Think Spanish cuisine and you’ll think seafood and paella. The picture of a dish of yellow rice with prawns and mussels in most people’s idea of what paella is about. Most shun the cheaper meat paella in favor of the seafood version even if they aren’t overly keen on shellfish because they see it as ‘more traditional’.
Valencia, unsurprisingly, is the best place to go for paella; it is almost a self-fulfilling prophecy – as more people come to the city to eat authentic paella, the more restaurants open up. Note that all of these restaurants are touristy. The local Valencians eat paella at home. Just because your fellow diners are speaking Spanish does not mean they are not tourists – the Spanish travel extensively round their own country.
“La paella” is a cooking utensil, traditionally and preferably made of iron, but now often made of stainless steel. The base of the paella is flat and should be of a good thickness. The pan is circular and shallow, and has two round handles on opposite sides. The word itself is old Valencian and probably has its roots in the Latin ‘patella’ (a flat basket in Galicia).
The Castilian ‘paila’ and the French ‘paele’ mean the same thing. During the centuries following the establishment of rice in Spain, the peasants of Valencia would use the paella pan to cook rice with easily available ingredients from the countryside: tomatoes, onions and snails. On special occasions rabbit or duck might be included, and the better-off could afford chicken. Little by little this ‘Valencian rice’ became more widely known. By the end of the nineteenth century ‘paella valenciana’ had established itself. Nowadays whole families will troop off to a restaurant to eat paella, or make it at home with all those present lending a hand with the preparation. The whole thing becomes a mixture of party, ceremony and debate, or rather, considering the volume at which it is maintained, argument between the master paella cooks who are present and who are all convinced they know best how to make it.
“Paella” is pronounced “pa-e-ya” with the “e” as in “let”.
The origin of paella is disputed, as are so many old traditions in Spain. One theory is that the word ‘paella’ comes from the Latin ‘patella’ The Latin word ‘patella’ means ‘pan’ and it is from this word that the Valencian word ‘paella’, which also means ‘pan’, is derived.
Paella was originally a labourers’ meal, cooked over an open fire in the fields and eaten directly from the pan using wooden spoons. Seafood is rare In the fields of Valencia, which is why they used chicken, rabbit, duck and snails. Snails were the most commonly used meat as they were cheap; for special occasions rabbit or duck would be added and the well-off would have chicken. Anyone that tries to tell you that the original paella was a seafood dish is wrong.
Paella is still a popular dish today. One of the appeals of paella to the Spanish is that it can be cooked in large quantities and will still taste good later that day or even the next day, which is a good thing as making paella is a laborious task. Making large quantities saves time later. It is popular in restaurants as it can be served all day and is popular with restaurant clientèle as they can have ‘instant’ paella without the hassle of making it themselves.
Paella comes from the Arabic ‘baqiyah’ Baqiyah (sometimes spelt ‘baqiya’) is Arabic for ‘leftovers’.
The dish used to make paella today is certainly called a ‘paella’ (though there is a retronym for the dish now, ‘paellera’, as ‘paella’ has become so associated with the meal).
These are the varieties of paella you are likely to encounter in a restaurant in Spain.
Paella Valenciana is the original paella and is made from chicken, pork and/or rabbit.
Paella Marisco (Seafood). The fact that paella valenciana came first is not to say the seafood version is not ‘authentic’, just don’t be forcing yourself into eating it out of some appeal to ‘tradition’. Will usually contain prawns, mussels and calamares (squid).
Paella Mixta – To get the best of both worlds, try the mixta, which is a mixture of meat and seafood.
Paella Negra – a Seafood paella cooked in squid ink.
Paella Fideus – made with noodles instead of rice.
Paella Recipe 1
This recipe and its seafood variation originated in the early 1800s in Spains Valencian region near lake Albufera. Prior to the 19th century, the ingredients for Valencian paella varied greatly with the most unusual being marsh rat. This recipe is very closely based on the one that Chef Juan Galbis serves in his restaurant with plenty of detailed explanation for those attempting this for the first time. Galbis is a prominent Valencian chef and restaurateur. He is renowned for his gargantuan, world-record paellas.
A 15-inch (38-centimeter) paellera
A two-gallon pot
A rice skimmer
A sharp chopping knife for meat and vegetables
A large serving spoon
A clean, white towel large enough to cover the paellera
A wide heating source such as: A stove large enough to accommodate the size of the paellera (You will have to straddle two burners at once and rotate the paellera periodically for even cooking.)
