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Season 17, Episode 22 Recap: How to Make the Best Paella

Plus, Adam reviews paella pans, and Dan makes patatas bravas.

Published June 5, 2017.

This episode of America’s Test Kitchen opens with hosts Bridget Lancaster and Julia Collin Davison gushing over the wonders of paella cooked on the grill. (Why do we love it? Paella on the grill is more traditional than paella on the stove or in the oven. The live fire provides a subtle smokiness, and the extra-large cooking area allows for better and more even soccarat development.) Later, Adam Ried reviews paella pans, and Dan Souza shows Julia how to make another authentic Spanish tapas dish—patatas bravas.

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"A Spanish Affair"

On this episode of America's Test Kitchen, Bridget and Julia make paella on the grill. Later, Adam reviews paella pans. Finally, Dan makes a classic Spanish tapas dish: patatas bravas.   
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Five Takeaways from the Episode

1. With Paella, the Flavor Comes from the Sofrito: With paella, the sofrito consists of onions, bell peppers, and tomatoes. However when cooking on the grill, it takes too long to drive off the moisture of the tomatoes, and that can prohibit caramelization. In our version of paella, we swap out wet tomatoes for tomato paste. It’s already cooked down, and will deliver that concentrated, hearty tomato flavor.

2. Arborio Rice Isn’t Just for Risotto: Paella recipes call for a medium-grain rice. Because the traditional Spanish varietals—bomba and Valencian—can be difficult to find in supermarkets, Italian arborio makes for a fine stand-in.

3. Picking Up a Paella Pan is Worth Your Money: If you want to make an authentic, grilled paella, it’s worth owning a paella pan. Sure, you could use a stovetop-safe roasting pan, but if you want to achieve the right balance of socarrat—which is that crispy, caramelized layer of rice at the bottom of paella—spring for the pan that’s made for the job.

4. When Making Patatas Bravas, Use Russet Potatoes: Russets are very high in starch, and they’re very dry—when fried, they wind up with a crisp exterior and a fluffy interior. They make for incredibly, ridiculously tasty fried potatoes.

5. Baking Soda Is Your Secret Weapon: Traditionally, patatas bravas are double fried. The first fry cooks the potatoes through, while the second ensures a crispy, golden exterior. Instead of double frying, we first cook the potatoes in boiling water with baking soda. The baking soda breaks down the pectin in the potatoes, causing the exterior cells to leak starch. Once fried, the starchy layer turns into the golden crust that patatas bravas are known for. With our method, we get the same crispy, golden results after a single fry—and while using less oil, too.

Quote of the Week: “It’s like a paella pinwheel.” —Bridget, as Julia adds shrimp in a circular pattern to the middle of the paella pan

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