Start to finish: 1½ hours / Servings: 4
Outside of Spain, paella is considered a luxurious dish, loaded with seafood, scented with pricy saffron and served as an event in and of itself. Its beginnings, however, are more humble. The one-pan dish was prepared by Valencian farm workers as a midday meal. This type of paella, called paella Valenciana, still is made today.
For our version—adapted for a nonstick 12-inch skillet with a lid—we opted for chicken thighs, canned white beans, fresh green beans and grape or cherry tomatoes; saffron is a nice addition, but entirely optional.
Using the right rice is key to getting the proper subtly creamy but not overly starchy consistency. Look for Bomba rice, sometimes labeled simply as “Valencian rice.” Calasparra rice from Murcia, Spain, is another good option. If neither is available, substitute an equal amount of Arborio rice, but before cooking, rinse it well and drain, and also reduce the amount of broth to 2½ cups. To be efficient, during the 30 minutes that the chicken marinates, prepare the remaining ingredients.
Don’t forget to stir in the rice after sprinkling it into the pan. Distributing the grains in an even layer and making sure they’re submerged ensures even cooking. But after that, resist the urge to stir. Undisturbed cooking allows the paella to form a nicely browned bottom crust called socarrat. Finally, don’t cover the pan as the paella cooks or the rice will wind up soggy and overdone.
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1½ teaspoons smoked paprika, divided
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces and patted dry
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
15½-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon tomato paste
6 medium garlic cloves, minced
½ cup dry sherry
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth 4 bay leaves
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
½ teaspoon saffron threads (optional)
1 cup Valencian rice (see note)
8 ounces green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
Lemon wedges, to serve
1. In a medium bowl, combine the sweet paprika, ½ teaspoon of smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Add the chicken and toss until coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
2. In a nonstick 12-inch skillet over medium-high, heat 2 tablespoons of oil until barely smoking. Add the chicken in an even layer and cook without stirring until well-browned, about 3 minutes. Using tongs, flip the pieces and cook until the second sides are well-browned, another 1 to 2 minutes. Using the tongs, return the chicken to the bowl, leaving the fat in the pan.
3. To the same skillet over medium, add the beans and cook, stirring, until the beans are fragrant and coated with oil, about 30 seconds. Transfer to the bowl with the chicken.
4. Set the skillet over medium-high, then stir in the tomatoes and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are browned, the liquid they released has evaporated and the mixture begins to sizzle, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and the tomato paste and cook, stirring, until the mixture is beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Stir in the garlic and the remaining 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, then cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the sherry and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture begins to sizzle, 2 to 4 minutes.
5. Stir in the broth, bay, rosemary and saffron (if using), then bring to a boil over medium-high. Stir in the green beans and the cannellini bean-chicken mixture along with any accumulated juices. Sprinkle the rice into the skillet, then stir to combine and evenly distribute the grains, pressing down to ensure they are fully submerged. Return to a boil, then reduce to medium and cook, uncovered, until most of the liquid is absorbed and craters appear in the rice, 16 to 18 minutes. Increase to medium-high and continue to cook, without stirring but rotating the pan every 10 seconds or so, until you hear sizzling and smell a toasty aroma, 1 to 2 minutes.
6. Remove the pan from the heat. Drape a clean kitchen towel across the top, then cover with a lid and let rest for 10 minutes. Use a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to scoop the paella onto individual plates, scraping along the pan to loosen the bottom crust (socarrat). Serve with lemon wedges.