The cuisine of Spain is as varied and intricate as the country itself but one recipe holds tried and true – the paella recipe! Spanish food has been and continues to be influenced by regional and historical factors, and there is perhaps no meal more synonymous with Spain than paella. A rice-based dish that also incorporates an assortment of meats, vegetables and herbs, paella is a main course that is usually served for lunch. Paella is ideal for gatherings because of its volume and is traditionally reserved for such occasions. Paella is named after the Valencian word for pan, the implement in which the meal is prepared.
What Is Paella?
The modern form of paella originated in the mid-19th century on the east coast of Spain near the city of Valencia. Precursors of paella were provincial casseroles made with rice, fish and vegetables. The main thing to keep in mind is that today’s paella is first and foremost a rice dish. Indeed, rice is the undisputed heart of the entrée; everything else is there to enhance it. Short-grain rice absorbs liquid and flavor better than long-grain, and is therefore essential in creating paella worthy of its name. Bomba, Valencian rice, is the favored rice of many chefs due to its stability. As is true for all meals, the ingredients are paramount to ensure the quality of the dish. The importance of using fresh ingredients cannot be overstated; this is absolutely key to making proper paella.
Ingredients in Paella
The ingredients of authentic Valencian paella is white rice, white and green beans, tomatoes, chicken, rabbit, paprika, saffron and rosemary. There is a little bit of wiggle room in the choice of tomatoes & what meat you choose to use. Both crushed tomatoes and tomato puree are acceptable, but the best option is sofrito – a chunky tomato sauce combined with seasonings and olive oil. As for the meat, you can choose what meat you want. In Valencia it is typical to have a paella recipe which includes rabbit, however, with different combinations of meat you can use shrimp, mussels or even snails.
The first step on the journey to delicious paella is to heat a generous amount of olive oil in a paella, the pan that gives the eponymous meal its name. You’ll then want to season the meat with salt to taste and sear it until lightly browned. The white and green beans should then be added and sautéed until soft. Now it’s time for the ever-crucial seasonings.
Toss in the garlic and paprika followed by the tomatoes. Stir the tomatoes to completely coat the meat and veggies. The next order of business is to add some serious liquid. Water will do the job, but chicken stock will do it even better. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat and mix in the saffron. This is when all the elements are going to blend together and create the savory fusion necessary for great paella.
And last but certainly not least comes the star of the show. Be sure to stir the rice evenly to avoid clumping; every single grain should be soaked into the broth. A sprig of rosemary can also be added to provide another layer of aroma. Unlike other rice dishes, paella should not be stirred, as this will result in mushiness. The final steps are to cook the rice until dry and let the paella rest for about five minutes to allow the flavors to further harmonize. If you follow these steps to a tee, you will end up with a mouthwatering medley that is sure to please any crowd.