Happy Paella Day 2019

by mary on April 2, 2019

March 27th is National Paella Day and every year I celebrate by making a different paella.  Paella is a rice dish originally from the Valencia region of Spain.  Originally a rustic rice dish cooked in a shallow pan by workers in the field, it has since gone on to worldwide fame and has dozens of variations.  The original version had foraged ingredients, such as snails and rabbit, later more luxurious items such as seafood and chicken were added for special occasions. You can really get creative with the flavors!

Arroz negro with tiny squid!

This year I made one of my favorite paellas and one of the most dramatic ones, the black squid ink paella, or arroz negro.  The key ingredients for black rice are bomba rice, a great stock and squid ink.  Bomba rice or calasparra rice is the special short grain rice used for all paellas.  Squid ink can be bought in jars online and is what gives the paella it special savory flavor and black color. 

A great stock is essential for any paella, and for this rice we want a fish or shellfish one.  It’s ideal to make your own, but I always keep Aneto fish and chicken stock in the house just in case.  It’s not cheap but it’s delicious and is made in Spain from the best ingredients.   The protein for a black rice is usually cuttlefish but here in the US we can substitute squid.  I often like to use a mixture of squid and shrimp. 

The ideal paella will be made in a very large shallow pan over live fire or a special paella burner, but when we can easily adapt the cooking technique.  Over a grill works well if you have even heat, but easier is to start it on the stove-top and finish it in the oven.  It cooks fast, 5 minutes on high on a burner, followed by 15 minutes in the oven to finish the rice and dry it out.  You want to rest it covered for at least 5 minutes before serving.

The cooking technique is simple, essentially sautéing the ingredients and adding the stock, but helpful tips are to keep the rice layer thin, no more than an inch, and after adding all the ingredients don’t stir it again!  The goal is to form a thin crispy, slightly burn layer on the bottom, the socorrat.  This layer is very sought after and is the sign of an expert paella maker.  you don’t want the rice more than an inch thick.  Also watch your liquid-rice ratios as mushy rice is the biggest problem with most paella.  Paella rice should have a slight toothsome feel to it and the ratio is about 2.5 times stock to rice. 

Black paella and dry red lambrusco

There are many recipes out there for black paella, but I like this one by Ferran Adria.

Arroz negro is traditional served garnished simply with some lemon slices and aioli.  Match it with a nice green salad and a rose wine and you have the perfect meal to celebrate national paella day! 

This year my squid were a little small and my socorrat was not fully developed, but the flavor and perfect texture of the rice made us all very happy. Our dry Lambrusco was a great match.


Octopus rice takes me back to time spent in Portugal. It represents all that that I love about Portuguese cuisine: simple, fresh flavors and the taste of the sea.

Portuguese octopus rice

My love for octopus started in Spain but it’s in Portugal where it became an obsession. The Portuguese prepare octopus with every possible cooking method. I still dream of tender fried octopus cutlets and the best roasted octopus I’ve ever had. But the dish that comforts me most and brings me back is octopus rice. This simple soupy rice stew is homey and tastes intensely of octopus. It’s also very simple to make.

Beautiful octopus

Cooking octopus can intimidating but it’s very simple. There are many complex methods out there but the easiest is to cook it in a pressure cooker until very tender.

Once your octopus is cooked the recipe is so simple, twenty minutes from start to finish. My version is pretty faithful to the original but I do have a slight twist with Japanese ingredients that adds extra umami and more taste of the sea.

I add some bonito flakes and do my final salt adjustment with dashi stock powder. These two ingredients really add to the intensity and complexity of the dish.

Recipe for Octopus Rice
• 1 large onion, diced
• ½ red bell pepper, diced
• 50 ml / (3 1/3 tablespoons) olive oil
• 3 cloves of garlic, coarsely minced
• 1 teaspoon smoked paprika (pimenton)
• ¼ cup aromatic wine such as Albarino
• 250 grams / (8 3/4 ounces) rice
• 2 cups reserved octopus cooking liquid, plus more as needed
• 1 kg / (2 1/4 pounds) octopus, cooked and chopped
• Pepper (to taste)
• Coriander (to taste)
• Salt (to taste)
• Optional umami boosters: 3 Tbsp. of katsuobushi and Japanese dashi stock powder to taste

Hopefully your octopus comes cleaned but if not, there are many YouTube videos on how to clean it. Then place it in a pressure cooker and cover with water. I like to put in an onion, some parsley, and a couple of bay leaves. Cook on high for about 15 minutes. Quick release and test for tenderness; a knife should insert easily into the thickest part of a leg. If not tender enough cook again on high for 5 more minutes. Let the octopus cool in the cooking liquid and then remove, reserving the liquid. Cut the whole octopus into bite size pieces.

For the octopus rice, sweat the onion in the olive oil for 5 minutes and then add the red pepper. Once slightly softened, add the garlic and sweat 2 more minutes. Add the pimenton and mix in well, add the wine and reduce until almost gone. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes until the flavors are all blended. Tip in the rice and stir until well coated. Add the octopus cooking liquid.

Bring to a boil and then reduce, simmer until the liquid is mostly absorbed and the rice is tender but still slightly al dente, about 10-12 minutes. When the rice is almost finished, add in the octopus pieces. If using adjust seasoning with dashi stock powder and add the bonito flakes. Finish the dish with a generous amount of coarsely chopped cilantro.

Serve it with a vinegary green salad and a light red wine. I had it with the Sucette Grenache from Australia. This is a crisp, light Grenache that has some sweet red fruit and is not very tannic. The crisp complements the octopus and the smooth fruit marries perfectly with the tomato element of the rice.


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