The Best Rice for Paella and How to Prepare It

Paella is one of those dishes that can either go great or terribly wrong with one misstep. With the help of the internet and various cookbooks there are many recipes out there to follow, there are people that will argue that an authentic well-made paella cannot be made by just following a recipe.

Although many think that the key to a great paella is the seafood, the truth is that the rice is the star of the show.

Bowl of Bomba rice for Spanish paella
Bowl of Bomba Rice

So, what is the best rice for a paella? Bomba rice is by far the best rice for a paella, but if you do not live in Spain, it will be difficult to get your hands on it. Luckily for you, there are alternatives to bomba rice that you can use for your paella.

You do not need to be a culinary chef on the coast of Spain to make a great paella, you just need the right ingredients and techniques. Not only will you learn which rice is best for your paella, but you will also learn the do’s and don’ts of making paella in this article.

Is Paella Difficult to Make?

Contrary to popular belief, paella is actually not that difficult to make. Although it may be very intimidating at first, the truth is that making paella can be quite easy to make so long you follow the instructions and use the right ingredients.

However, the challenge may be that some of the paella ingredients are very difficult to find here in the states, such as the rice and the spices.

With small setbacks, come great solutions. The art of making paella has been around for centuries and travelled its way across the world. With various paella renditions being made, this has allowed for us to finally use ingredients that, although not traditional to the dish in Spain, can actually be found in our local markets.

Best Rice for Paella

The key to the perfect paella is the rice. It is important that you use short grain rice. Medium grain is acceptable, but long grain rice is simply out of the question.

As mentioned in the introduction, bomba rice is the perfect rice for paella. Cultivated in Eastern Spain, this short-grained rice is practically made for paella, and solely used for making this dish.

The unique thing about bomba rice is that it has the ability to absorb as much water as possible without turning your rice into mush, which is something you wish to avoid when making paella.

While, yes, it’s hard to find bomba rice outside of Spain, you may be able to find it in a gourmet market or a international grocery store. You can also attempt to buy it online; just be prepared because it may be twice as expensive. Luckily for you, you have options!

Can You Use Any Rice for Paella?

Adding bomba rice to paella
Adding Bomba Rice to Paella

The truth is you can use any rice you want, but that will take away from the authenticity of the dish. Paella is one of those dishes that tastes best when it is made with authenticity.

However, if you are looking to use a different type of rice that is not the traditional bomba rice, it does not necessarily mean that your paella is completely ruined.

Although bomba rice is the best rice for this dish and will give you that authentic dining experience, there are still other alternatives for you to consider.

The important thing to know is which rice is the best substitute. You cannot just use any rice that you find at your supermarket. The upside here is that there are several options of rice that you can use which are much easier to find at your favorite grocery store.

Short Grain Rice Is Best

This type of rice is best for paella because of its consistency. Unlike long grain rice which when fully cooked is left grain by grain, short grain rice is completely different.

This rice tends to become slightly more sticky causing some of the rice to clump together. This rice is also perfect for absorbing the great flavors in the paella pan. Luckily for us aspiring chefs short grain rice is very easy to find and there are several varieties.

If you do decide to use a long grain or any other type of grain just keep in mind that the consistency will not be the same as your typical paella. Therefore, if you want to, feel free to use any grain of your preference at your own risk.

Rice Alternatives for Paella

Having a hard time finding bomba rice? Don’t worry about it! This section will cover the various substitutes to bomba rice that will allow you to make a great paella recipe.

Some of these types of rice are very easy to locate at your local supermarket and will not be an issue to find when you are shopping. Here are a few alternatives to bomba rice:

  • Calasparra Rice: This rice is almost identical to bomba rice. The only downside however is that this rice is pretty much exclusive to Spain and it will be extremely difficult to find if you live elsewhere.
  • Arborio Rice: This may be the first choice that comes to mind when finding a rice substitute. Although it is very much associated with the cheesy starchy risotto dish, it can still be used for making paella. Arborio rice can be found in almost every supermarket across the United States. When cooked properly the consistency of the paella will be almost identical as to if you were cooking with bomba rice.
  • Calrose Rice: Food blog, The Spruce Eats, states that Calrose rice is another great alternative. Calrose rice is typically cultivated in California, so it is a great domestic product that can be available to people across the country.

