Recipe: Weeknight Paella


Making Paella is quite the trick. Making authentic paella is even harder.

My mission this week was to make a simple, yet flavorful paella for our Spanish Global Table.

Something easy enough for a Monday, but special enough for a Friday.

One that would be rather… well… business in front, party in the back.

Or maybe not.

Friends, I did my research. In fact, I spent a lot of time reading mediocre online reviews of what should have been amazing paella recipes. These recipes were crafted by chefs and superstars yet, without fail, half of the commenters complained of the paellas being bland, while the other half loved the bold flavors.

I was mystified, until I happened upon this comment:

“If you’re going to use saffron, then use it.”

The recipe had, like so many, called for a “pinch” of saffron. After speaking with friends, we agreed that a “pinch” of saffron might lead someone to add three meager strands of saffron.. whereas another might grab a hefty pinch more equitable to a teaspoon (think of Emeril Lagasse’s “BAM” style).

Saffron is one of the most beautiful, haunting spices in the world (and I don’t say that lightly). Since it costs so very much, we tend to hoard it… only using it in the tiniest, puniest smidgen imaginable… a meager trickle of saffron that couldn’t color a thimble full of rice, let alone flavor an entire pan of it.

Yes, that commenter was right. If you’re going to use saffron, then use it.”

It will make all the difference.

Once I’d figured out the key to a boldly flavored paella, I looked into the kinds of paella out there.

Oh boy. There were lots.

Paella Mixta is what Americans typically think of… a happy blend of shrimp, chicken, and chorizo. But there are lobster, scallop, and fish paellas. There are just plain-ol’ shrimp paellas and rabbit paellas.. and everything in between.

While most paella recipes take an entire day to crank out, I turned to my favorite chef for simplifying international recipes: Mark Bittman. He included what he called “The Original Paella,” which is barely more than saffron infused rice with shrimp on top. His recipe is definitely weeknight friendly.

From this ultra-simple version, I added back in a few traditional ingredients to make it a bit more of a meal-in-one, and a little bolder in flavor… peas, white wine, and smoked paprika.

Valley. Baranco Hilgaro. Photo by javiersanp.

Valley. Baranco Hilgaro. Photo by javiersanp.

I also added chorizo, a sausage beloved all over the Iberian Peninsula, which amped up the flavor and made it nearly impossible to stop eating… in which case, I might have been better off having this for lunch (that’s what they do in Spain… giving diners time to digest the goodness during the afternoon siesta)

P.S. & NOTE: I’ve since heard chorizo is not a traditional paella ingredient in Spain. I suppose you could leave it out, or add chicken instead… but I find browning the chicken and splattering the oil over my stove makes this recipe much less weeknight friendly. The choice is yours.

Adapted from The Best Recipe in the World


3 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 large pinch saffron
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1, 8 oz chorizo sausage, cut on the bias
1 tsp smoked paprika
salt & pepper
1 heaping cup frozen peas
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
10-12 shrimp


lemon slices


Ok, here we go… to Spain! Ole.

Iván Fandiño al natural en San Sebastian (España) by ivanfandiñ

Iván Fandiño al natural en San Sebastian (España) by ivanfandiñ

Add the broth, saffron, salt, and pepper to a pot and heat until very hot. Keep hot.

Meanwhile, fry the onion and garlic in olive oil in a 13.5 inch paella pan. (I got mine for $20 at Williams Sonoma). Cook until soft and the house smells like “yum.”

Add the smoked paprika, chorizo, and frozen peas.

Stir in the rice… season with salt and pepper.


Add the hot broth and the wine… and bring to a boil. Give it one last stir, then don’t touch it again! Reduce the heat and let simmer gently for 20-30 minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender.

NOTE: I found it easiest to have the pan straddle two burners, rotating it every 5 minutes to ensure even cooking.  This was no biggie, as I was already in the kitchen doing dishes.

In the last 10-15 minutes, decorate with shrimp.

After the rice is tender and the shrimp is cooked through, you can cook the paella another few minutes on high to try and get the crunchy, crispy bottom paella lovers covet.

Then, remove this gorgeous, glamorous mess of goodness from the heat and cover with a towel for a few minutes. This will help any straggler grains of rice cook through.

Serve with a flurry of parsley and lemon wedges.

Enjoy with curiosity,  enthusiasm and a heart full of love.

I’m curious… Have you ever had paella? What kind was it and where did you eat it? Did you like it? What about making it… is this something you see yourself cooking? 

