Posted by: puebloman | April 19, 2009

A free lunch

Making paella for 200-300

Serving paella. Note the paella paddle

Paella (pronounced Pa!-eYa) is part of the traditional peasant fare of Andalusia. It used to be  basic rice and stock with whatever meat, fish or sometimes snails and veg was available. In paella a little goes a long way. It was cheap because the Valencian paella rice crop was reliable and relatively local. It used to be cooked in the fields in vast pans over wood fires for agricultural labourers so they didn’t wast time going back and forth for lunch. Today, ridiculous “fast food” versions are available to Costa tourists, and more traditional but richer versions are offered as part of the “Menu del Dia” in village bars. Bar Lopez in Almachar has it every Friday. It’s made in nearby houses and rushed into the bar’s little kitchen ready for lunch. It’s served as a starter course. The  paella in the photos is different again, it is part of the hospitality of the pueblo, a massive dish made in the open air at an annual fiesta when free food and drink is given away to all.

In case you want to do this for your community, the following recipe gives rough quantities that will feed a whole village plus friends, family, hangers on, and the band of scroungers who trail from fiesta to fiesta looking for a free lunch.

Paella del Pueblo: Serves 500 people as a small plate light lunch.

Chef demonstrates pan and paddle Benamargosa 2009

Chef demonstrates pan and paddle Benamargosa 2009

What you will need:

Two massive paella pans 1 to 2 metres in diameter, on stands.

  • Two long steel paella paddles
  • A large supply of seasoned wood. Olive is best but almond and lemon wood are also good
  • Two large chefs in stained t shirt and shorts to mix the paella
  • Two assistants with hoses to hose down the legs of the chefs
  • Two or three assistants to serve
  • 500 little paper plates
  • 500 little plastic forks
  • Ingredients (more or less):
  1. 100 litres of water
  2. 50 kilos of paella rice
  3. 50 kilos of mixed frozen seafood (100g per person) Including prawns, squid, mussels and small clams frozen in their shells. The seafood should be thawed but still slightly icy.
  4. 8 kilos chicken wings (optional)
  5. 5 litres Olive oil (not virgin or extra)
  6. 1 kilogram sweet pimiento powder
  7. 200gr saffron powder
  8. The “secret ingredient” that no-one will tell you about but I think is fish stock powder and garlic powder to taste


  1. About an hour before you want to start cooking light a fire under each pan
  2. Pour in the oil and fry the chicken wings til light golden, stirring with your paddles
  3. Soak the saffron or make a paste with water
  4. Add the rice to the pan straight from the bag. Coat the rice with the oil and the fat from the chicken and let fry a little, stirring with your paddle
  5. Throw in the pimiento and garlic. Stir to coat
  6. Add the water
  7. Dilute the saffron and add to the mixture. The liquid should be brightish yellow to orangish (see photos)
  8. Add stock cubes or mix powder to a paste, add to the mixture and taste. Be careful not to over salt. If your stock is cheap and commercial, it is just salt and fat. Ideally you’d have 100 litres of your own home made stock . . .
  9. The water will take ages to come to the boil. Go and have a beer. Walk over occasionally and poke the mixture as though you know what you’re doing but do not stir, beyond checking that the rice is not sticking.
  10. Keep drinking but keep your eye on the rice once the mixture has come to the boil.
  11. The rice will quite suddenly start to absorb the liquid. As soon as it starts to do this, chuck in some seafood. As the water comes back to the boil chuck in some more util it’s all in.
  12. Let the mixture simmer for 15 minutes, watching carefully and testing for sticking. Taste the rice for doneness. It should be very slightly al dente because it will continue to cook while you serve it. Use your senses of smell and taste to let you know when its about to be ready . .
  13. When there’s hardly any liquid left, toss the mixture with your paddles. Assistants hose down your legs so the fire doesn’ burn them.
  14. Serve immediately on paper plates with plastic forks, piping hot.
A small paella at the Almachar Romeria

Experienced chef apalled at the extremely small paella and the improvised paddle


  1. Nice post, and great blog! Greetings from Barcelona.


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