We love paella. Even my daughter, Becca, eats a lot whenever I make this for dinner. So this dish is in heavy rotation for dinner. I always stock up on paella rice when there is a sale. But my paella wasn’t always this good. I went through a lot of unsatisfactory ones, until my research led me to sofrito.
What is sofrito?
Making paella isn’t hard, but if you want really good paella, you need to invest some time in making sofrito. Sofrito is a sauce base used in Spanish and Latin American cooking, which usually has tomatoes, onions and garlic and paprika cooked in olive oil. This version is heavily adapted from Marketman, see here, and you can also read his very informative post on how he cooks paella and if you want to put seafood on it. I am allergic to shellfish so I use chicken.
So here is how you make sofrito. You will need the following:
- 2 cups thinly sliced white onions (around 4 big ones)
- 4 large or 8 small garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 2 cans (400 grams) whole tomatoes (run a small sharp knife through them to roughly chop) or 4-5 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
- olive oil
Caramelize the onions with 2 tablespoons of olive oil over low heat. This will take about an hour. Remember to stir occasionally as you don’t want to burn them. Once the onions have softened, reduced and is a nice caramel color, add the garlic. Give it a good stir and sauté for a few minutes. Add in the tomatoes and simmer for another hour or so, stirring occasionally until it has a jam-like consistency. Puree with a hand blender or in a blender. Divide into 5 portions (around 1/3 cup/80 millilitres each) and freeze remaining 4 portions for future paellas.
Paella in the oven?
I learned that it is possible to cook paella in the oven from Curtis Stone when I saw his version of Chorizo and Chicken Paella. The paella I usually make is heavily adapted from his recipe. The changes I made was to use sofrito instead of sauteing garlic and onions, and using half chicken stock instead of just water. So I suppose, if you are pressed for time and want to have paella now, use Mr. Stone’s recipe, but please use chicken stock. But if you are willing to go the extra mile to make sofrito (invest one Sunday afternoon to it and your future self will thank you for 4 additional scrumptious paella.
Here’s how we make it:
To make paella, get your ingredients. Choose a Spanish chorizo you love eating as it makes or breaks the dish.
Season the chicken with salt and pepper.
In a medium saucepan, simmer water and chicken stock. Take off heat and add saffron.
In a 12-inch/25 centimeter paella pan or oven proof skillet, brown the chorizo and render the fat. Look at how pretty those are. Set aside.
Add in the garlic and sauté until lightly browned. Add in the rice and stir until it is well coated with the lovely red oil.
Pour in the sofrito and sprinkle with paprika. Mix well. Add back the chorizo and bell pepper. Stir well then arrange the chicken pieces on top.
Place in the preheated oven and pour in the chicken stock. Cook for 35-40 minutes, until rice is done and chicken is cooked through (internal temperature of at least 170°F/75°C).
Optional toppings are hard-boiled eggs (which I always put because Becca loves them) and thinly sliced scallions or green onions.
A sprinkle of lemon juice elevates the flavors even more.
This recipe serves 4, which is too much for our little family. But I always make the full recipe as I love eating the leftovers for lunch the next day.