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Paella pan-what kind to buy? - moved from Home Cooking board

I'd like to start making some paella. However, when I looked up paella pans from a reputable kitchen supply store, I was a little overwhelmed by the choices- pans of different sizes (I'd probably only make for 2-4 people), and types of construction- there were blued steel, enameled and steel from Spain, of course, but also France and China. Any suggestions from people's experiences what works best?

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  1. If you have a heavy-bottomed straight-sided 10 or 12 inch skillet that will work just fine -- no need to buy a specialized paella pan. If OTOH you like to buy specialzed equipment, the main thing is to make sure it has a good heavy bottom because if the bottom is too thin you will get burnt rice stuck to it.

    2 Replies
    1. re: GretchenS

      I thought the whole point to using a special pan was to get rice stuck to the bottom - not burned, but still a crust.

      The traditional material in Spain is plain steel (blue steel, carbon steel, what ever). It's cheap and apparently works well, especially when used with the traditional wood fire.

      Enameled is also common, and not much more expensive. It gets around the big problem with plain steel, rust. I first bought a small (8") enameled pan from The Spanish Table, and was pleased with its utility. Based on that experience I did not hesitate to take advantage of clearance prices at Cost Plus, and bought 2 12" enameled paella pans, plus a couple of small tapas pans. The tapas size gets lots of use, the 12" less so.

      The reason for all the different sizes is that, in the ideal case, the rice layer should only be a 1/2" thick or so. If you want to adhere to that standard, and serve lots of people, you need a larger pan. I believe a 12" pan is rated at 4 people using 1c of raw rice. The thinner the layer, and wider the pan, the more crust for all the guests. But getting that ideal crust takes skill and practice.

      But the problem with larger pans is even heating. With an 8" electric burner, there's a lot of the 12" surface that doesn't get heat. I've compensated by shifting the pan around on the burner, and then, after adding the rice and liquid, transferring the pan to the oven (with a loose foil lid).

      But keep in mind that there are Spanish rice dishes that don't use the paella pan. The flavors can similar, and the additions like seafood the same, but they just don't focus on getting that crust. Some are even soupy (caldoso) in consistency.

      1. re: GretchenS

        I had made dozens of spectacular paellas in my five quart ss saute pan with the disk bottom before buying a paella pan. In the oven, it was fine. I just added rice and brought it to a boil stovetop after browning chicken, chorizo and peppers in the pan, and then added my seafood. The saute pan looked good (how could paella ever look bad?), but the specialty pan truly gets the "oohs and ahhs" out of the guests. Similar results in my book. The paella pan just seems more authentic and more fun to use.

        My favorite saute pan was a SS Cuisinart with thinner sides and a disk bottom. It just happened to be the best pan for the job at the time, and not because of the disk bottom. It was a manageable weight and it was the right size and shape. that's all.

      2. Like paul said, carbon steel is traditional. Rust isn't a problem with carbon steel pans as long as you know what you're doing. Just treat it like cast iron. If you're going to buy a pan, I'd suggest carbon steel.

        With that said, I do agree that unless you just happen to want a paella pan, it isn't absolutely essential to the dish.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Squirrels

          For a start, try any 10" skillet, and only 1/2c of rice for 2 people.

          1. re: paulj

            To add to paul's suggestion, part of the point of a paella pan is to encourage evaporation by having a large flat surface. Just something to think about when choosing a skillet.

        2. You do not want a heavy bottom Pan. Most skillets will be SS and so they are not the best choice for Paella. A Paella pan needs to be very wide and thin so they not only heat fast but they cool fast. This is essential to create a soccarrat. If you use a skillet or other heavy pan it will hold to much residual heat and it's far easier to wind up with burned rice or simply rice pilaf ala Paella.
          The good news is that an authentic Spanish carbon steel Paella pan is dirt cheap ($30 ish).
          I bought mine at Paellapans.com however Sur la Table carries them as well.

          1. I went for the Pata Negra found at Tienda.com. It is a sturdier pan and I thought it would be less likely to warp, but I am sure that you can get by with the standard pan with the red handles for smaller sizes. I have to admit that the gold handles on the high end pans caught my attention, but it didn't make sense to me to spend that much money. The pata negra pan is actually heavy gauge and cleans up well. It is a hefty piece to lift when fully loaded, but that was what I was looking for.