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  1. 1 ounce of Saffron? Did I convert that right, 1 ounce is 28 grams or something?
    That would make this a horribly expensive Paella.

  2. I had the most amazing paella in Malaga Spain several years ago. I remember it having shrimp (whole with the heads still on!) and scallops and tons of veggies! YUM! I tried to make it at home but the recipe called for chorizo and the kind I bought just dissolved into the rice instead of staying in slices! Still not sure what kind I bought?? This recipe looks yummy and easy enough that ill be trying it again!

  3. Saffron is supposed to be an appetite reducer…

  4. Melinda Kaye says:

    I read that you cooked your paella on two burners. I’ve tried that and it didn’t work out well on my electric stove. Then I tried cooking it outside on my propane grill. The Paella cooked more evenly out there. It could still be considered “weeknight Paella” if it weren’t December or even the first day Spring of where it is 21 degrees in Springfield IL. Brrrrrr!

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Bittman has a neat trick… you get everything hot on the stovetop, then drop it in a 500F oven for about 20 minutes. I think this has to be the easiest method by far… this might work for you during the 21 degree days (brrr is right)

  5. Oh, Sasha thank you for this! I’m sure you did this just because it’s my birthday ;-) and I’ve been waiting for a not-daunting paella recipe ever since I bought the pan!
    I’ll be trying it out on houseguests next week!

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Yay! Happy Birthday, Jill! Have fun and take pictures (share them on our Facebook wall if you have time)… cheers!

  6. meganleiann says:

    I love good paella, but am always disappointed when I order it in restaurants. I first had it in the Canary Islands as a child and then forgot about it until I started getting an interest in food in my early 20’s. The recipe I usually use is from Diana of myhumblekitchen. However, I don’t have a proper paella pan and have never managed the crackles on the bottom.
    I love this version! A little chorizo never hurt anyone. :) It’s like bacon, right? Always a good idea.

    • Sasha Martin says:

      I’ve never had it in a restaurant… I’m not sure where in Tulsa I could even find one making it. Interesting… now you have me curious!

  7. Our paella adventure this last Christmas was, in fact, how I found your site! Our college-aged neighbor had just returned from living in the caves of Granada, Spain. In the process she had become vegan with a willingness to have some fish. She, her father, and I love planning meals together. Her Italian-born father is a superior cook having been a waiter is high class restaurants around the world. Our two families usually celebrate holidays together with our children growing up like siblings. The other family we always share Christmas dinner with has roots in Portugal. Mom has always wanted to visit the Portuguese island her parents and siblings were all born on. She is the first born US citizen in her family. To celebrate our neighbor’s return from Granada and our friend’s Portuguese roots, we planned an Iberian Christmas feast. Her father made the seafood paella, which was to die for. I bought the seafood frozen at Costco. He bought wonderful fresh saffron. He swooped it across the street and in the front door with a flourish, straight from the oven. We all dug in immediately. I found your site because I was looking for an Iberian side dish to go with the paella. I found your Andorran Warm Spinach Salad, substituted kale, and our side dish was born. So we enjoyed a trip to Portugal, Spain, and Andorra this last Christmas partially thanks to you!

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Your Christmas feast sounds amazing, Cynthia! And that Spinach salad is quite nice… :) Glad to have you on the Adventure.

  8. Yes, try to make it in the oven next time but after you’ve done the “sofrito”. The rice cooks evenly and catches the flavours quicker. You’ll love it!

  9. I lived in Spain when I was in high school in 2003-2004. My two different host families each made paella once a week — and I only ate it *once*. Because it always had whole shrimp — throughout all the time in Spain (I’ve been back a few times to visit the families and travel the country with them) I’ve never seen a paella with shrimp sans heads. I was so grossed out by the notion of heads that I simply couldn’t be in the same room. Once, my host mom made a simple chicken paella, and that had no shrimpies at all, and it was delicious.

    So technically this is a complaint about the recipe not being authentic, but it’s also a sigh of relief for the recipe not being authentic :) I think I might actually give it a try, since my boyfriend has loved everything else (I tried everything else in Spain, even the tiny whole octopi and am not a picky eater. Just. Shrimp heads. Oh god.) I’ve cooked from my host mom’s recipes, and really wants to try paella!


  1. […] and even grains (different types of rice, even quinoa). I made mine by following the gist of this recipe at the Global Table Adventure blog. I liked the tutorial she had (and she even warned readers about the cost of saffron, but I guess I […]

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