Thanks to Jeff Koehler for his cookbook, La Paella .
Paella is a named for the pan in which it is cooked. A dish made of similar ingredients but cooked in a different pan is un arroz but not a paella. Paellas are dry dished. Those cooked in cazuelas tend to be more moist and those cooked in calderos are soupy.
The shape means the rice can be cooked in a thin layer (1/2 to 3/4 inch thick), that allows for the even cooking of the rice, for much of the rice to be in contact with the bottom of the pan and for maximum evaporation while the rice is cooking. The pan heats and cools quickly.
2 to 3 people 12″ (30 cm) pan
2 to 4 people 14″ (36 cm) pan
4 to 5 people 16″ (40cm) pan
4 to 6 people 18″ (46 cm) pan
6 to 8 people 20″ (50 cm) pan
10 people 22″ (55 cm) pan
12 people 24″ (60 cm) pan
12 people 26″ (65 cm ) pan
It’s possible to squeeze an extra portion or two from each pan size. Beyond that is not ideal. For a big group and moderate sized pan, consider reducing to 1/3 of a cup per person (instead of 1/2 cup) and more appetizers and a large salad.
Pans are traditionally made of polished carbon steel (acero pulico). The metal is thin and very responsive to heat. The pan imparts a slightly sweet, metallic tang that is considered a signature taste by many. It also reacts with some vegetables, giving them a darker tone (artichokes and eggplant).
These pans require more care that stainless steel or enamel pans. You’ll need to season the pan before the first use. I simmered my pans for about 10 minutes using equal parts of vinegar and water. Then I washed the pan in hot soapy water. Next I boiled some rice in lots of fresh water for about 10 minutes. Throw out the rice, wash the pan in hot soapy water, dry immediately and oil with vegetable oil.
Before the next use, sprinkle with salt, gently warm, wipe clean, then wash in soap and water.
My first batch was made in a skillet and turned out just fine.
Spanish short and medium grain rice have a high degree of pearling – the concentration of starch that gives the rice its colour, allows it to absorb a lot of water and lends creaminess to the rice after cooking.
Bomba, a short grain rice, is the most well known and the best for novice rice makers. Valenciano, Senia and Bahia are medium grain rices. I’ve been using Valenciano rice from Matiz . They describe this as a slightly longer, less starchy rice than the classic Bomba.