How To Make Arroz con Gambas

updated Apr 14, 2021
summer
How To Make Arroz con Gambas

This vibrant Spanish rice dish, which uses the same technique as paella, is loaded with fresh veggies and shrimp and topped with garlicky all i oli.

Serves4

Prep30 minutes

Cook1 hour

Jump to Recipe
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arroz con gambas in a pan ready to eat
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Brett Regot

When I think of paella, I think of José Andres. It was happenstance that my first job in the restaurant industry was in one of chef José’s restaurants, and since that time, he’s become one of my personal mentors — and a force of good in the world through his non-profit, World Central Kitchen. His cooking style is effortless and almost nonchalant, and it comes from a sense of confidence, paired with years of practice.

Since that time, I’ve worked at other Spanish restaurants, including El Bulli (the best restaurant in the world at the time), and I’ve opened two Spanish restaurants with my family, Cúrate and La Bodega by Cúrate in Asheville, North Carolina. Along the way, I’ve never forgotten the basic paella fundamentals that I learned from chef José. Here, I’ll teach them to you, along with a few tips and tricks I picked up along the way.

What Is Paella?

Paella is an iconic Spanish dish, known and loved by many. It’s named after the pan the dish is cooked in, and originated in Valencia, home to wetlands that produce the short-grain rice essential to the dish. True Valencian paella is made with chicken, rabbit, green beans, butter beans, and sometimes snail, duck, or artichokes.

This recipe, which features a summery mix of shrimp, green beans, tomatoes, and scallions, veers from the classic, so I’m respectfully calling it an “arroz” — a rice. It uses the same methodology as paella, but with different ingredients. Think of it as a formula, and use ingredients that are fresh and in season!

Some of the best rice dishes I’ve ever had were cooked on the beaches of the Costa Brava in northeastern Spain. My husband is from Catalonia, where seafood from the Mediterranean is fresh and abundant. I have incredibly fond memories of discussing the secrets of the perfect arroz with cooks who prepared these dishes almost daily for 25 years. While I’m sure years of practice had a hand in their success, there was also a common theme in the uncompromised quality of the ingredients: seafood caught that morning, locally grown vegetables, homemade stock. 

Perhaps the most important element, the thing that keeps people coming back, is the crispy layer that forms on the bottom of a well-executed arroz — the socarrat! Crispy rice spans all cultures, and this is a legendary version. It’s no easy feat to achieve perfectly cooked rice and a crispy-but-not-burnt layer on the bottom of the pan, but my hope is that this recipe will guide you through the process with ease. The depth of flavor and crunch are the reasons that paella, or arroz, is one of Spain’s most popular dishes. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Brett Regot

6 Tips for the Best Arroz at Home

Over the years, I’ve learned lots of tricks for turning out great arroz. Here’s what you need to know.

  1. Don’t compromise on the rice! It must be a short-grain rice, preferably a Spanish short-grain rice like Calasparra or Bomba, both of which you can buy online.
  2. Take the sofrito to as deep of a hue as possible without burning. The caramelization and sweetness that form at this step will be the flavor bomb that takes the arroz to the next level.
  3. The magic number is 18. José taught me that the magic number is 18: Simmer the rice in the stock at an 18-minute pace. If it looks like the liquid will evaporate before 18 minutes, cut back the heat; if it looks like there will be noticeable liquid around the grains of rice at 18 minutes, turn up the heat! 
  4. Listen to and smell the socarrat. After the liquid has evaporated and the pan is getting dry, the sound will change from a slow bubbling to almost a snap, crackle, pop — that’s the rice cooking. As soon as that happens, start sniffing: The socarrat will let off a toasty smell. Make sure to take it to toasty, but not burnt.
  5. Use a pan that cooks evenly. You don’t have to have a paella pan to make a great arroz. Try a well-seasoned cast iron skillet or other heavy-bottomed pan with low sides.
  6. Don’t skip the all i oli. All i oli (Catalan for garlic and oil) is a mayonnaise-like condiment that rounds out a variety of arroz dishes, adding a touch of garlicky, creamy texture to bind the grains of rice together. Don’t leave it out — it’s part of a well-rounded and authentic arroz experience.
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Brett Regot
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Here's how to make arroz con gambas at home.

How To Make Arroz con Gambas

This vibrant Spanish rice dish, which uses the same technique as paella, is loaded with fresh veggies and shrimp and topped with garlicky all i oli.

