Paella Pan Question
I recently was at TJ Maxx and impulsively bought a paella pan, as it was inexpensive and I've been wanting one for some time. The label lists, variously, "La Ideal, Garcima"; I'm not certain which is the brand name as most of the text is in Spanish. It does say made in Spain. The size is listed as 42 cms.
I'm curious about two things,
1) Is this a good brand (And does brand really even matter for this application)?
2) Is this a good size to have chosen? I'd like to be able to make larger amounts for hosting, but I probably won't ALWAYS want to make a larger amount. My assumption was if you have a bigger pan you can use it to make a smaller quantity if you want to. Is this correct?
Any advice would be appreciated.
I don't know the brand but I don't know if that really means much of anything.
42cm (is about 16 inches across) isn't particularly large for a paella pan really, they come much larger. The pan size is a bit deceptive in my opinion in that paella isn't a particularly "thick" dish - at least as far as the rice goes. With the seafood/etc layered on top it can get thicker but hopefully that makes sense.
I'm not sure how much paella you've made before so not sure how exactly to respond. It is actually hard to make a small batch of paella in a large pan and vice versa - a large batch in a small pan.
The goal is essentially to get the rice/liquid ratio right so that the rice cooks and you get a nice browned bottom on the rice (which is why so many pans are thin, you can crank the heat at the very end to help get that crust). If you don't have enough rice in a big pan, you end up having to add too much liquid because of the surface area. If you have too much rice in the pan, there isn't enough room for the seafood and/or I find I never get the right crust on the bottom.
That said, both can taste great (I love paella, its probably my favorite thing to eat after a great roasted chicken).
In the end - I think you did great with your purchase. It will work just fine. After a couple of trials you'll figure out the "range" of rice that really works for your pan.
I agree that the 42 cm (that's around 16 in for those of you playing at home) is not that large...however it is as large a paella pan as you can manage on a conventional indoor stove top. The burner should be able to heat as much of the bottom of the pan as possible. If you really need quantity, two smaller pans work better. Paella pans can get REALLY big (think 4 or 5 feet in diameter) but those are used on wood fires or specialty burners.
You won't know if it's truly a good brand until you use it (provided no previous owners speak up). 16" won't be large enough to host many. I'd say it's really for about 4 people. Maybe 6 if light eaters.
For guests up to 10, I find the 20-22" pans are best. It helps to have a griddle or large-diameter burner to work with them, but since dishes can be finished in the oven, it's not 100% critical. Will just cost you some hands-on time.
I've been making paella regularly recently with a 14-inch paella pan and I would say mine is best suited for about 4 servings (as a main/only dish). So my guestimate is that the 16-inch adds about 2 additional servings? However, I believe it really comes down to your ingredient type/ratio - smaller clams, mussels/shrimps will allow for more rice as a filler perhaps? I think ultimately you'll have to try a batch or two before knowing if that pan truly suits your specific needs. Only caveat I can think of is IF you are using a stove top, being that the pan is thin it will not conduct heat to the outer edges very well. To prevent uneven cooking you will need to shift the pan during the cooking period to compensate.
Thanks all for the responses! @thimes; I've never made paella before, which is probably one of the reasons I'm having difficulty evaluating what I need. From what I've heard here it sounds like this really isn't that useful of a size--too large for 2 people, but not big enough for a real crowd (when I said hosting I was thinking groups of 10-15 people.
It also sounds like for a group that large its basically impossible to make paella unless you're using a huge pan, and to do that you need to cook over an open fire outdoors. So perhaps I should return the pan I have, get a smaller one for when I want to make meals only for myself and my wife, and a REALLY larger one to use for entertaining.
Does that sound about right?
That size (16") is good for 4-6 (max) guests, depending on serving size. Is the pan aluminum? Brand is not very meaningful for this application. As Mike notes already, the ideal is to have even heat over the bottom of the pan, so, anything much larger than 16" will be plagued by the unevenness of the burners below. You might consider getting a heat diffuser:
You can also consider using it on a charcoal kettle grill if the panhandles are metal or can otherwise handle heat. I've done that with great success..