Paella is one of the most popular dishes in the world. There are as many variations of the paella as there are cooks, and that makes it almost impossible to define exactly what the famous delicacy contains. The origin of the dish can be traced to Eastern Spain, the region of Valencia. It’s a global delicacy with very humble beginnings.
Paella is actually the name of the pan used to make the dish, not the delicacy itself which can be a little confusing to many people. You use the paella pan — or if you like ‘la paella’ — to make the delicacy referred to as paella. The dish gets its name from the cooking pan, not the other way around. Therefore, a paella pan is made precisely for a specific purpose. To achieve the desired result, a lot of thought needs to go into the process of choosing one.
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Choosing a Paella Pan
Paella is a globally known dish that may contain beans, peas, squid, eel, fish, shellfish, pork, chicken, etc. with the main element of the dish being rice. Therefore, any type of ingredient that goes well with rice can be used to make paella. Saffron — the seasoning that gives rice the golden yellow colour — and rosemary are important ingredients of paella.
The width, shape, and depth of the paella pan is important. A true paella pan should be shallow, wide, and round. The paella pan is designed to make sure that the main ingredient, that’s the rice, comes out in a thin layer. The paella pan may have a slight dip in the middle where the oil can fuse for initial sautéing. The pan comes in two looped handles and doesn’t have a lid.
The paella pan grows in diameter, rather than in height. They say that the flavour lives at the bottom of the pan so the key is to maximize the amount of rise touching the bottom. This is what separates a paella from other rice recipes. Here are some of the factors to consider when choosing a paella pan.
Paella Pan Material
There are several types of paella pans, mostly based on the material used to make the pan. One underlying factor is that the material used to make paella pans is thin and highly heat conductive to ensure immediate heat transmission. The goal is to maximize heat control, you know, to ensure that the pan heats up immediately its placed on the stovetop and cools off in almost the same speed when it’s taken off the source of heat. Here are the most common paella pan materials.
Polished Carbon Steel Paella Pan
The polished carbon steel paella pan is the most popular paella cooking pan in the markets. Many seasoned paella chefs in Spain and the rest of the world consider the carbon steel paella as the classic pan. Since the steel used to make this type of cooking pan is not surface protected, the carbon steel paella pan needs a little more care than pans made from other materials.
This type of paella cooking pan comes with a convex base, which makes it less suitable for induction or electric stovetops. The carbon steel pan is suitable for oven, open fires, and gas hobs. The carbon steel pan also tends to get oxidized which can be a bit of a problem but it can always be fixed with a little scouring if it develops.
The polished carbon steel paella pan derives its popularity from the fact that over time, the reaction between the pan surface and the ingredients leads to the development of a thin film or a patina. The coating that forms on the pans steel surface has been said to impart a certain flavour to the dish. The most experienced paella chefs attribute this patina to the delicacy’s connoisseur and the true mark of the delicacy’s authenticity.
Cast Iron Paella Pan
Cast iron paella pans are available, but are not so popular. Cast iron is known to have a low heat transfer rate and as a result, takes much longer to cook the paella. Cast iron paella pans are also heavier and have high heat retention rates, meaning that there is a high likelihood that your paella will continue to cook much longer after you take the pan off the heat source. This could have an impact on the taste of your paella.
Stainless Steel Paella Pan
The stainless-steel paella pan has a lot of similarities to the carbon steel paella pan. For starters, both pans are primarily made of steel and are most preferred modes of preparing the delicacy, which is paella. The biggest difference is that the stainless-steel pan doesn’t rust and therefore needs less maintenance than the carbon steel.
The stainless-steel paella pan doesn’t impart a unique taste to the dish as it does not develop the patina like the carbon steel pan, which happens to be a big disadvantage. The stainless-steel pan costs a lot more than the carbon steel pan. It is substantially heavier as it comes with a reinforced base which impedes its heat transmission ability.
Enamelled Steel Paella Pan
Just like the stainless-steel paella pan, the enamelled steel paella pan doesn’t rust. The enamel protects the pan’s steel surface from oxidation; there is no formation of the patina. Other than that, the enamelled steel paella pan is still quite traditional and some seasoned paella makers prefer its carbon steel counterpart. However, the enamel tends to chip easily if bumped or banged around so durability is also an issue.
Non-Stick Paella Pan
Non-stick paella pans are coated with a special non-stick surface which makes them easier to maintain relative to other types of paella pans. You cannot eat the paella directly from the pan or scrape the pan’s surface with any metal utensil because you will end up damaging the non-stick surface. The non-stick pan develops a rice crust, or a soccarat, easier than other types of paella pans; but the rice ends up with less texture.
Paella Pan Size
The next factor you should consider before you make a purchase is the size of the paella pan. Select the size of the pan based on the number of people you are intending to serve. Don’t forget to factor in the size of the cooktop you are intending to use the paella pan on. You don’t want to get a pan that’s either too big or too small for your stovetop.
Choosing a paella pan of the perfect size can be a daunting task. The table below details the relationship between the diameter of a paella size and the number of servings it can hold. Use it to guide your decision on the choice of a paella pan size.
|Diameter||Servings||Amount of Rice|
|8 Inches / 20 cm||1 Guest||3.5 Ounces /100g|
|10 Inches / 25 cm||2 Guests||7 Ounces / 200g|
|13 Inches / 33 cm||4 Guests||14 Ounces / 400g|
|15 Inches / 38 cm||6 Guests||1.25 Pounds / 600g|
|17 Inches / 43 cm||8 Guests||1.75 Pounds / 800g|
|22 Inches / 55 cm||12 Guests||2.6 Pounds / 1200g|
The first column shows the diameter of the paella pan. The second column shows the number of servings you can make using the paella pan of the given diameter. The third column amount of rice you will need to make paella for the given number of servings or guests. For instance, if you are expecting six guests, you will need a 15-inch or 38cm paella pan and 1.25 pounds or 600g of rice.
Care & Maintenance Needs
When buying a paella pan, you will be confronted by the reality of having to choose from the five types of paella pans we listed earlier in the article. They are; polished carbon steel paella pan, cast iron paella pan, stainless-steel paella, enamelled steel pan, and the non-stick paella pan. The materials have their pros and cons, but carbon steel is the traditional paella pan material.
Carbon is a highly reactive material which influences the flavour of the paella hence its popularity. Other materials have their advantages too. However, they all have different surfaces and as such, have different maintenance requirements. Carbon steel, due to its reactive nature, requires more care than other paella pan materials. Its easily oxidized, meaning that it rusts easily.
Other paella pan materials; stainless-steel, enamelled steel, and non-stick are easier to maintain. The underlying factor is that they are all coated and therefore, not prone to rusting. Cast iron is a lot similar to carbon steel in the sense that it also tends to rust and needs more care relative to other paella pans.
If you want your paella pan to last long, irrespective of the material, you have to take good care of it. For instance, always make sure that the pan is clean by scrubbing it using hot soapy water in between uses. If you notice traces of rust on the pan, just scrub it with steel wool, rinse, dry, and oil it and that’s it. No harm done.