The Spanish one pot wonder: Paella

Posted by: Ren

When all my friends left to study abroad during our third year of university studies, we all knew we were in for the experience of a lifetime. We eventually returned with countless stories of European flings, wild nights out, cheap wine, and of course, food. Oh, the food, which opened many our eyes–and stomachs–for the first time.

One friend who studied in Spain came back, convinced that Paella was his new calling in life. Growing up in California, none of us had heard of Paella prior to Sam’s trip to the Spanish countryside. But after Sam returned with a suitcase full of olive oil, Saffron, and one big paella pan, we soon became very familiar with the national dish of Spain. On a regular basis, any one of our college apartments were filled with the smells of rich seafood stock, garlic and onions and tomatoes on the stove, and a hint of toasty rice. To this day, Sam is known to host Paella parties every winter, whose smells are just as enticing as when we were broke college students.



Paella (pronounced pai-ay-ya) has been called the traditional dish of Spain. Like many traditional dishes of Europe, it was once a strictly peasant’s fare, originating in the small seaside town of Valencia. Today while various meats and vegetables can be used in paella, the most popular and still most traditional includes a bevy of mussels, calamari, and shrimp, which are lodged in the rice as well as dotted on top. (Paella had once featured delicacies such as rabbit, snails, beans, as well—quite lucky for us that these ingredients are no longer popular).

Paella is made by sauteeing vegetables and proteins in oil, mixing with aromatics such as saffron and paprika, adding homemade seafood (or chicken) stock, then covering with rice. The rice is then left to steam until it is completely cooked through and the broth evaporated. Both the method and the cooking process are surprisingly easy—easy enough for a college boy, after all.

Aside from Paella’s excellent showcasing of seafood and unique Spanish flavors, its other most compelling factor for avid home cooks is that it can be prepared in just one cooking vessel, known as the paella pan: A large, shallow pan, not unlike a sautee pan without a long handle. A one-pot wonder. Sam certainly appreciated that as a young college student with a small kitchen and even smaller sink–and I’m sure whoever is assigned to washing dishes on the night you choose to make Paella will, too.

MealDish has a few recipes for paella, which makes for a great, one-pot family dinner. Here are recipes for seafood and chicken paella and saffron chicken paella.


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