Paella expert Chef Rulis walks us through the steps to get to that ought-after crunchy rice.
If you’ve ever had paella before, you know it’s a feast. Not simply because the portions are often generous, but it’s a feast for all your senses as well. It has a beautiful golden hue, plenty of seared meats and/or seafood, brightly colored vegetables, and of course the socarrat.
The word socarrat comes from the Spanish socarrada, meaning charred (or scorched in Catalan) and refers to the coveted crispy bottom of the rice. Similar to the Persian tadig, which also features crunchy rice and saffron, socarrat provides a perfect contrast in texture to the chewy rice that makes up the basis of the rest of the dish.
You may think that it will be hard to achieve this textural contrast without the intense heat of a professional kitchen’s stove. However, our Carbon Steel Paella Pan conducts heat so well and so evenly that getting the perfect socarrat is doable at home. We spoke with Chef Rulis Gonzalez of Rulis’ International Kitchen in El Paso, TX to learn his tips on getting socarrat right every time.
The key to a perfect socarrat is using a medium grain rice. Arborio is usually what's called for, but you can use Nishiki or Botan sushi rice as well. Before you start cooking, give the rice a rise to wash off some of the starch so it doesn’t all clump together—but you don’t want the water running totally clear.
“Normally, if I'm making basmati or jasmine rice at home, then I want to get the water clear. But for paella, you do want a little bit of that starch to coat all your ingredients and help hold everything together,” says Chef Rulis.
“I don't use olive oil to cook the paella. You can drizzle some on top for finishing, but to cook, I use canola oil,” says Chef Rulis. Paella is a deeply flavored dish and the socarrat itself is getting a lot of that flavor from the meat and the wine already.
If you use olive oil, you run the risk of imparting a burnt, funky taste into the rice. Canola or another neutral oil is best because it has a higher smoke point and will yield a cleaner flavor to the overall dish.
Chef Rulis layers flavor by searing his proteins first, and then deglazing with wine before adding the rice. “Plus, the crunchies you get from searing the meat also add to the socarrat,” he says.
While this does not directly impact the socarrat itself, part of paella is its signature color. Saffron not only turns all of the rice a beautiful shade of gold, but it also imparts a subtle floral flavor which is hard to describe but unmistakable to taste.
“I think a lot of people just sort of throw the saffron in there,” says Chef Rulis. “But you'll get much more color, much more flavor if you bloom it first.” Blooming saffron is like steeping tea—you soak it in warm water to release the color. If you skip this step, the color will not distribute evenly. Make sure not to use boiling water however, or you will damage the delicate threads. You can even do this overnight if you want to color to be more intense. Chef Rulis also notes that if you see paella that is bright yellow rather than gold, it’s likely made with turmeric instead of saffron.
Paella is not a dish you can walk away from. You need to be present throughout the cooking process to monitor the changes in liquid so that you’re not burning your rice, which ruins it before the socarrat can even be achieved.
Once you’ve seared your meat, deglazed the pan, removed the meat, and added in the rice, it’s time to pour in the steeped saffron. Then you can return the meat to the pan, mix in your vegetables, and cover everything with stock. The mixture should boil for about 20 minutes as the rice absorbs the stock and all of the surrounding flavors.
The rice needs to be fully cooked before it gets crispy—this is perhaps the most important step of getting the socarrat right. “In the last 5-10 minutes of the cooking time, just turn up the heat a little bit to get that bottom perfectly crusted,” says Chef Rulis. Most of the water should be evaporated before you turn up the heat. If there’s too much water in the pan you will not get the crunch you’re looking for. You’re not trying to burn it, just lightly toast it. Pay close attention to smell and sound. You will begin to hear crackling noises and the rice should start to smell toasted and slightly nutty.
We know how much Cookware matters, especially when it comes to a dish like paella that needs to be cooked in a specific fashion. That is why we created the Carbon Steel Paella Griddle Pan. Its unique shape and vast surface area allows for maximum heat contact, which means more socarrat. “The thing I love about Carbon Steel is just the way that you can control the temperature,” says Chef Rulis. “It transfers the heat so much faster. You just turn it up and it gets the job done in like five minutes. It makes the whole process really intuitive, you just kind of look at it, smell it, and you know when it’s done.”
The Paella Pan can also be used as a griddle for cooking things like burgers, fish or even vegetables. If you don’t have one yet, it’s the perfect addition to your kitchen—for socarrat, summer, and everything in between.