Confession: I don’t really love Paella. Rather, I’m completely head over heels for Socarrat, the crispy, toasted, heavenly bits of rice that form at the bottom of the Paella pan when it’s cooked just right. Getting the Socarrat perfect is my primary goal when making this dish—though the accompanying spicy Chorizo, sweet lobster and juicy shrimp are nothing to complain about!
To begin, you’ll need a Paella pan. I use a heavy, cast iron version made by Le Crueset that I really enjoy, it’s quite versatile and find I use it for many other dishes beyond Paella. You can also buy a less expensive stainless steel or non-stick version, but it is important to use a wide, shallow Paella pan in order to achieve maximum rice to pan surface contact.
A few additional notes: it’s important to choose a good quality dry-cured Chorizo as it adds so much of the flavour. And when selecting Paprika, you must use a Spanish rather than Hungarian style Paprika for this dish to ensure the right flavours.
First, heat some olive oil and cook the chicken (I prefer chicken thighs for the most tender result) until just lightly browned on all sides.
Remove the chicken and set aside. It’s time to build the Sofrito—a common flavour base in this case made of onion, tomato and garlic. Add chopped onion to the pan and cook 2–3 minutes until translucent. Then add grated tomato and garlic, together with salt and pepper to taste. Cook this for approximately 45 minutes, scraping brown bits from the bottom of the pan every 5–10 minutes. Add a tiny bit of water to loosen the bits as you go if the pan is getting dry and the ingredients are sticking. Below shows the “before” starting point of the Sofrito, followed by the “after” end state where it is reduced to about 1/3 of the original volume and deep golden caramel in colour.
Add Spanish Paprika and rice to the pan, stir to combine and lightly toast the rice.
Add reserved chicken, chorizo and chicken stock to the pan, stirring to combine well. Aim to spread the rice evenly over the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a steady simmer. Cook approximately 15 minutes (do not stir) until the rice is starting to surface as it absorbs the liquid. Rotate the pan occasionally as it cooks to ensure even heat on the rice. Below the images show the initial liquid state and the transformation to the after state where the liquid has been absorbed.
Now add red pepper strips in a fanning circular pattern around the dish. Place lobster tails into the pan, pressing down into the rice. Cover with foil and cook for 3 minutes. Then quickly add the shrimp, recover with foil and cook an additional 5–6 minutes until the lobster is cooked and the shrimp are white/pink all the way through.
Now check the rice by tasting some from the top to see if it’s cooked through. It should be slightly al dente with a slight bite in the centre. If the rice needs more time, remove the lobster and shrimp and reserve on a plate; then add 1/4 cup – 1/2 cup water and recover to complete the cook. Also check the Socarrat crust, by digging your fork to the bottom of the dish and inspecting the bottom layer. Remove a small bit from the bottom to taste for the toasted character and firmness. If the bottom hasn’t developed a crust, turn the heat up for the final 3–4 minutes of cooking.
Once cooked through with the perfect Socarrat, remove from heat and allow to rest covered with foil for 5 minutes. Add shrimp back just before covering to gently warm it back up before covering with foil if needed.
While resting, crack the lobster tail shells and remove the meat, and remove the tail vein if present. Add the lobster meat back in just prior to serving, along with lots of fresh lemon wedges and some fresh parsley. Be sure to scrape up the delicious Socarrat while serving—my favourite part!
Chicken Lobster Shrimp Paella
A classic Paella with tips to achieving a great toasted rice base.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 Spanish onion, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 medium tomatoes, grated on the large holes of a box grater (about 1 cup)
- 1 tbsp Smoked Spanish Paprika
- 10 oz Bomba rice (about 1.5 cups)
- 3 dry-cured Chorizo, cut into rounds
- 4 cups hot chicken broth, infused with Saffron strands for 1 hour
- 1/2 red pepper, sliced into long thin strips
- 6 jumbo shrimp
- 2 lobster tails, or 4 scampi tails
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
- 1/4 cup roughly chopped parsley
Heat oil in paella pan over medium heat. Add chicken, season with salt and pepper, and cook until evenly browned but not cooked through, about 4–5 minutes. Remove chicken from pan.
Make Sofrito: add onion and a bit more oil if pan is looking dry. Cook 2–3 minutes until translucent. Add grated tomato and garlic. Add more salt and pepper to taste. Cook approximately 45 minutes, scraping brown bits from bottom every 5–10 minutes. Loosen brown bits with a bit of water to release from bottom of pan if needed. After 45 minutes the colour should darken to a reddish caramel brown.
Add paprika and rice; stir to combine and lightly toast rice. Add reserved chicken, chorizo and chicken stock to pan, stir to combine well. Aim to spread rice grains evenly along bottom of pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a steady simmer. Cook approx. 15 minutes (do not stir), until rice is starting to surface as it absorbs the liquid. Check for even heat and move pan position over burner/rotate slightly as needed.
Add the red pepper strips in a fanning circular pattern towards the outer edge of the pan. Place shrimp and/or scampi tails in a circular pattern towards the centre of the pan, pressing into the rice a bit so they are almost flush. Cover the seafood with foil and cook 8–10 minutes until cooked through—the colour should be a bright pink. Taste the rice, it should have a slight bite in the centre. If it’s not quite done, add 1/4 cup – 1/2 cup water, recover with foil and cook 4 more minutes. Also test for the socarrat crust by pressing a spoon tip into the rice. If there is a firm layer at the bottom it’s good. If not, turn up the heat for the final 4 minutes. If the lobster and shrimp are cooked before the rice, remove and set aside until the rice is cooked.
Remove from heat and allow to rest, covered with foil or a towel, for 5 minutes before serving. While resting, crack and remove the lobster tail shells and veins, discarding. Add lobster meat back to the pan. Garnish with parsley and lemon wedges, and serve straight from the paella pan at the table.