The first two varieties of rice provided are short grained rice products, although they are not authentic bomba rice they will still leave you with a great finished product. Calrose is a medium grain rice.

It is important to note that since these are alternatives, the cooking time and water measurements may vary, especially with arborio rice which can be very starchy.

Is Paella Rice the Same as Arborio?

It is not the same at all. We cannot deny that it is quite shocking when we hear that Arborio rice can be used to make a paella. As many foodies may know and as mentioned earlier in the article

Arborio is usually used to make risotto which is a very creamy dish this is something you do not want in your paella. When we think of paella, we do not think of a creamy dish at all which leaves many skeptics thinking if this is even possible.

It’s easy to be put off by the idea of using arborio rice. However it is important to note that just because you are using arborio as your substitute, it does not mean that you will get a risotto like consistency when making your paella.

The truth is the creamy consistency of a risotto mainly stems from the cheese and butter in the dish. Additionally, since you will be cooking in a shallow skillet the rice will not absorb the broth as much.

So, if you do decide to use arborio for your paella. using a paella pan is a must, which is easily accessible here in the United States, this will allow your rice to get that perfect consistency that you are looking for. Not sure where to find a paella pan? You can easily find one on Amigofoods at a great price!

Can You Use Basmati Rice for Paella?

Although you have some options for substituting your paella rice, there are still certain kinds of rice that you should steer away from. Basmati rice unfortunately is one of those varieties of rice that you should not use for your paella.

Many people prefer to eat basmati rice because of its health benefits and unique aroma. Basmati rice is a long grain rice typically used in countries like India and Pakistan and has become a healthy alternative to regular white rice.

Basmati rice will break the first rule of making paella, in which you will not be using a short grain rice. Also, its unique flavor will conflict with the flavors from the rest of your paella ingredients. To be clear no one is saying you cannot use basmati rice, this is more of a use at your own risk.

By using a basmati rice for your paella, it will take away from the authenticity of your dish, and the difference in texture will be quite noticeable.

A few other grains to stay away from are quinoa, couscous, and even cauliflower rice. Although adding this would be ideal for someone that wants to eat on the healthier side, this dish is not meant to be healthy. So, feel free to treat yourself!

How to Avoid Making A Failed Paella

As mentioned at the beginning of the article, paella is one of those dishes that can easily take a bad turn if you misstep during the cooking process.

Having the right rice is very important, but it is also important that you are properly cooking the paella, otherwise your search for the right rice substitute would have been done in vain.

Here are a few things you should consider when making paella to avoid any mistakes:

  • Using the incorrect rice. This article is all about rice, but clearly it is important that you do not make the mistake of using the incorrect rice for your paella. Your rice will be the foundation of this recipe, so make sure that you use the correct rice. If you do decide to use an alternative that is not listed in this article, just remember the authenticity of your paella will decrease.
  • Do not use chorizo. Traditional Spanish paella does not include chorizo. Instead of using chorizo try adding rabbit or chicken which can be found in an authentic paella recipe.
  • Do not improvise. These days there are many infusions in cuisine. As more cultures begin to blend together in the world of cuisine, and more people take in new dietary preferences, such as vegan or keto, it is easy to want to improvise. Of course, every vegan has a right to make a vegan paella, but then it technically will not be paella anymore. The Escuela De Arroces y Paella Valenciana states that many of the innovative versions of paella are just “rice with stuff”. The beauty of paella is its authenticity, so try your best to avoid improvising at all cost.
  • Don’t stir the pot. Although stirring your food when cooking is very tempting you will need to put your temptation aside for this dish, stirring is a big no when making paella. By stirring your rice while cooking you will prevent that bottom crust from forming which is actually one of the best parts of paella.