            The most important thing, if you are looking at a larger pan, is to make sure that it will fit in your oven, or else you are looking at a pretty expensive gas cooking stand. My limit was 17 inches, assuming I could put the pan in diagnonally in my small 27" oven.

            6 Replies
            1. re: RGC1982

              Is what they call "blue steel" the same thing as carbon steel?

              1. re: markabauman

                Here is a link to an article you may want to read. It is designed around utilizing the BGE but the basics of Paella are a worthy read and there is a considerable bit of information about pans. I've also attached a link to La Tienda mentioned above.

                http://www.nakedwhiz.com/paella/paell...

                http://www.tienda.com/paella/paella_p...

                1. re: Fritter

                  Here's an article from the WSJ about the perfect paella in Spain, by Raymond Sokolov. It gives an idea of what you can aim for.

                  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB12182...

                  The paella demo and meal in the Spain on the road again series is pretty good.. It is something like episode 10. CreateTV just finished the series this week in their current rerun of it. In that meal, their host family ate directly from the paella pan, which was set in the middle of a round table.

                  1. re: Fritter

                    fritter, thanks for the links -- esp, from naked whiz. it was very instructive about technique and customs. that seafood paella had my mouth watering!

                    1. re: alkapal

                      I'm glad you found that a good read. Lots of great info. on this thread. The whiz really goes all out and I have to give him tons of credit for his web site. I just can't say enough good things about the BGE and it makes killer Paella.
                      I do believe that the recipe and information that he relied on for that piece came from Paellapans.com.
                      I'll echo what others have said here in that they have great prices and service.

                  2. re: markabauman

                    I think they are different, but both can rust.

                2. I bought the enameled version at The Spanish Table in Berkeley; they also sell online:
                  http://www.spanishtable.com/merchant....

                  Typically I start the paella on the stovetop and move it to a gas or charcoal weber. Haven't had any issues with warping or cleanup; have achieved great soccarat.

                  I went with the enamel because while there are phases I go through where I make paella pretty frequently; there can also be big time gaps and I was concerned about maintenance of the carbon steel version.

                  The enamel version was just a few dollars more than the carbon steel and also comes in a wide variety of sizes. I have also used a friend's extremely large carbon steel pan and burner. The soccarat achieved was similar between the carbon steel and enamel pans.

                  Hope this helps, -sou

                  1. I do lots of paella, have two triple burners and tri-pods and eight different pans.

                    For just 2-4 folks you could also get a stainless steel pan. No worry about rust etc. My largest pans are all carbon steel and easy to maintain, no rust at all and they are well seasoned and work well.

                    For the small cost I would get a real spanish paella pan, they look great and will impress your guest.

                    1. Tienda.com and spanishtable.com are good online merchants but I get my paella pans from Sarah Jay at paellapans.com.

                      Great quality, quick service and good prices. Have a 14" pan for regular use and the three foot pan for special events. For the larger sizes, it's worth getting the special cooking rings - actually, they're great for all the sizes.

                      And one more thing, the first time I made paella, I spent a lot of time obsessing about the "right" recipe and the "right" ingredients. That's when my friend Elisabet, who lives in Barcelona, told me straight up that I was over thinking it and that they (the Spanish) use whatever is fresh and in season - that it didn't matter what the ingredients were as long as you understood the basic technique. So, my suggestion is to review a few recipes, understand the technique and basic flavors, then have a go at it with whatever you find at the local markets.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: onocoffee

                        It might sound weird but i've always had the most success cooking paella in a wok. It might even be the only time I use it.

                      2. Ever been to Spain ?

                        To see Paella made in restaurants known for that dish, especially in Valencia, you find little techniques used that one might not expect.

                        Flats lids ( to help cook the rice faster for serving, I was told ) were quite a surprise. Makes sense.

                        At another restaurant where 21 Paellas were going at once, aluminum was the pan metal and not steel.

                        The best yet was being invited to see a surprisingly empty restaurant kitchen, and then out back where 12 wood-fires were being started in small fireplaces against a wall, low to the ground, where the paella was actually cooked. One of the best tasting, by the way.

                        No traditional blue-enameled steel, except at two restaurants. Not many would know about how the paella was actually cooked, as the final dish in those restaurants was served on a plate.

                        Our own experience at home is that between the authentic paella pan we bought in Valencia, and a stainless steel pan with an alu core, we get better results outside the house with the latter, when using the BBQ side burner.