Peasant Origins of Paella
Paellas weren't always the international, "in" dish appearing on menus of gourmet restaurants, prepared by famous chefs. The original paellas were cooked in the countryside over an open fire - out of necessity. Peasants and shepherds prepared paellas with whatever ingredients they had or could carry with them. They needed a large midday meal, which would provide their fuel for the day's labor.
They were cooked and eaten out of the same pan as a community meal.
Today, barring bad weather, we can prepare paellas over a gas or charcoal barbecue, a gas burner, or open fire. What if you don't have outdoor space, aren't cooking for a large group, or the weather is too wet? As the Spanish say, No hay problema! There is no doubt that a tasty paella can be prepared in your kitchen, but how?
Paellas on the Stovetop
If you are preparing paella for two to four people, you can cook it on the stovetop, using a large, heavy-bottom frying pan at least 2.5 to 3-inches deep. If you have a 12-inch paella pan, you can definitely use it on a large gas burner.
Because paella pans do not always have perfectly flat bottoms, using them on an electric burner could be problematic since the heat will not be distributed evenly, especially if the pan is much larger than the burner ring.
Modern induction stovetops or those made of glass-ceramics, (vitroceramicas in Spanish) are very popular in many countries.
These stovetops may have particular requirements regarding pots and pans. Many manufacturers recommend only certain materials, or that the pans are completely flat-bottomed. Enamel-coated steel paella pans, with thicker bottoms, are made specifically for these cooktops and are available in Spain.
Paellas for Larger Groups
If you plan on preparing a paella for a larger group, consider using a stainless steel electric skillet.
There are many different styles available; however, a 15-inch oval or a 16-inch round skillet will generally make a paella of 8-10 servings.
Features in an Electric Skillet
Although you can use any electric skillet, if purchasing one for preparing paellas, look for the following features:
- A tempered glass lid with a metal rim, a secure handle, and a hole to vent steam
- A detachable temperature control unit (most range from 225-425F degrees)
- Two handles for easy carrying
- Submersible in water — this is great for cleaning-up in the sink. Some are even dishwasher-safe!