I've been using an online Paella recipe that instructs you to sweat some onions for 5 minutes, then add garlic for a few minutes, followed by the vegetables, tomatoes, rice and stock.

Is there a reason the onions need to be added and fried first (and before the garlic)? Does it affect the taste at all?

Recipe was Saffron Seafood Paella

  • 1
    The recipe you used is a bad joke. It combines the ever so expensive (kashmiri, why not Spanish?) saffron with other, more prominent tasting ingredients. Paprika instead of pimentón and tomatoes, apart from adding onions... Sep 14, 2011 at 13:23
  • @BaffledCook, pimentón is paprika. I'd be more concerned that it's adding the rice far too early. Sep 14, 2011 at 22:07
  • @Peter, paprika is hungarian, pimentón is spanish. Pimentón de la Vera is a protected region. It's similar, but not the same. Sep 15, 2011 at 9:53

5 Answers 5


It's not so much the taste as the texture. If they haven't been sauted first, the onions stay relatively crunchy during the rest of the cooking. The same is true of the garlic, but you'd usually have cut the garlic into much smaller pieces so it doesn't take as long to soften up, hence kicking the onion off first and adding the garlic a bit later.

  • 5
    Just a quick sidenote: if you put the garlic in from the beginning, it might burn, leaving a bitter taste to your dish.
    – Mien
    Aug 13, 2013 at 20:16

When you prepare the onions first you bring out the sugars of the onion by carefully caramelizing it. The same with the garlic, but it needs less heat (and therefore is added after the onions) If you put it in with the other vegetables the onion will be cooked. It will still be sweet, but not caramelized.

This method is not especially for Paella, it is used in countless recipes.

  • 8
    If the recipe calls for sweating for 5 minutes, you're not going to be developing the sugar. In other recipes, maybe, but not this one. Vicky's got the right answer in this particular case, as the acid from the tomatoes will prevent the onions from softening. (although, as lots of other people point out, it'd be more traditional to leave out the onion entirely)
    – Joe
    Sep 14, 2011 at 20:46
  • Good point, you would need more time or more heat to caramelize the sugar. Didn't spot the time there.
    – daramarak
    Sep 16, 2011 at 11:11

Well, I'm Spaniard myself and have never used onions to cook Paella or eaten one with it.

The thing about frying onions is not only the texture change but the sugar and juices it releases, that makes the fat where you fry it have a more "sweetness" taste.

  • Could you point me to a site that has an authentic paella recipe? The one I've linked is fairly bland
    – Chris S
    Sep 21, 2011 at 10:35
  • This is a good one: translate.google.es/…. Feel free to pm me, as its google-translated
    – mines
    Sep 27, 2011 at 15:08

If you don't fry Garlic, it can have a very bitter acrid taste to it. Frying it help sweeten the taste.

  • Doesn't the subsequent cooking also sweeten the taste, though?
    – Cascabel
    Aug 13, 2013 at 19:02

If the recipe calls for onions then it's not paella. A real Spanish paella never ever contains onion. The reason given is that the onion will make the rice pass the desired point of done-nes. Personally, I don't believe that, as other vegetables can form part of a paella (like bell peppers).

Anyway, Vicky's answer is correct, you want the onions (or bell peppers) to be crunchy and that's why they have to be added first.

  • This was the recipe: waitrose.com/home/recipes/recipe_directory/s/…
    – Chris S
    Sep 14, 2011 at 11:32
  • 3
    No, you DON'T want the onions to be crunchy, that's why you fry them at first...
    – nico
    Sep 14, 2011 at 12:55
  • @ChrisS, what's the point of adding saffron (very expensive) to tomato (very tasty)? This is probably the worst 'paella' recipe out there. If you are going to use saffron, make it count. Sep 14, 2011 at 13:17
  • 3
    @BaffledCook : you realize that recipe has saffron, tomatoes and paprika in it, right?
    – Joe
    Sep 14, 2011 at 20:42
  • 2
    @BaffledCook, here in Valencia (which is the home of paella), saffron is less expensive. However, some people still use only food colouring, and most people who use saffron also use colouring. They'll also use cheap paprika, not pimentón de la Vera, and rosemary. It's meant to be a complex flavour. (Additional note: to bring out the flavour of the saffron, it's soaked in white wine for 20 minutes before being added). Sep 15, 2011 at 10:40

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