How to Pull off Seafood Paella for Twenty People

Some like to go clubbing, some like to go out to dinner, and others (like me) like to take on the challenge of feeding and hosting twenty people for their 25th birthday.

Now feeding and hosting twenty people wouldn’t have been a challenge if I had decided to cook up my traditional risotto recipe, but no, I set out to make paella, a notoriously finicky dish that I had never made before.  Most of my friends thought I was joking when I mentioned what I might be serving at my dinner, but with help from a number of sous chefs I was able to pull off a stunning and pretty authentic dish and feed a crowd of friends.


This is not to say that I went into this endeavor completely unprepared.  I’ve grown up under the wing of Juan Carlos Herguera, oceanographer and paella champion, whose paella I’ve had the opportunity to taste and from whom I’ve gathered a few tidbits of advice.  Although I’ve never made paella myself, I was guided step by step through the process a couple of years ago by a lovely chef in Tecate, Mexico.

What I’ve learned is paella is pretty versatile and you should come out with a pretty impressive dish if you follow these simple guidelines:

1. Cook in a large shallow bottomed pan

I invested in a 22″ paella pan from Sur La Table.  You can find it here.


2.  Cook over an open fire or on a grill

For my paella I set a grill over hot coals in my outdoor fire pit and placed my paella pan over that.  A good paella requires evenly distributed heat, something that’s easiest to get on a 22″ pan by placing it over a fire pit.  If you do decide to cook over a stove, I’d suggest continuously rotating it over four burners to distribute heat evenly.

Paella Sofrito

3. Add only  an inch of rice

Paella is about the rice.  That crispy flavorful rice at the bottom is what paella is all about.  Adding too much rice is the most common mistake.  Rice should be distributed evenly around your pan with a depth of an inch or the pad of your thumb.

4. Do Not Stir

Paella is not risotto.  Stirring will ruin both texture and flavor.  Note: this is the hardest part for me.


5. Use the right rice

Paella requires a short grained rice like bomba rice.  Long grained varieties will not do.


Seafood Paella

Serves 20


  • 45-50 strands saffron (approximately 1/2 tsp)
  • 7 rock fish fillets
  • kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to tasteIMG_5730
  • 3/4 cup virgin olive oil (more if needed)
  • 1 lb shrimp
  • 15 oz. fresh squid or cuttlefish
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 2 large onions diced
  • 4 green bell peppers chopped
  • 8 medium tomatoes minced
  • 6 cloves garlic minced
  • 10 cups fish broth
  • 5 cups chicken broth
  • 5 cups short grain rice (bomba or valencia)
  • 1 lb clams cleaned


  1. Prepare coals and grill.
  2. Clean and prepare your seafood.  Remove shells on shrimp and remove black waste from backside of shrimp.  Remove feather, outer layer, innards of squid.  Cut tentacles from eyes and remove beak.  Cut squid body into 1 inch rings.  Prepare fish with a drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper.
  3. Place saffron threads in hot water and set aside for 15 minutes.
  4. Place paella pan on grill set above hot coals.  layer pan with olive oil.  throw shrimp, fish, and squid in pan cooking stirring constantly until meat is no longer pink and is slightly golden in color approximately 5-8 minutes.  Remove from pan and set aside on a plate.
  5. Prepare sofrito.  Add more olive oil into seafood seasoned pan.  Add chopped onions stirring until onions are golden and translucent.  Add in chopped peppers, garlic, paprika,  tomatoes, salt, and pepper.  Cook stirring occasionally until peppers are slightly soft.
  6. Add broth and saffron water and bring to a boil.
  7. sprinkle rice evenly over boiling broth mixture.  You are allowed to stir at this point to make sure rice is spread into an even layer over base of pan.
  8. Cook without stirring until rice has been mostly absorbed (time depends on heat of your fire, approximately 20-30 minutes)  Add clams.
  9. When clams have opened add in other seafood evenly.  Do not stir. Remove rice when it is slightly al dente.
  10. Let stand for at least 5 minutes and then serve directly from paella pan

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