Perfect Pairings: Paella and Rioja

My last Cheat Sheet on Tempranillo  had me thinking about the last time I made Paella. My anh (adorable new husband) and I had just returned from Spain and I was all-inspired to continue drinking the delicious (and inexpensive, and accessible) wines we had tasted while touring Rioja, and of course I wanted to re-create the amazing food we had experienced all throughout our trip.

I revised this paella recipe quite a bit to make it a more-perfect pairing partner to Tempranillo by leaving out most of the seafood and going heavy on the braised chicken and sausage.  This recipe is originally based on one I hand-copied from a “Foods of the World” book about 30 years ago.  This series of books, from what I recall, was published in the 70’s by National Geographic or maybe Life Magazine.  I’ve carried my hand-written copy around and revised it for almost 30 years.  I am confident that this version is far-far removed from the original recipe, but if anyone knows what book series I am talking about, I’d love to be reminded of just what book that original recipe came from.  

Bubbly Professor’s Paella, Perfect for Rioja

Serves 6 as an entrée, and makes for great leftovers!


  • 1/2 cup Olive Oil (plus more if necessary for sautéing)
  • 1 lb shrimp, peeled, deveined, and with the tail left on
  • 6 chicken thighs (skin on)
  • 1 lb. Italian Sausage (in the casings)
  • 1 medium Spanish Onion, medium dice
  • 1 large tomato, small dice (1/2 cup diced tomato)
  • 1 t. salt, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon Saffron threads (this is the only real expensive part)
  • 1 T. Smoked Paprika (substitute regular Paprika if preferred)
  • 2 quarts Chicken Stock
  • 2 cups Bomba or other short-grain rice
  • 1 Roasted Red Bell Pepper, julienne
  • 1 cup Green Peas (fresh or frozen)

A note on equipment:  The ideal pan for this dish is a 14-inch paella pan.  However, I don’t have a paella pan, so have always just used my 14-inch slope-sided sauté pan.  Use whatever you have; a sauté pan, a dutch oven, or even a stock pot.  It’s more about the technique than the pan.

  1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in your chosen cooking vessel.  Salt and pepper the chicken thighs, and place them, skin side down, in the pan.  Cook about 6 minutes on each side, until golden brown.  Remove to a plate and set aside.  If you are making this recipe is steps, which is easy to do, cover them and refrigerate them as soon as they have cooled.
  2. Using the same pan, sauté the sausage links.  Remove to the side and left cool slightly, then slice into rounds.  Leave off to the side or refrigerate as needed.
  3. Add more olive oil if necessary, and using the same pan, saute the shrimp over medium-high heat for about five minutes.  Set aside and refrigerate and necessary.
  4. Add more olive oil in necessary, and add the chopped onion to the pan.  Sauté over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes.  The onions should be soft but not golden brown.
  5. Immediately add the diced tomatoes, raise the heat, and stir continuously for about 3 minutes.
  6. Add the salt, saffron, paprika and stir.  Add 1 cup of stock and deglaze the pan thoroughly – you want all the browned-bit-flavor-rich goodness from the bottom of the pan.
  7. Add the rest of the stock, bring to a simmer, and cook 5 minutes.
  8. Add the rice and stir well, and allow the mixture to come to a simmer.  From this point on, you must resist the temptation to stir the pot!
  9. Simmer – without stirring!! – for 10 minutes.
  10. Add the sausage and chicken.  Place them strategically around the pot so that the dish will look nice when you serve it because you will NOT be stirring the pot!
  11. Cook again for 10 minutes, then add the shrimp to the pot.  I like to kind of push them down into the now-thickening mixture.
  12. Cook again, without stirring for 10 – 15 minutes.  Scatter the red bell peppers and peas over the top.  The “trick” to paella is to cook until the liquid is almost completely absorbed and then….
  13. Listen for the “crackle”. This “crackle” sound means the most-delicious, crunchy-crusty part of the rice (called “Soccarat” and considered the “best part of the dish”) is forming.  That’s right…put your ear to the pan and wait for the crackle.  Once you hear it, you’ll never forget it!
  14. Remove from the heat, let it rest for a few minutes, and then serve.  It’s traditional to just eat the paella right from the pot.

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

2 Responses to Perfect Pairings: Paella and Rioja

  1. ruthieloveswine says:

    Can’t wait to try this!

  2. Pingback: Rioja foods | Tourdedoubleda

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