Best Rice for Paella: Bring Justice to Spain’s Most Famous Dish 

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Paella with seafood with text "best rice for paella"

The key to making the perfect, saffron-infused paella pan is none other than the type of rice you use. 

The protein or vegetables you choose wouldn’t really matter. 

But the grains you work with? 

Well, that’ll either make or break any variants of paella you attempt to make!

In fact, paella’s signature socarrat can only be achieved with the right type of rice. 

So, if you’re wondering what kind of rice for paella is the best, don’t skip this post! 

Top Rice Variety for Paella: Bomba Rice

Bomba rice in yellow background.

Bomba rice, also referred to as Valencia rice, is the golden standard of paella.

As it’s native to Valencia, Spain, it is what’s most commonly used by the Spanish locals who grew up with this rice dish.

So, if you’re aiming for authenticity, Bomba rice is the choice to go for.

Reasons to Use Bomba Rice for Paella

Unmatched Absorption: Paella rice can absorb three times its volume in liquid without becoming mushy. This allows it to absorb flavors much more effectively than most white rice varieties.

Perfect Socarrat: Due to its thicker grain walls and firm texture, Bomba rice easily forms the crispy, caramelized layer of socarrat at the bottom of the pan. Other rice varieties simply turn too mushy or sticky when subjected to high heat for extended periods.

Subtle Flavor: Some people say that Bomba rice has a neutral flavor, but it actually has a distinct, subtle nuttiness that adds another layer of complexity to paella. This enhances the overall flavor of the dish without overpowering other ingredients, such as saffron.

Rice Runner-ups for Paella

Top view of cooked paella.

I’ve experienced firsthand just how hard it can be at times to find Bomba Rice.

Most retailers I’ve visited don’t even have this on the shelf.

So, you either have to find specialty food stores, check out Spanish markets, or order online to purchase Bomba rice.

Here’s where the good news comes in, though—Bomba Rice might be the best for paella, but it’s not irreplaceable!

The alternative grains below can also yield delicious paella should you have a hard time finding Bomba Rice.

Calasparra Rice

Calasparra rice is another grain that’s native to Spain.

Just like Bomba rice, it’s commonly used in traditional Spanish cuisine for dishes like paella and arroz caldoso.

It can absorb liquid nearly as well as Bomba rice (up to 2.5 times its volume), and it’s also good at retaining its texture, which is ideal for making paella.

The only downside I found when using Calasparra rice for paella was that the socarrat it produces isn’t as crispy and flavorful as the ones you can make with Bomba rice.

For everything else, though, Calasparra’s suitability for paella is excellent.

Note: Senia rice and Bahia rice are two more Spanish rice varieties that can work well with paella. 

Arborio Rice

Arborio rice in a bottle on the wooden table.

Some chefs will likely give me a side-eye when I say I use Arborio rice for paella.

But, at the same time, many chefs will agree with me that Arborio rice can work as an alternative rice for paella.

Of course, the results won’t be perfect or traditionally authentic.

However, Arborio rice is one of the most readily available rice varieties in grocery stores, and it can still yield good paella thanks to its high absorption capabilities.

So, for many home cooks like me, it’s a great rice alternative for this Spanish dish! 

I guess the only cons of using Arborio rice for paella would be the clear lack of socarrat and the dish’s texture being more creamy than traditional paella.

But I find that some people actually prefer creamier paella, so the latter isn’t always a bad thing!

Create Paella Perfection With The Right Rice Selection 

As Bomba rice is the key to that perfect socarrat that we all can’t get enough of, I always recommend using this grain for paella.

But, as home cooks, we should always welcome possible ingredient substitutions (should the need arise).

So, if you’ve done everything but Bomba rice is still out of your pantry’s reach…

Don’t be too afraid to use Calasparra rice or even Arborio rice instead!

I’ve tried both of them myself. 

While they did alter my paella’s texture a little bit, my family members actually loved the added twist compared to traditional paella that uses Bomba rice! 

Yield: 4

Easy One-pan Paella

Chicken paella in a pan.

Bring the taste of Spain to your home with this easy yet mouthwatering paella recipe!

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 5 minutes


  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 1 lb of chicken breasts (diced)
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 large onion (finely diced)
  • 1 medium red bell pepper (sliced)
  • 4 garlic cloves (minced)
  • 1 cup of canned fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon of smoked chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon of saffron
  • 1 ½ cup of Bomba rice
  • 3 cups of vegetable broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 thyme sprig
  • 3 tablespoons of cilantro
  • 4 lime wedges


  1. Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. 
  2. While the skillet heats up, generously season both sides of the chicken breasts with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper. 
  3. Sear the chicken in the pan and cook until it turns golden brown. Flip the chicken and sear the other side for an additional 3 minutes. 
  4. Remove the chicken from the pan and set it aside. Don’t worry if the chicken is still raw at this point. It’ll cook more later.
  5. Sauté the vegetables. Add the diced onion to the same pan and cook while stirring until it becomes soft. 
  6. Add the red bell pepper slices and continue to cook until they start to brown (approximately 5 more minutes). 
  7. Add the minced garlic and cook until fragrant for about 1 minute.
  8. Stir in the fire-roasted tomatoes, smoked chili powder, and ¾ teaspoon of sea salt. 
  9. Crumble the saffron threads between your fingers and add them to the mixture. 
  10. Combine everything well and cook until the tomato mixture reduces and the pan nearly dries out, which should take around 2 minutes.
  11. Add the Bomba rice to the pan and stir to coat the grains with the vegetable mixture for 2 minutes. Spread the rice and vegetables evenly across the pan using a wooden spoon. Add the chicken breasts back into the pan.
  12. Pour the vegetable broth into the pan and add the bay leaf. Avoid stirring the rice from this point on. 
  13. Bring the broth to a simmer, then lower the heat to low. 
  14. Allow the mixture to cook for 10 minutes. Make sure to adjust the heat if needed to maintain a gentle simmer.
  15. Add the thyme sprig and continue to cook until the broth is fully absorbed and the rice is tender (takes 10 to 15 more minutes). 
  16. Remove the pan from the heat. Let the paella sit, uncovered, for 5 minutes to allow the flavors to absorb further.
  17. Discard the bay leaf and thyme sprig. Sprinkle the dish with minced cilantro and serve immediately with lime wedges. 

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