When thinking of cooking paella, one of the things you will see recommended the most is a particular piece of cookware- the paella pan. This specialized pan is made to evenly and quickly cook paella over a range of surfaces. However, do you really need a paella pan to make the dish? The answer is no. You can cook paella with a variety of pots and pans. But there will be some cooking differences when using something like a cast iron pan or stainless-steel skillet.
Paella pans typically come in two varieties: carbon steel and enameled. Carbon steel pans are the more traditional types of pan, while enameled are relatively new. The only significant difference is that enameled is non-stick and will not rust as long as the enamel coating is intact. Enameled also takes a little longer to heat up, but not by much. At Machika, you can buy both enameled and polished carbon steel paella pans. You can check out our store by clicking the link here. These pans are authentic paella pans from Valencia, Spain. So, they are perfect for cooking any paella recipe you come across. With that in mind, here are some of the best alternatives to paella pans to use when making your authentic Spanish dish.
- Cast-iron pan
- Stainless steel skillet
Cooking Paella with Cast-Iron
A popular choice of pan for many recipes and cooking meats like steak, seasoned cast-iron is a black and dense pan. The material is much denser than carbon steel so it is heavier and hard to handle the larger it is. Since paella is typically for a group of people, cooking with cast-iron can be a little difficult. It is better to cook smaller paella dishes when using cast-iron since you will need a smaller pan. While cooking with cast-iron, you will have to keep in mind certain things like the heat retention of the material. Retention just means how long the metal can hold heat when removed from the heat source. Paella pans are thin, so they do not retain heat very well. This makes it easier to control the temperature of the pan and avoid burning the rice.
With cast-iron pans, you will want to cook at a lower heat and try to avoid leaving the pan at a high heat for too long. The last thing you want is to ruin the flavor of your paella by burning ingredients. You will also want to remove the pan from the heat a lot earlier than you would a regular paella pan. Removing it earlier will allow the ingredients to finish cooking using the leftover heat and stop it from overcooking. A well-seasoned cast-iron surface is also partly non-stick so cooking paella on it is easier.
Stainless Steel Skillet
The most common pan you will find in people’s cupboards are stainless steel skillets. A large stainless-steel skillet is probably one of the best alternatives to a paella pan. They are typically thin, lightweight, nearly flat, and can be large enough for the dish. You would not have to do much when using a skillet versus a paella pan. Like cast-iron, you will want to watch the heat as it will not be as thin as a regular paella pan. Stainless steel also tends to stick more compared to well-seasoned carbon steel.
Be careful when dealing with aluminum skillets, however. They may look similar to stainless steel, but are much easier to tarnish and absorb unwanted flavor. Acidic foods are not recommended when dealing with aluminum pans. People report a strong metallic taste and damage to the pan when cooking highly acidic foods. Paella can be quite acidic, particularly when dealing with seafood paellas.
Another great pan to use for cooking paella recipes is a wok. While a wok has a stronger concave surface but are great at spreading heat. This allows for the heat to get to the rice better creating a nice socarrat. If you like cooking or eating stir-fry, then you are probably well acquainted with this type of pan. They are very affordable, made of carbon steel, and large enough to make a medium size paella. While you may have trouble getting a nice paella using a wok, it is not impossible. You will want to keep in mind you are not cooking stir-fry and let your rice sit in the pan to form the paella. Do not keep stirring and mixing your ingredients.