My secret to fantastic Paella

by Kristy on July 23, 2012 · 3 comments

Let’s talk paella.

I’ve eaten many – at people’s houses, in restaurants and even some that I have cooked myself that have not been very good. Paella is one of those dishes that often looks way better than it tastes.

For some reason I have been determined to come up with a way to make a phenomenal paella and I’m pretty sure that I’ve cracked it. I’ve made this a few times now and every time it has been excellent.

You want in on the secret? One word – sofrito. What is sofrito you ask? It’s a flavour base. The French call it mirepoix, theirs being the classic onion, carrot and onion. The Italians call it soffritto, their version being onion and celery, sometimes carrot and sometimes garlic. The spanish sofrito has garlic, onion, tomato and capsicum and its deep rich flavours are what make my paella recipe sublime.

I wouldn’t say my recipe is authentic, in fact a true Valencian might cringe at my Australianised interpretation, but then again I don’t think authenticity is the be all and end all of cooking. All I know is that this is fantastic and I want you to cook this one soon!

Some final notes: make double the quantity of sofrito. Use half tonight and freeze the other half for next time. This will save a lot of time and trust me, you will want to make this again. Also, the best part of the paella is the rice that sticks to the bottom and gets a bit crunchy and caramelised. Don’t stir for the best results, but then again, don’t burn it either. It’s a fine line!


4-5 tablespoons olive oil

1 dried chorizo sausage, thinly sliced

For the sofrito

1 onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 red and 1/2 green capsicum, finely chopped

1 tin italian whole tomatoes, drain of juice

1/2 cup water

For the paella

1/4 tsp saffron

2 tsp smoked paprika

300g peeled prawns

200g cleaned calamari rings

1L water

1 cup frozen peas

400g rice (spanish bomba rice or just use arborio if it’s easier)

1 lemon, cut into wedges



Pour 2 tablespoons of the oil into a large deep frying pan or paella pan. Fry the chorizo on medium heat until crisp and it has released a lot of it’s colour and flavour into the oil. Remove from the pan and set aside, reserving the oil in the pan.


Add the chopped onion along with the rest of the olive oil. Sweat for 6-8 minutes until the onion softens. Add the garlic and finely chopped capsicum and cook for a further 5 minutes until soft. Then add the tomatoes crushing with a wooden spoon inside the pan. Cook for around 10 minutes until reduced and pulpy. Add the 1/2 cup of water and cook for another 10 minutes or so until very soft, pulpy and saucy. This is the sofrito. You can do all of this ahead of time and store until you’re ready to cook the paella.


To the hot sofrito, add the saffron and paprika. Season generously with salt and pepper. Then add the rice. Top with the water and stir to distribute the rice and sofrito evenly. Taste the liquid. It should be very tasty at this point, if not add a little more salt and pepper if needed.

Now lay the prawns, calamar, the reserved chorizo and peas on top in an attractive way on top of the rice. Cook the paella over medium-low heat for 15-16 minutes. Do not stir!


Taste the rice for doneness. It should still have a little bite. Turn off the heat and cover with a teatowel or lid for 5 minutes to let the rice finish absorbing all the liquid.

Serve topped with lemon wedges which everyone can squeeze a little of over their rice.


  • SarahKate (Mi Casa-Su Casa)

    I totally agree… paella almost ALWAYS looks better than it tastes. As a result, I rarely eat it. But I love the sound of this. You may have converted me!

    • thelifeshemade

      Do try it this way with the sofrito. It makes all the difference. It’s really rich and deeply flavoured. I think a lot of recipes just rely on saffron for colour and it really doesn’t lend enough flavour to make it really delicious.

  • D

    Tried paella for the first time earlier this summer…will definitely have to try making it some time!

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