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In an effort to limit leftovers, I recently bought a 26cm steel paella pan to supplement my 40cm pan. Because such things do not always scale linearly, I looked for a guide on how much rice to use in a standard-shape paella pan of a given diameter, and was a bit surprised that there appears to be no good internet resource for this. This resulted in me trying 200ml rice with the 26cm pan, which was definitely too much.

So, my question is: can anyone give me a table of how much rice (and, optionally, stock) to use for each of several steel paella pan diameters, starting with around 26cm and moving up? Please cite your sources, even if that source is "I own these sizes and that's how much I use."

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    Actually, this should be easy to calculate. It will scale quadratically - base it off the bottom, if you want to be extra precise. I would make a table out of that, only I don't do paella and don't have a starting reference for any size.
    – rumtscho
    Sep 14 at 7:00
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    Since paella is cooked open, not covered, I do not assume that evaporation rates are linear with the size of the pan.
    – FuzzyChef
    Sep 14 at 18:03
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    When you have the same rice thickness, you will get the same evaporation rate (assuming an evenly heated pan bottom). So all you need to calculate is the amount of rice which will give you the same thickness in the two pans - and that scales quadratically with the pan size. For more precision, you can also consider the sloping sides, which make the pan bottom smaller than the pan top (the size is given for the top) - see my comment to John's answer for the calculation.
    – rumtscho
    Sep 14 at 18:56
  • @FuzzyChef If paella is cooked open, then why does my mother have a paella pan sized lid she bought in Spain that's expressly meant to cover paella during the final stages of cooking?
    – Nzall
    Sep 15 at 7:54
  • Nazall: paella is either not covered at all, or covered briefly after putting out the flame (spainonafork.com/authentic-spanish-seafood-paella-recipe). Probably the lid is for the latter. You don't cover it while it's boiling, at all -- that would make the rice soupy and soft.
    – FuzzyChef
    Sep 15 at 17:30
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I don't think you'll find the information you are looking for, for multiple reasons:

  • The most direct one: because the same pan can serve well a really wide range of rations. We've cooked excellent paellas with the same pan from 4 up to 30+. (more or less 80cm pan)

  • The most practical reason: You usually WANT to cook too much paella, because the leftovers put on a fridge for a day or more and then re-heated on a microwave are tastier than the dish from the same day. You actually look for leaving half the dish or more. So quantity is usually the opposite of a problem: It was either soo fine that everyone took a second serving and cleared the pan, or it could be a little better, which it will be the next day. You literally can't go wrong, as long as there's a lot!

  • Lastly, but not less important: It really is not a dish prone to measurings, up to the point that the amount of rice is measured in fistfuls, and it really does not matter that much. The result depends too much on the quality of the batch of ingredients used, the meat and/or seafood, the quality of the broth, how well kept the wood-fire was, the proper judgement of salt point during cooking and if you timed each step appropriately. As long as the pan is big and flat enough, it will no longer be a deciding factor in the quality of the result.

If I was deciding upon sizes, I'd use the references on amount of servings provided by the manufacturer, but only as a guideline, and tend towards picking larger than smaller.

Edit: One serving, at least where I'm from, is two handfuls. If your hand is little, add another handful at the end to round up. Usually we prepare servings for 50%-100% more than people are there, for the sake of being able to serve a second round and/or letting some on the fridge for eating the next day. At home, this ends up being 17 handfuls for 4 people, 7 servings approx, on a paella pan more or less 80cm across.

Per serving, we also add what we call "tall" (translation would be 'cut', stands for the meat and seafood, excludes vegetables): a pair of prawns, a pair of mussels, two or three "Clams" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venerupis_philippinarum), a "Galera" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Squilla_mantis), a cuttlefish cut in dices and rabbit. The cut that needs to be cooked for longer than the rice itself is added to the same paella and cooked there before adding the rice and the broth or water in it, so the juice of it all stays in the dish.

Source: I've been eating paella cooked by my family my whole life, who are born and raised among the Delta de l'Ebre rice fields. And stringently judging among themselves each sunday paella (for 70 years!). Among the criticisms, the amount of servings for a paella has never been even mentioned. I'll ask the cooks at my next chance, but sadly I live abroad now, so it can be a while. I should make a video of the process, and upload it if it ends up a 8 or more.

A free tip: If it sticks to the bottom of the pan and that bottom is slightly crispier/darker than the top rice, as long as it's not actually burned, it's fine. In fact, it's the best part of the dish.

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  • Great point on how the rice quantity varies based on factors like other ingredients, quality, broth, etc. Sep 14 at 16:19
  • Good answer +1 And to add to your tip - another tip for the OP is: don't touch the rice while it's cooking! :-) Here's a quick and easy recipe for rice with vegetables from one of Spain's favourite chefs, Alberto Chicote: youtube.com/watch?v=VcpnD2KJRMw
    – Aaron F
    Sep 14 at 17:28
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    I've seen a lot of source mentioned "number of servings" but zero of them define how much rice a "serving" is. Is a "serving" a standard amount of rice in Spain?
    – FuzzyChef
    Sep 14 at 18:05
  • @FuzzyChef edited with serving size.
    – Oxy
    Sep 15 at 7:32
  • Thanks, that works.
    – FuzzyChef
    Sep 15 at 17:31
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As @rumtscho says in his comment, it should scale quadratically. Your 40 cm diameter paella pan has an area of pi*(d/2)^2 = 1256.64 cm^2 (lets round that to 1250), while your 26 cm pan has an area of 530.929 cm^2 (lets round that to 530), so less than half the area. Consequently, the amount of rice (and stock) compared to your large paella pan will be less than half. For the sake of simplicity, I would half the amount, then round down to the nearest convenient unit or tens digits if it's a really odd number (like, say, 233 ml of something).

The more exact ratio is 1250/530 = 2.358, or approximately 2.4, if you want to "divide down" your amounts for the 40 cm pan to the 26.

Note: all this assumes you can get similar heat per area and the two pans heat similarly. Experimentation may be required.

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    This is indeed the calculation I had in mind, and it is a nice solution to just give the ratio of one pan to the other. Since paella pans are quite sloped, I also calculated the same ratio for the bottom diameter, assuming a 3 cm wide rim, and came up with ~2.7. In practice, the recipes are probably forgiving enough to use some value within the range of (2.4, 2.7) - maybe erring towards more rice when scaling down, due to the heating assumption you mentioned (a smaller pan is likely getting better heated, while a 40 cm pan might have its sides outside the hob).
    – rumtscho
    Sep 14 at 10:16
  • This is based on the assumption that rice/volume scales linearly, though(something I reject in the question). Which it might, but it also might not given evaporation and other factors. For an accepted answer, I'd love to see some verification that linear scaling actually works, given that my one experiment scaling linearly did not work, per the question.
    – FuzzyChef
    Sep 14 at 18:08
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    Because of cancelation, this can be simplified to (40/26)^2 = 2.367 -- The 2's and pi's all divide out. Sep 14 at 19:12
  • @FuzzyChef you say that linear scaling didn’t work, per the question, but you haven’t mentioned the amount you usually use in your 40 cm pan, and I’d be curious to know how much this answer would estimate that you should have used as a comparison. Also, pan volume does not scale linearly with diameter, as stated in this answer. Sep 14 at 23:10
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    @FuzzyChef I said it should scale quadratically. This was under the - reasonable, I suppose - assumption that the height of the water & rice column is roughly the same for both pans, as I would assume the bigger pan is not significantly higher. Since the height is (roughly) the same, the volume does indeed scale quadratically too because of the quadratically scaled area underneath.
    – John W.
    Sep 15 at 7:06

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