Paella is one of the most well-known dishes in Spanish cuisine. It combines saffron-flavored rice, an assortment of protein, a range of veggies, and a garnish of fresh lemons and herbs!
But how forgiving is this dish when it comes to accommodating rice substitutes?
What are the best paella rice substitutes? The best substitutes for paella rice are short-grain rice, arborio rice, Calasparra rice, Calrose rice, sticky rice, basmati rice, parboiled rice, jasmine rice, and more!
Read below to learn about paella rice substitutes and how you can get the most out of them when making paella at home!
What Is Paella?
Paella is a dish that can be best described as a wild card.
It can be made with virtually hundreds of variations of ingredients and can take on a slightly different flavor and form every time you make it!
This dish was invented around the mid-19th century on Spain’s Mediterranean coast.
The coastal area was surrounded by rice farms, so it’s no surprise that rice-based dishes reigned supreme around the region.
The surplus of rice and seafood was one of the reasons why people started experimenting with different rice dishes — and it didn’t take long until paella took the main stage, especially in Valencia!
Paella is made with Bomba rice, a type of short-grain rice that is popular for its water-absorbing quality and firmness.
The fundamentals of paella are almost always fixed — you need the following five things to make traditional paella:
- Broth (Saffron Infused)
- A large shallow pan
Even though traditional paella is made with Bomba rice, the beauty of this one-pot dish is that it can be customized in many, many ways!
For example, when it comes to meat, you can use seafood, beef, chicken, minced meat, chopped boneless meat, pork, and much more.
The same leniency can also be applied to the other ingredients mentioned on the list above, including rice!
But before we get into the substitutes, let’s first discuss the basics of this dish and how it’s supposed to be made.
How Is Paella Made?
Paella requires a large shallow pan that can host the rice and all the other ingredients while also leaving room for some seafood garnish.
This type of pan is extremely important because it allows the rice to cook in the broth and caramelize at the bottom.
We can even go so far as to say that the pan is what makes paella so special. Without it, the dish wouldn’t be called paella!
Once you have all the fundamentals, you can begin customizing your very own pan of paella!
The dish starts with a high-quality broth that is made from either chicken, beef, shrimp, or a combination of any protein of your choice — but the broth must be infused with saffron for a more traditional flavor.
Meanwhile, protein like boneless chicken or Spanish chorizo is separately sauteed in the pan, after which you add sofrito (which can also be customized at home) along with tomatoes, spices, salt, and fresh herbs.
Once all the ingredients are halfway done, Bomba rice is added on top and then gently stirred in.
The rice is topped with the broth and then left to cook undisturbed without the lid on until all of the water has been evaporated and the rice has a layer of caramelization at the bottom.
Optionally, you can top the pan off with seafood that is cooked either via residual steam or separately in the oven.
Garnish with fresh herbs and serve hot!
Characteristics Of Paella
Now that we’ve reviewed what paella is, as well as how it is made, here are some of the most important characteristics of paella.
The flavor of paella is very hard to pin down because of the wide variety of variations this dish has. But traditional paella, which is made with seafood, will have a distinct oceanic flavor due to the added shrimp, lobster, and/or clams.
Paella also offers umami notes along with a slightly earthy and spicy flavor through the addition of broth, rice, and spices.
Just like seafood paella, you can expect this dish to take on slightly different flavors when it is made from different ingredients. Chicken or beef paella, for instance, will have more umami and a sharply savory flavor.
This dish can also be vegan if it is made from vegetable-saffron stock and an assortment of veggies — but, of course, vegan paella will have a very different base flavor than the traditional varieties.
Paella is made using bomba rice, which is particularly good at taking up water without getting mushy.
The texture of the rice is perhaps the most prominent factor in any paella recipe — depending on the type of protein and other ingredients, it provides a hearty and pleasantly tender bite.
The caramelization on the rice near the bottom of the pan is also noteworthy because it adds a very mild crunchy and chewy texture to the rice — which pairs extremely well with the overall soft yet firm texture of bomba rice.
You can also use other varieties of rice to make paella at home! While most types of rice will provide the same soft texture, you might still get a varied mouthfeel when using long-grain rice.
Why Substitute Paella Rice?
One of the top reasons why people would want to substitute paella rice is that it can be difficult to source, especially if you don’t live around the region where it is cultivated.
Sure, you might be able to find it in diverse and big superstore chains but for the majority of people, finding good quality paella rice can prove to be quite difficult.
Paella rice may also be substituted if you don’t enjoy the mouthfeel and texture of short-grain rice. This reason is going to be especially relevant for people who have never tried any type of short-grain rice.
Fortunately, it is quite easy to substitute and customize paella!
Best Paella Rice Substitutes
Paella can be substituted with many types of rice — here are all of the best ones that you can use with ease.
1. Short-Grain Rice
Short-grain rice is what makes paella so iconic. Bomba rice is the default choice for making paella, which is why many stores sell this variety as “paella rice.”
The reason why most short-grain rice varieties go well in paella is that they offer just the right texture, size, and mouthfeel when cooked.
Long-grain rice can also be used, and we’ll discuss a few types on the list too, but if you don’t have bomba rice on hand then we highly recommend that you get any short-grain rice for more or less the same results.
Short-grain rice can soak up water effectively without getting too mushy. They offer a very delicious and firm texture that literally carries all the other ingredients.
