I’m guilty of writing those recipes from time to time. I get excited about a technique or a combination, and one pan leads to another. Even the simplest of dishes, such as pasta with a quick pan sauce, can violate the one-pot rule. At least the stockpot I boiled the pasta in usually needs little more than a good rinsing afterward.
Some of my favorite dishes, though, are far more streamlined. Stir-fries, soups, sandwiches, salads and pizza typically use just one cooking implement — if that. And then there are the single-pan dishes that seem much more complex than they really are.
Which brings me to paella. I can hear the cries already: Paella for one? Blasphemy! “Paella is a sociable dish,” writes Alberto Herraiz in a cookbook called, simply, “Paella” (Phaidon, 2011). And indeed, exhibition-size paellas abound; Jose Andres and his Jaleo team make an annual appearance at the Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market, among other places, to make paella for, oh, 300 or so of their closest friends. It involves tubs of chicken, bushels of vegetables, gallons of stock, bag upon bag of short-grain rice and an oar-size stirrer.
When my sister and I traveled to Spain almost a decade ago, we made a pilgrimage to the birthplace of paella. There, we tasted an iconic iteration of it in a seaside restaurant outside the city. The standard offering served two. Just two. As Spanish cooking authority Penelope Casas writes in “Paella!” (Holt, 1999), “Although it makes a splendid party dish (for which most of the preparation can be done in advance), it is just as appropriate for quiet nights at home.”
Hear, hear. The day after we tasted that revelatory paella in Valencia — the pan was bigger around than I had expected, the rice shallower (and crispy on the bottom), the other ingredients sparser — we bought carbon-steel paella pans outside the city’s fabulous Mercado Central.
Since then, I’ve made paella for dinner parties at least a few times a year for six or eight guests, not 300. But I also like to go to the other extreme. Paella may be sociable, but sometimes I’m not, so I make paella for one. It’s satisfaction, not precision, I’m after. Paella delivers, especially for a rice fiend like myself.
Once I figured out the right amounts, everything else fell into place: one-third cup of Bomba, Calasparra or Arborio rice; a cup of seafood or vegetable broth, usually of my own making. The technique is the same as for the larger paellas: Without the benefit of an outdoor grill, I followed the procedure I learned from Casas’s book, amended here and there by my Catalan friend Pep.