Chuck-it-all-in-there Paella

I think a lot of us see paella as a special occasion thing: time-consuming, requiring a lot of prep, but fun, festive, and abundant, so it’s great for a party. Sure, that’s all true . . . however, if you reframe things a little bit, it can be perfect for every day as well. In fact, along with its Italian cousin risotto, it’s one of my favorite leftover makeovers.

Moreover, given that we’ve been on COVID lockdown for  . . . um, I think it’s been a million years? Is that right?  . . . whatever . . . we can all probably use a little festive spirit at home.

Paellas work with any number of ingredients and flavors. You’ll see different versions all around Spain, and there are even restaurants where the entire menu is made up of a bunch of takes on the classic dish. So go ahead and play with it!

Moreover, if you flip your thinking on it, it’s also a perfect dish to use up bits and pieces you have leftover of different veggies and meats. Now more than ever, just use whatever you have. The best part is that cuts the prep waaaaay down and makes paella much more viable for an average night.

I did this one night during this zombie apocalypse. I have paella rice in my quarantine stocked pantry, so one night I dragged a bunch of stuff out of my fridge, lined it all up, and little by little just tossed into the mix. Admittedly, there were a few items I tossed in there that I might not typically put in a paella under normal circumstances, like shreds of brisket; but hey, the results were still super tasty. You can also make this largely with pantry staples, which is great if you haven’t been to the grocery store in a while.

I looked around at various recipes for inspiration, but this one from New York Times Cooking became my vague blueprint on this occasion.


I find paellas to be extremely wine-friendly and it’s a fun dish to play around with in terms of pairings. The mixture of flavors and textures makes it so that the same paella often works solidly well with a fairly wide selection of wines, both white and red. If your paella has more seafood and veggies, you might want to pick a white, and if there’s more meat in the mix, you can tend more towards red. Rosés and light to medium-bodied reds tend to be pretty agile in either direction.

We have a pairing adage in the wine world – “what grows together, goes together” – meaning that dishes from a particular cuisine will tend to go with wines coming from the same region. I think that applies nicely here, with lots of Spanish wines of all shades working particularly well with paellas. If you’re ever having a dinner party with paella as the centerpiece (once we can have dinner parties again), pick up a few Spanish bottles in different styles then mix and match to see what you and your guests like the best.

On the day I made this particular paella I had a bottle Bodegas LAN Culmen Rioja Reserva 2011 open that had been sent to me as a sample (all opinions are my own) to try during a virtual happy hour and seminar with members of the LAN team. Having this lovely bottle open seemed like a good reason to have a little paella party for two at home.

Image of LAN's Winemaker María Barua from the virtual chat.

On the nose, the wine showed notes of black cherry, plum, tobacco, herbs, and licorice. On the palate, baking spices, espresso, lilacs, and a little resinous note joined the mix. It was rich and robust, but still maintained brightness and with smooth tannins.

If I’d been cooking to the wine as I often do on SommsTable.com, I might’ve chosen an even meatier dish like a lamb or a roast of some kind. Even so, it made a nice match with our paella.

This is one of LAN’s top-end wines, so it’s a bit of a splurge (average price $63), but they have many wines in their line at many different price points. I actually previously shared their LAN Rioja Reserva on SommsTable.com paired with Smoky Seared Octopus.

Chuck-it-all-in-there Paella

Chuck-it-all-in-there Paella

Servings: 4 to 6
Adding leftovers to paella can help use up bits and pieces and makes this festive, but usually time-consuming dish a viable option for just about any night.


Core Ingredients

Even most of these are just strong recommendations.
  • 4 cups stock (although water will work in a pinch)
  • 1 ½ cups Spanish short-grain rice
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped (shallots will also work fine)
  • 3 or 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ teaspoon saffron threads or turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon Pimentón Ahumado, Spanish smoked paprika (don’t get stuck on the smoked, if all you have is sweet paprika
  • ½ cup to 1 ½ cup tomato purée or diced tomato (I used one can of diced tomatoes)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive oil (or other cooking oil)
Meats & Seafood, such as:
  • Sausages
  • Shredded chicken
  • Bacon
  • Charcuterie
  • Shrimp
  • Mussels 
  • Most of these can be cooked or precooked. Of course, feel free to leave these out entirely for a vegetarian version. In this case, I used shredded chicken, shredded brisket, sliced chicken Andouille sausages, and possibly some bits of charcuterie.
Other Veggies, such as:
  • ½ cup to 1 cup bell pepper, finely chopped or in strips (fresh or jarred)
  • Olives
  • Green peas
  • Diced or shredded carrots
  • Mushrooms
  • Parsley, if you happen to have some around, it makes a nice garnish and adds a pot of fresh flavor
  • These can be cooked or precooked. In this case, I used diced jarred red peppers and olives.


  1. Heat stock in a saucepan. Add saffron or turmeric and set aside.
  2. Prepare any uncooked meats (not including seafood). Heat oil in a 12- to 14-inch paella pan or cast-iron skillet. Add meats and sauté on medium to medium-high heat until lightly browned. Do not overcrowd the pan, as it will prevent the meat from browning, so work in batches as needed. Once browned, remove the meat from the pan and set aside.
  3. Cook hardy veggies. Deglaze the pan if needed with a little stock or water, making sure to scrape up any browned bits. Add more oil to the pan if needed, followed by the onions, along with any other vegetables that take a while to cook such as bell pepper, carrots, or mushrooms. Season with lightly with salt and pepper and sauté until soft over medium to medium-high heat, then add in the garlic and cook for another minute.
  4. Add the rice. Stir in the rice and toss well in vegetable mixture. Stir in the paprika and the tomato purée or diced tomatoes. Stir, then slowly add in the stock. Return any meats to the pan, then gently move the rice and meat so that everything is evenly distributed throughout the pan. Do not stir the rice after this point since you want it to develop a beautiful crust on the bottom.
  5. Let it cook. Taste the liquid and adjust seasoning, then let it cook uncovered and undisturbed over medium-low to medium heat for about 20 to 25 minutes. If using seafood and/or delicate vegetables add them about 10 minutes in by laying them on top. (Strips of jarred roasted peppers look pretty if laid on top as well.) Once the liquid is nearly absorbed, taste the rice to make sure the rice is tender. If needed add additional liquid (stock or water) about a ½ cup at a time.
  6. Let it sit. Once the rice is tender and the liquid absorbed, make sure that any seafood is cooked through, then cover the pan loosely with a lid, foil, or parchment paper and let it sit for 10 minutes.
  7. Enjoy! Uncover and garnish with parsley if using. Serve and make sure to include some of the socarrat, the crunchy rice at the bottom of the pan.


Prep time will vary depending on what ingredients you choose and if they've been previously cooked or fresh.
Paella, leftover makeover, quarantine cooking
dinner, rice
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