Skip to main content

The ultimate guide to world-class seafood paella, according to an executive chef

Chef Miguel Molina of La Pulperia NYC shares his culinary insight on the perfect seafood paella

Perfectly al-dente rice flush with fresh shellfish, a properly made seafood paella is one of the greatest foods in the world. This delicacy from Valencia, Spain, is the perfect dish for a festive gathering, a fun family meal, or a romantic dinner for two. While it can be made with poultry and game meat in Spain, some of the most popular versions of paella often lean heavily into seafood.

At La Pulperia, a pan-Latin American restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan, they’ve mastered the seafood paella. Executive Chef Miguel Molina is a native of Guerrero, Mexico, and is lending his creativity and culinary background to the restaurant menu, which includes a stellar paella made with black squid ink. The food here is a blend of cultures, combining influences from Latin and South American countries like Peru, Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico, creating totally distinctive flavor combinations. So what better guide is there to help us on the journey of making a world-class paella?

The foundation: The rice

Paella from La Pulperia.
Octopus paella from La Pulperia in NYC. Image used with permission by copyright holder

At its core, paella is a rice dish; therefore, it should come as no surprise that the key component of a world-class paella is mastering the rice.

“Buy the best Spanish paella rice you can get your hands on; it will make a huge difference, even if you have to order it online,” said Molina.

Not just any white rice will work, though. If you make paella with standard medium-grain white rice or Thai jasmine rice, your paella will taste off and not as it should. The key is obtaining bomba rice, a variety of short-grain rice cultivated in Valencia. What makes bomba rice essential is its ability to absorb large amounts of stock — three times its volume in liquid. This factor is critical because the finished paella rice will still be in distinct grains and never mushy if cooked properly.

However, cooking bomba rice well will take some practice — and skill.

“Don’t overcook the bomba rice. It will definitely affect the final result,” said Molina. “Done properly, in 15 minutes, you should be having a fully cooked paella ready to serve. Make sure to add the seafood only about five minutes before the rice is ready. It’s upsetting to have the rice cooked on point with seafood overcooked. Timing is key here.”

The seafood

Headshot of Chef Miguel Molina.
Chef Miguel Molina. Image used with permission by copyright holder

Regarding the seafood choices for seafood paella recipe, the list is endless. Should you add shrimp? How about shellfish, like clams and mussels? Perhaps the best is a combination of all three. Before you cook, consider three components: Quality, a tasty sofrito, and a good fish broth.

Known as fumet, an excellent fish broth will flavor the rice as it cooks, giving your paella that coveted fragrance. A sofrito, made from vegetables and aromatics, is also key and an important element of Spanish cuisine. In fact, Molina describes these two components as “the base flavor of the paella.” While you can buy pre-made fish broth or sofrito in specialty grocery stores, you should try making it at home. This not gives you the added benefit of freshness, but you can also control the level of seasonings and ingredients.

Now for the chunks of seafood. Almost any kind of shellfish and fish will work for seafood paella. In fact, a variety of seafood is the best option. Not only does it look fantastic, but it will also give the paella a complex flavor. Just remember to add the different types of seafood in stages. The fish and squid can be cooked and mixed into the rice, but items like shrimp or clams are better placed over the top of the rice when it’s almost cooked. These steps will ensure great presentation and avoid any overcooking of the shrimp.

One ingredient that Molina likes to add to his paella is briny squid ink, giving his paella a rich flavor and amazing black color. To use, Molina adds “a tablespoon of squid ink, mid-process — that is, about seven minutes into cooking the rice. A tablespoon is more than enough; it’s a strong and salty flavor, so you want to make sure you do not overdo the flavor.”

Pair your paella with a great cocktail or wine

bar counter at la pulperia.
The bar at La Pulperia. Image used with permission by copyright holder

Finally, to truly enjoy a world-class paella, it’s time to break out the wine bottle or cocktail shaker. Since seafood pairs well with citrus flavors, any cocktail that highlights lime, lemon, orange, or another bright flavor will accentuate that bite of seafood paella. Think outside the box and pair cocktails like a Brazilian caipirinha or classic mojitos, and you won’t be disappointed.