    two bowls filled with Spanish saffron for Spanish paella
    Saffron
  • Do not add spice. To all of the spicy food lovers this may be a tough one for you. Adding spicy peppers or hot sauce is an absolute no. If you want to add a touch of smokiness add saffron which is a signature ingredient or even paprika. Although saffron is not always available at local supermarkets, it can be easily found on Amigofoods. But if you do find yourself in Spain one day try bringing home some saffron as a souvenir, you won’t regret it!

Now that you know what not to do when making a paella you are ready to make a perfect dish. It may be intimidating at first seeing so many ingredients in one pot, but honestly it is quite simple, and if the instructions are followed you will make a perfect dish!

How to Make the Perfect Paella

Seafood paella
Plate of Paella de Marisco

Now that you have learned the art behind the perfect rice, and you have informed yourself on what not to do when making paella, it’s time to get cooking. Making paella does not need to be difficult, but there are a few key things you should learn before you begin cooking. Here are a few tips for you to make the perfect paella:

  • Get the right pan. Many rice dishes are made in pots however paella is one of those dishes that is actually made in a pan. Although you may think that you need a traditional paella pan the truth is that a shallow skillet will be sufficient. The pan is important because the wide flat plan will allow for the heat to distribute properly, and it will allow for the water to evaporate properly, lessening the chance of the rice absorbing the water.
  • Add saffron. This ingredient will help bring your paella together, and it is essential if you want that authentic paella taste. Although it is quite expensive it is very much worth the money to invest in. The saffron will add a touch of smoky flavor and a beautiful color to your dish. However, if saffron is absolutely not available, check out our article, How to Make Paella WITHOUT Saffron.

    Paella ingredients, bomba rice, shrimp, mussels, vegetables
    Traditional Seafood Paella Ingredients
  • Use quality ingredients. Since paella is a seafood heavy dish it is important that you use seafood that is good quality. Using seafood that is great quality will elevate your dining experience. Paella does not only include seafood, the most traditional renditions of this dish also includes rabbit meat, so you want to make sure that the rabbit meat is good quality as well.
  • Take your time. The infamous William Sonoma blog states that patience is key when making a paella. It is important that all of the ingredients cook properly. By being patient, you will have perfectly cooked rice, your seafood will not be overcooked, and your meat will not be undercooked. A paella will often take about 40 minutes or so to make so be sure to set your timer!

By following these tips, you will be able to accomplish the art of making paella. A delicate dish like this definitely needs attention to detail so make sure that when you decide to venture out and make paella be sure to follow the tips provided.

Food for Thought

Woman eating Spanish paella on Spanish coast
Traditional Spanish Paella

Paella is and will always be one of those dishes that must be authentic, and with little room for improvisation.

The truth is you have not tried a paella until you have had an authentic paella, whether in Valencia or in a fancy Spanish restaurant here in the states. Rice matters when it comes to this dish, and it is extremely important that we take that into consideration when cooking.

The beauty of this traditional Spanish dish is that there are several alternatives that you can use without the fear of making a faulty paella.

So, whenever you feel inspired to cook an awesome dish and decide to cook paella, make sure that you have the right ingredients. Do your best to find the authentic ingredients such as the bomba rice or saffron, and if you can’t find those ingredients then feel free to use the alternatives provided in this article.

The tips and tricks provided in this article are sure to provide an amazing cooking experience. Buen Provecho!

And now that you’ve learned how to make this classic Spanish entreé, discover some Spanish desserts that are sure to transcend your tastebuds!

 

Sources

https://www.thespruceeats.com/the-best-rice-for-paella-3082839

https://escueladearrocesypaellas.com/en/mistakes-cooking-paella/

https://blog.williams-sonoma.com/5-tips-for-making-perfect-paella/

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