A gas burner designed specifically for paelleras
A charcoal barbecue
A low, forged steel tripod to support the paellera
500 gr chicken
500 gr rabbit (or duck)
400 gr Valencian rice
125 gr large haricot beans (canned or fresh)
100 gr small haricot beans (canned or fresh)
125 gr runner beans (or green beans) (fresh only)
250 gr chopped green bell peppers
1 clove garlic
24 boiled snails (optional)
6 to 8 branches of fresh rosemary
500 gr diced or grated tomatoes
2 litres water
8 tablespoons olive oil
20 gr salt
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
8 to 10 threads of saffron and/or 1.5 teaspoons yellow food coloring
Procedure for Cooking Paella
Clean the snails, poultry and rabbit thoroughly. Cut the poultry and rabbit into small pieces and salt them generously. Pour olive oil in a paellera and, when hot, sauté the poultry and rabbit pieces until golden brown. Add green peppers and sauté for one minute. Add the garlic and sauté until brown. Be careful; garlic burns easily. Once the garlic is brown, add the
paprika followed quickly by the tomatoes to prevent the paprika from burning. Sauté until the tomatoes become dark and pulpy and the mixture has reduced a bit. Add the water and bring it to a rolling boil. Then add the snails, fresh haricot beans (if canned continue reading to see when to add these), runner beans (or green beans), saffron (and/or food colouring) and salt. Allow the mixture to boil for 10 minutes over a high flame.
After 10 minutes have passed, you should have a flavourful broth. It is customary at this point to allow your dinner guests to taste it. The purpose is to determine if the broth needs more salt. If so, add more salt a pinch at a time until everybody is satisfied.
Add the rice and stir it using the rice skimmer. Then, once again with the skimmer, spread it over the bottom of the paellera. The coating of rice should be one-centimetre thick. Let it cook over a high flame for 10 minutes. Then reduce the heat to medium and let it simmer for four minutes.
Add the canned haricot beans and reduce the heat again to low and let it simmer for another four minutes. Taste the rice about once every four to five minutes. You will know it is done when it is ever so slightly firm to the bite. Italians use a similar approach when cooking pasta. They call this texture al dente.
At this point, there should be some toasted rice sticking to the bottom of the pan. This is a delicacy in Valencia called socarrat. If no socarrat has developed, increase the flame to high and listen for the crackling sound of rice toasting at the bottom of the pan. Then reduce the heat to low once the aroma of toasted rice wafts upwards.
Remove the pan from the stove when the rice is almost dry and place the rosemary branches on top. Cover with a clean, white towel (a white towel prevents dye from leeching onto the paella) and wait five minutes before serving.
Paella Recipe 2
Spice Mix for chicken, recipe follows
1 (3-pound) frying chicken, cut into 10 pieces
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 Spanish chorizo sausages, thickly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 Spanish onion, diced * 4 garlic cloves, crushed
Bunch flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped, reserve some for garnish
1 (15-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained and hand-crushed
4 cups short grain Spanish rice
6 cups water, warm
Generous pinch saffron threads
1 dozen littleneck clams, scrubbed
1 pound jumbo shrimp, peeled and de-veined
2 lobster tails
1/2 cup sweet peas, frozen and thawed
Lemon wedges, for serving
Large paella pan or wide shallow skillet
Rub the spice mix all over the chicken and marinate chicken for 1 hour in the refrigerator. Heat oil in a paella pan over medium-high heat. Saute the chorizo until browned, remove and reserve. Add chicken skin-side down and brown on all sides, turning with tongs. Add salt and freshly ground pepper. Remove from pan and reserve. In the same pan, make a sofrito by sauteing the
onions, garlic, and parsley. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes on a medium heat. Then, add tomatoes and cook until the mixture caramelizes a bit and the flavours meld. Fold in the rice and stir-fry to coat the grains. Pour in water and simmer for 10 minutes, gently moving the pan around so the rice cooks evenly and absorbs the liquid. Add chicken, chorizo, and saffron. Add the clams and shrimp, tucking them into the rice. The shrimp will take about 8 minutes to
cook. Give the paella a good shake and let it simmer, without stirring, until the rice is al dente, for about 15 minutes. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, when the rice is filling the pan, add the lobster tails. When the paella is cooked and the rice looks fluffy and moist, turn the heat up for 40 seconds until you can smell the rice toast at the bottom, then it’s perfect.