For that classic pairing, nothing beats a glass of wine with your seafood. For wine, the idea is the same as cocktails — something bright.

“I’d say for wines, you can accompany sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio,” said Molina. “For drinks, depending on the person’s choice, I would recommend something fresh and citrus to give it that fresh final touch to the entire meal.”

Editors' Recommendations

Hunter Lu
Hunter Lu is a New York-based food and features writer, NYU graduate, and Iraq veteran. His fiction has appeared in The Line…
Apple cider vinegar: Should you really be taking shots of this pungent potion?
We love a good fermented food, but should you be drinking this one?
an acv shot on table

Wanting to look and feel your best is natural. Feeling this way allows you to live life to the fullest, nail a workout, focus on the job, and sleep better. Thanks to the internet and especially social media, there is no shortage of ideas on achieving longevity and enjoying life. One such way is consuming apple cider vinegar daily.

The pantry staple for salad dressings and marinades can purportedly help you lose weight, manage blood sugar, and improve heart health. Kim Kardashian called a raw version of Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar a "miracle ingredient." No shame if you loved yourself a good Keeping Up With the Kardashians marathon. However, taking medical advice from a Kardashian isn't recommended, and not every social media fad is a good one.
Believe it or not, there is some science behind the purported benefits of apple cider. Still, you'll proceed cautiously, especially if you are living with certain conditions. Here's what to know about reported apple cider vinegar weight loss benefits and more.

Read more
Costco Kirkland products are actually items made by Duracell, Keurig, Reynolds, Starbucks, and other big names
You've been getting a deal on top-end products all along
Costco storefront

There's something pretty astonishing that starts happening to everyone around the mid-30s mark. A pure, unadulterated love for Costco. Sure, there may have been a healthy appreciation in those younger years. A love for the $1.50 hot dog and soda deal, perhaps. An impromptu trip here or there with a parent whose card got you through the door. But somewhere between a first mortgage and a couple of kids, you probably started seeing the signs. They start subtly - a lingering gaze at the stacked sweatpants, tempting you with their fleecy softness. Asking the hair-netted sample lady if those mini artichoke quiches are organic. Before you know it, you have your own damned membership card, and all of your gym socks come in packs of 24. It's happened to the best of us. And with this adoration for Costco inevitably comes the love for all things Kirkland, the beloved Costco brand whose label is stuck on just about anything you can find in the enormous store, from batteries to rotisserie chickens.

But have you ever wondered where those Kirkland products come from? If you're anything like us, you may have just mindlessly assumed that there was some humungous Kirkland factory spewing out all of these products on some obscure, magical Nebraskan farm. Or, perhaps you're more rational than that and actually realized that many Kirkland-labeled products are not uniquely Costco's at all. Many of Costco's popular Kirkland products actually come from big brand-name companies that allow Costco to rebrand them for a fee. Perhaps even more surprising is that this isn't anything new or a process that's only used by Costco. Many retailers tap big-name brands to do this.

Read more
This secret All-Clad site has massive savings on the best kitchen equipment on earth
All Clad is the best, and now it's less expensive
All-clad set

If you've spent any amount of time in a kitchen, be it professional or home, you know that All-Clad cookware is the best there is. This brand has been around since the 1970s and has royally reigned over the cookware world for its high-quality performance, durability, and sleek design. All-Clad's range of kitchen equipment cooks food evenly, provides wonderful temperature control, and surpasses even the highest standards with its top-quality, U.S.-sourced materials. Unfortunately, all of these incredible perks tend to come at a price. All-Clad cookware and kitchen supplies can be pretty pricy investments. And while those investments are always worthwhile, they aren't always something on which everyone wants to break the bank.

That's where Home & Cook comes in.

Read more