Prep time 30 minutes

Cook time 1 hour

Serves 4

Ingredients

For the all i oli:

  • 1 clove

    garlic

  • 1

    large egg

  • 1

    large egg yolk

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    freshly squeezed lemon juice

  • Kosher salt

  • 1 cup

    mild-flavored olive oil, such as Arbequina

For the sofrito:

  • 1/2 head

    garlic (6 to 8 cloves)

  • 1 tablespoon

    olive oil

  • 1

    medium yellow onion

  • 1 pound

    plum tomatoes or tomatoes on the vine, the ripest you can find

For the arroz:

  • 4 ounces

    green beans

  • 1/2

    medium bunch scallions

  • 1 tablespoon

    olive oil

  • 8 ounces

    large shell-on shrimp (16 to 26 per pound), preferably head on

  • 1 cup

    cherry tomatoes

  • 1 tablespoon

    plus 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided, plus more for seasoning

  • 1 (32-ounce) box

    full-sodium chicken broth

  • 1/4 cup

    water

  • 1 1/2 cups

    paella rice, such as Calasparra or Bomba

Equipment

  • Food processor

  • Measuring cups and spoons

  • Box grater

  • Medium frying pan

  • 12 to 14-inch paella or shallow frying pan

Instructions

Make the all i oli:

  1. Chop the ingredients. Place 1 garlic clove, 1 large egg, 1 large egg yolk, 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice, and a pinch of kosher salt in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment and process until very finely chopped, about 30 seconds.

  2. Stream in oil. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in 1 cup olive oil and process until thick and creamy like mayonnaise, 1 to 2 minutes.

Make the sofrito:

  1. Prep the vegetables. Peel and mince the cloves from 1/2 head garlic (6 to 8 cloves). Finely chop 1 medium yellow onion. Halve 1 pound tomatoes, grate the flesh side of each piece on the large holes of a box grater into a bowl, and discard the skins.

  2. Cook the aromatics. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until deep golden-brown and caramelized, 6 to 7 minutes.

  3. Add the tomatoes. Add the grated tomatoes and cook until the liquid is evaporated and everything is deep golden-brown, about 11 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Make the rice:

  1. Prep the vegetables. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 425°F. Meanwhile, trim the stem ends from 4 ounces green beans. Trim the roots from 1/2 medium bunch scallions.

  2. Prep the shrimp. Devein 8 ounces large unpeeled shrimp. Season with 1/4 teaspoon of the kosher salt.

  3. Sear the shrimp. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 12 to 14-inch paella or shallow frying pan over high heat until shimmering. Add the shrimp and sear until bright pink and halfway cooked, about 30 seconds per side. Transfer the shrimp to a large bowl.

  4. Sear the green beans. Sear the vegetables one at a time and add to the bowl of shrimp as they are done: Add the green beans to the pan, season with a pinch of kosher salt, and cook until browned and blistered, 2 to 3 minutes.

  5. Sear the scallions. Sear the scallions in with a pinch of kosher salt until browned, about 2 minutes.

  6. Sear the tomatoes. Sear 1 cup cherry tomatoes with a pinch of kosher salt until browned and blistered, about 1 minute.

  7. Add the sofrito and broth. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the sofrito, 32 ounces chicken broth, 1/4 cup water, and remaining 1 tablespoon kosher salt, and stir gently to combine. Return the pan to medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Taste the liquid: it should taste well-seasoned and slightly salty, as it will be the flavoring for your rice.

  8. Add the rice. Add 1 1/2 cups paella rice, stir to combine, and spread it evenly across the bottom of the pan. Do not stir the rice again. Reduce the heat as needed to maintain a simmer and cook uncovered for 5 minutes. Transfer to the oven and bake for 5 minutes more.

  9. Add the shrimp and vegetables. Remove the pan from the oven. Place the shrimp and vegetables evenly on top of the rice, but do not stir. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 5 minutes, rotating the pan occasionally. Reduce the heat to low and cook 5 minutes more, rotating the pan occasionally.

  10. Rest the arroz. Remove the pan from the heat. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil or a baking sheet and let rest for 5 minutes.

  11. Serve. Top with a few spoonfuls of all i oli before serving, and serve with the remaining all i oli.

Recipe Notes

Seasoning a new paella pan: New paella pan? Season it first: Fill the pan 3/4 full with water and bring it to a boil. Pour out the water, dry the pan, and rub a bit of oil around the inside.

Make ahead: The all i oli can be made and refrigerated in an airtight container up to 2 days in advance. The sofrito can be made and refrigerated in an airtight container up to 5 days ahead, or frozen for up to 6 months.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 2 days.