Argentina - $8

Cousino Macul 2002 Chardonnay, Chile - $9.50

Cantarutti 2001 Canto Colli Orientali del Fruili, Italy - $19

Stag’s Leap 2002 Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California - $25

For meat based paellas we drank hearty reds with soft tannins to balance the rich smoke flavors.

Turning Leaf 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Coastal Reserve, California - $10

Two Brothers 2002 Big Tattoo Red, Chile - $10.50

Peter Lehmann 2002 Clancy’s, Barossa, Australia - $16

Heradad du Aduna 1999 Rioja Crianza, Spain - $19

Lieb, Bridge Lane Merlot, Long Island, New York - $19.50

St.Clement 2001 Merlot, Napa Valley, California - $28