A chef’s secret to making delicious, authentic paella every time

Paella originated in Valencia on Spain's southwest coast. Source: Getty

If you’re looking for a deliciously addictive dish that everyone around the table will enjoy, look no further than this all-time Spanish favourite. It’s fair to say paella has become a worldwide hit with the classic street food dish, which consists of short-grain rice, seafood or meat and vegetables, popping up in restaurants around the world.

Contrary to the way it’s often served nowadays, paella isn’t traditionally served with prawns, fish and mussels, but instead topped with rabbit and snails, Leigh Robbins, head chef at Sebastian, a Melbourne Basque-inspired venue, explains.

Paella originated in Valencia on Spain’s southwest coast and like many great European recipes, was originally a peasant dish. It originated in the 19th century and was made with whatever ingredients were available at the time.

While paella is often regarded as being Spain’s national dish, there are many different interpretations of it. A Valencian paella will traditionally consist of chicken, duck, rabbit, snails, broad beans, rice and saffron. However, you can commonly see options with seafood, chorizo, peppers, peas and stock.

How to cook perfect paella every time

Paella is regarded as one of the hardest dishes to get right, but keeping a few tricks on-hand can make all the difference. When it comes to making an authentic paella, Robbins says there are a few key elements to keep in mind.

Using the right rice is key when it comes to making good paella. For the best results use a paella rice, such as Spanish calasparra rice, otherwise medium grain rice may be substituted.

The other important ingredients, of course, is the stock and the sofrito, Robbins explains. The sofrito is a mixture of sautéed ingredients, such as tomato, onion, garlic and fresh herbs, that adds a mild and sweet flavour to the paella base.

Finding a good pan is also an important element to making a great paella. The traditional shape of a paella pan allows the rice to cook evenly, which is essential for making a flavoursome dish. If you don’t own a paella pan use a 4-centimetre-deep, medium weight non-stick frying pan.

And when it comes to the cooking, Robbins says stirring is absolutely forbidden.

“This is where paella is made and broken,” he says.

In fact, mixing the ingredients together will stop the tasty crust, known as socarrat, from forming on the base. You can gently shake the pan instead to stop the rice from sticking to the base.

To create a crust take the pan off the heat when the rice has almost finished cooking and let the rice absorb the remaining water. This will allow the rice to continue cooking while the heat from the base of the pan creates a golden crust. Just be sure it doesn’t burn as this will ruin the flavours of the dish.

“You must let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes. Patience is very important,” Robbins adds.

Sound tasty? Here’s how to do it!



  • 1.3kg rabbit or chicken
  • 15 large prawns (feel free to add clams, calamari, prawns or mussels)
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 3 chorizo sausages
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 large red capsicum, diced
  • 10 to 15 flat green beans
  • 4 plump tomatoes, diced
  • 120g tomato paste
  • 1⁄2 cup fresh parsley
  • 2 to 3 tbsp fresh thyme
  • 1⁄2 tbsp paprika
  • 3 cups calasparra rice, or medium-grain rice
  • 1 pinch saffron
  • 3 lemons, quartered


  1. Peel the rabbit or chicken by cutting into small slices and lightly salting.
  2. Peel the prawns, leaving only the tail and salt them. (In Spain they tend to leave the prawn unshelled)
  3. Next, heat up the chicken stock (don’t let it boil)
  4. Coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil. Brown the chorizo over high heat for 1 to 2 minutes. Do not fully cook. Set aside.
  5. Brown the rabbit or chicken for 2 to 3 minutes (it should not be full cooked). Set aside.
  6. Brown garlic, onion and bell pepper until they’re softened, before adding tomatoes.
  7. Push the vegetables to one side of the pan and on the other side add half a can of tomato past. Caramelise it, flipping it and spreading it until it begins to loosen, for 1 to 2 minutes over high heat.
  8. Mix all the vegetable and meats together with the caramelised tomato paste, before adding paprika, parsley and thyme.
  9. Add rice, mixing together and stirring as the rice browns for 1 to 2 minutes. As the rice browns mix in the saffron.
  10. When the rice is slightly translucent add enough chicken stock to cover the whole mixture (if it’s warm it will begin to boil almost immediately). Lower to a medium heat.
  11. Stir a few times in the first 5 to 10 minutes. After this let the paella sit. Let it cook for another 10 to 20 minutes.
  12. In the last 8 minutes add prawns on top, turning over after 2 to 4 minutes to cook other side.
  13. Once the rice is still quite al dent, take the paella off the heat and cover. Let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes.
  14. Uncover and garnish with lemon wedges.

Have you made paella before?

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