5 Essential Tools You Need for an Epic Paella, According to Chefs
There’s nothing quite like paella. Fragrant, crispy-yet-tender, and loaded with vibrant flavors, the rice dish has been a staple of Spanish households for centuries. And while it might seem intimidating to make it yourself, it’s something every home cook can create in their kitchens—you just need the right tools.
Get the recipe: Traditional Spanish Paella
To get the definitive list, we chatted with three expert paella makers from across the country. They shared the most important tools for making paella, from the right pan and spoons to absolutely necessary ingredients. Check out their picks below, and learn what they have to say about them.
Every chef agreed traditional paella requires a special type of pan.
“To make a proper paella, you need a paella pan,” says Marc Vidal, cookbook author and executive chef at Boqueria in New York City and Washington, D.C. “I love the traditional carbon steel paellera. The paella pan conducts heat quickly and evenly, and produces the perfect socarrat—the crispy, caramelized base that marks a perfectly-made paella and can make-or-break your dish.”
Katie Button, James Beard award-nominee and author of Cúrate: Authentic Spanish Food from an American Kitchen, favors the Pata Negra paella pans.
“They are made of a thick heavy duty carbon steel,” she says. “They are less likely to warp over time and over high heat, making them undoubtedly worth the higher price point.”
To buy: La Paella 18” Pata Negra Restaurant Grade Paella Pan, $47 (originally $53); amazon.com
In addition to Pata Negra pans, Ramon Martinez, Culinary Director of Washington, D.C.’s Jaleo, also recommends buying a paella burner.
“Paella needs to be cooked evenly throughout the pan, so it’s best to also have a paella burner,” he says. “Paella pans and burners should always be used together!”
Button echoes Martinez, saying gas burners make paella more convenient.
“With a gas ring burner, you have total control of the flames and heat on the inner rings and outer rings, so you can adjust them separately,” she says. “I typically start by turning the center ring on high and searing my meat or seafood and making my sofrito. This yields a hot center and cooler outside, which is great when searing because you can move things on and off the heat as you please. Then once I add the water or stock, I turn on the outer rings and leave the inner ring going. Once it comes to a boil and I add the rice, I control how fiercely it is simmering by adjusting both the center and the outer rings.”
To buy: Garcima G500 Paella Pan Propane Gas Burner, $109; amazon.com
Mortar and pestle
“I think a mortar and pestle is an essential tool for Spanish cooking,” Vidal says. “There are so many delicious pastes and sauces we make and it helps to bring out the flavors in a delicate way. We use two sauces in our Paella de Mariscos: sofrito, a tomato, garlic, and olive oil blend, and picada, a fragrant mortar and pestle paste with pepper, garlic, parsley, bread, and saffron.”
We love this granite set from ChefSofi. It has nearly 1,000 perfect five-star reviews on Amazon, with users commenting on its sturdiness and large size.
To buy: ChefSofi Mortar and Pestle Set, $30 (originally $35); amazon.com
So, this one isn’t necessary, but it’s nice to have, says Martinez.
“A paella spoon is great to stir and spread the rice as it cooks,” he says. It helps you achieve that characteristics caramelized bottom.
If you’re making a big batch of paella (and we hope you are!), opt for a long-handled spoon, like this 30-inch Garcima Wood-Handled Flat Spatula. Users love how the extra length protects their hands from the hot pan.
“Kept my arms from burning off while cooking over an open flame on a 26-inch paella pan,” writes one reviewer. “I wish it could help me perfect my paella dishes, but it's a spoon, not a magic wand.”
To buy: Garcima Wood-Handled Flat Spatula, $41; amazon.com
You might know that paella requires short grains, but have you tried cooking with bomba rice?
“A good paella also needs to be made with bomba rice, which is a short grain rice that won't break,” Vidal says. “The grain stays whole to absorb all of the liquid and flavor from the stock.”
Bomba rice is nearly spherical and has a high amount of amylose (a type of starch), meaning it won’t stick together and leave you with clumpy paella. We like Santo Tomas Bomba Rice, which has earned the coveted “Amazon’s Choice” designation. Reviewers rave about how well it absorbs liquid, as well as its delicious taste.
To buy: Santo Tomas Bomba Rice, $14; amazon.com