When you think of Labor Day, paella isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. That’s why we love it. Just because grilling is a cliché for this holiday to honor workers (officially) and the last days of summer (boo), doesn’t mean you should pass up a perfectly good chance to cook outside and celebrate with friends and family. That’s what paella offers: Something unfussy, festive, communal, and best enjoyed outdoors on the grill. If you can’t grill, we have a stovetop version of the recipe for you. Either way, it’s definitely better than hot dogs and hamburgers (sorry not sorry).
Paella is a Spanish dish of saffron-spiced rice with a variety of meats and shellfish like mussels, clams, and shrimp (as for the meat, usually not beef, but chicken, chorizo, and even rabbit—sometimes snails as well), plus onions, garlic, tomatoes, and sometimes also peas and artichokes. The rice used is generally one of several short-grain Spanish rice varieties like bomba, but if you have trouble finding it, you can swap in Calrose rice, which is pretty commonly available in U.S. grocery stores.
The dish is named after the special two-handled paella pan in which it’s prepared and served.
The pan is wide, shallow, and at least 13 inches in diameter. You’ll find some crazy-huge paella pans out there too, for those who love to live large. When you cook it right, you’ll find socarrat, a caramelized crust of rice at the bottom of the pan (sort of like tahdig in Iranian or Persian cuisine). That’s the good stuff.
Okay, so you’re ready to tackle paella, but wondering what goes with it? Our beverage of choice is sangría, but there are enviable nonalcoholic choices too, and we’ve handpicked some Spanish-inspired appetizers, sides, and desserts as well.
Make all of those drinks, apps, and desserts the night before, and then just toss a side salad the day of while you hang out, make a big pan of paella, and chat with your family and friends in some of the last summer sun.
Pick and choose your favorite accompaniments and your preferred method of cooking the main (on the grill or on the stovetop) and you’ll have a paella party to remember.
Catch those peaches while they’re still in season, particularly the white peaches, which are especially sugary, for this golden version of sangría. This pitcher cocktail is best after it’s had time to marinate in the refrigerator for at least four hours, if not longer. Get our Peach Sangría recipe.
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Here’s your traditional sangría, with brandy, orange liqueur, and all sorts of fruit, such as apples, oranges, and grapes. It all melds together perfectly when you make a batch the night prior to the party. Get our Ruby Sangría recipe.
Here’s a nonalcoholic cocktail contender that doesn’t feel like a consolation prize. It tastes pretty special even without the buzz. And a no-hangover guarantee is included. Get our Mint and Lime Iced Tea recipe.
Peppadews are usually sitting by the olives at the supermarket, and they’ve got that Spanish-Mediterranean flare we love. Filled with creamy goat cheese and dotted with Spanish marcona almonds is not your everyday way to enjoy them, but you’ll want to make it a daily habit once you taste them. Get our Stuffed Peppadew Peppers with Goat Cheese and Marcona Almonds recipe.
You’ll get more than enough meat in the main course, but serrano ham is so special, it’s worth trotting out as part of a simple appetizer. Crunchy toasts are topped with store-bought membrillo (quince paste), crispy baked serrano, salty manchego cheese, and a drizzle of mint oil (but any good olive oil will also work). Get our Serrano Ham and Membrillo Crostini recipe.
Membrillo and manchego team up again in this salad. Those bitter watercress leaves (one of the most nutritious of all greens!) have friendly competition in the strong manchego cheese and sweet-sharp diced membrillo. Toasted almonds lend a nutty crunch, and the simple vinaigrette is made with sherry vinegar and garlic. It’s a great bracing bite to make sure the other flavors don’t become too rich. Get our Membrillo, Manchego, and Watercress Salad recipe.
You use that aforementioned paella pan on the grill for this one-pot feast. Shrimp and mussels swim among the saffron-scented rice moistened by tomatoes, and chorizo and chicken really make it savory. Get our Grilled Paella Mixta recipe.
For those of you who don’t have a grill, no worries. This recipe shows you how to cook this Spanish delicacy on top of the stove, and then finish it in the oven. It’s still packed with seafood and savory flavor. Get our Paella Mixta recipe.
These gorgeous cookies will be quite a surprise if you keep them hidden and whip them out an hour or so after most people have finished their paella. The shortbread is dusted with powdered sugar and filled with creamy dulce de leche. Get our Alfajores recipe.
What a combination: roasted, in-season white peaches and the creamy, caramelized milk threaded throughout fluffy blocks of bread. It’s a fantastic dessert with vanilla ice cream or fresh whipped cream, but the leftovers happen to make a great breakfast. Get our Roasted Peach and Dulce de Leche Bread Pudding recipe.
Originally reported by Amy Wisniewski May 26, 2011; updated by Amy Sowder June 16, 2016 and Jen Wheeler August 30, 2019.