Please keep in mind that bomba rice is usually cooked straight from the pack, meaning that they aren’t pre-soaked and the rice is also cooked in an open pan.
Some short-grain rice may have different cook times — you will need to follow the cooking instructions mentioned on the back of the packaging to get the right results.
2. Basmati Rice
Basmati rice is a hugely popular and widely accessible type of white rice that can be used as a base for paella.
Even though basmati is long-grained rice, it still provides a fluffy texture along with nutty and earthy tones that blend seamlessly with the rest of the ingredients in a typical paella.
Basmati rice is easy to chew and becomes very tender when cooked properly. They can be used in the same way as bomba rice and you can also cook them in an open pot!
We recommend washing and soaking the rice beforehand to get the most out of the texture of basmati rice.
3. Brown Rice
Brown rice is the obvious choice for anyone who is looking for a healthier alternative to bomba or even any other long/short-grained rice.
This type of rice packs quite a lot of nutrition because it isn’t fully processed and still retains the yellow-brownish outer layer.
Brown rice has a distinctly mild flavor and is noticeably chewier due to the added layers. This feature can either add to or detract from the experience of enjoying paella.
But there is no denying the fact that brown rice would make for an excellent substitute over bomba in vegan paella. It will provide a unique texture to every bite and you will also end up making the dish more nutritious too.
4. Calasparra Rice
If you want to keep things traditional and authentic, then we recommend that you use Calasparra rice.
The great thing about this type of rice is that it is almost completely identical to Bomba rice in every aspect.
Calasparra rice is a similar short-grain rice that is also cultivated in Spain. It has the same mouthfeel and texture when cooked and can also take up liquids quite well.
However, Calasparra rice doesn’t typically require the same water-to-rice ratio, so you might want to carefully read the cooking instructions on the back of the packaging.
5. Sticky Rice
Although cooked paella rice is generally not sticky and has defined and separated grains, the dish can also be paired with sticky rice — which we think would add an interesting bite.
Sticky rice can be cooked very easily and is also widely accessible around the world. This type of rice has a low amylose content and is perfect for making all sorts of veggie- and protein-based recipes, including paella.
Please keep in mind the cooking time and preparation method for the rice beforehand as you might need to adjust the quantity of the broth and other ingredients to cook the rice perfectly.
6. Parboiled Rice
Parboiled rice is an excellent bomba rice substitute because it shares the same firm and separated texture and is even nutritionally better than paella rice.
This type of rice is partially boiled in the husk, making it easier to cook the rice at home. Parboiled rice also has a distinct nuttier flavor than other “polished” or processed rice.
You can use parboiled rice in the same way as paella rice — just follow the recipe and adjust the quantity of the broth to cook the rice properly.
7. Arborio Rice
If you are looking for a creamy yet firm type of rice, then we can’t recommend arborio rice enough.
Arborio rice is a type of Italian rice and is the default choice when it comes to making authentic risotto. If you are already familiar with this type of rice, then we suggest that you try it with paella too!
It can easily be bought online or at any store due to its popularity — and you will be able to find several high-quality variants of arborio rice too!
It has a distinctly firm and creamy texture that is noticeably chewier than other types of short-grain rice. Arborio is also very easy to work with and will take up water/broth just as well as traditional paella rice.
8. Calrose Rice
Calrose rice is a type of medium-grain rice that shares a lot of characteristics with paella rice. This type of rice is well-known in North America and is even considered to be the founding variety of the California rice industry.
What makes Calrose rice so great is that it can quickly absorb any flavor you throw it at. It can also take up water very well, which gives it a tender and slightly stickier texture.
Calrose rice is usually compared to Japanese short-grain rice because of its similarities. Since it is slightly sticky, it is known to clump up, making it great for sushi and as a direct substitute for sticky rice too.
In the case of paella, Calrose rice will work just as well because of its ability to absorb and hold flavor — it will also make for a hearty bite!
9. Jasmine Rice
Jasmine rice is the perfect balance between sticky rice and basmati rice.
Jasmine rice is a similar type of long-grain rice that has a slightly moister and softer texture than basmati rice — but it isn’t sticky!
When properly cooked, it can retain flavors extremely well and can be an excellent choice for paella.
This type of rice is also great for caramelizing and can become particularly nutty and sweet, which will add a whole new dimension of flavor and texture to the paella.
Paella is a very forgiving recipe that can be substituted with many different types of rice. Now that you know the best ones, here are some related questions we thought you might have.
Can any rice variety be used to make paella?
Paella is traditionally made with short-grain rice, so you should prioritize using similar types of rice — but in the case of an emergency, virtually any type of rice can be used to make paella.
The role of rice in paella is to provide volume, flavor, and texture. You can get all of these characteristics in a wide variety of rice!
Are paella rice and bomba rice the same thing?
Yes, bomba and paella rice are the same. All authentic paella recipes call for bomba rice, which is a short-grain rice known for its ability to take up moisture and retain firmness while cooking.
If you are looking for authentic paella rice at the supermarket then just head over to the rice aisle and look for “paella rice.”
Check the back of the packaging to confirm that the variety is bomba rice before purchasing it.
Is paella a dry rice dish?
Yes. Paella rice is cooked in broth, which needs to be reduced until the pan is completely dry. This also allows for caramelization at the bottom of the pan.
Keep in mind that cooking paella requires some practice and precise measurements, since the rice needs to be cooked at exactly the moment the excess moisture evaporates.