Spanish Flavors: PAELLA




Paella's origins are found in rural areas of Valencia between the 15th and the 16th centuries, as farmers needed to prepare cooked food, using ingredients they had on hand.

The exact origin of the dish almost certainly lies in the rice zone next to Albufera Lake making it a rich, irrigated, garden area. All this endowed the inhabitants with fresh vegetables, added to their usual meals, supplied by raising chickens and rabbits for family food. 

The proximity of the Albufera alongside the rice fields, met the conditions necessary to create this unique dish. Seafood was also added by those living in coastal areas, as well as olive oil, abundant around the Mediterranean Sea.

There is great controversy surrounding the authentic Paella recipe, as it is a popular dish, which everyone made from the ingredients available to them.  Although rice is the main substance in Paella, the beans are also cooked in the Paella to soften and flavor them.

The cooked grain has to maintain its structure while absorbing the flavors and aromas of the vegetables, meats, seafood, etc. Conversely over-cooked rice loses the ability to retain flavor or aroma.

Paella rice must have two characteristics to consider: the first is the ability to absorb water and burst, with a resistance to the second condition during cooking. A medium sized rice is the most widely used for Paella (about five to six millimeters) and is called  bomb rice because it is round and also a rice brand.

The term "Paella" derives from the Old French word Paele, which has been transformed into the current Poêle. The word "Paella" was introduced in Castilian as a synonym for "rice from Valencia", although it mainly refers to the pan that it is cooked in, not the dish itself. 

In fact, Paella is the container used for cooking traditional Valencian dishes, as their own Paella and black rice, is called Fideuá. This is representative of a pan with the handle removed, and replaced by two opposing handles (one on each side) to help contain and steady the pan while cooking. The concave shape is designed to help the broth evaporate. 

Despite this, outside Valencia, the word "paellera" is used when referring to this pan. Among those who use it, most do not know they are referring to a woman who cooks Paella, and not to a specific pan. Those who argue that the term is incorrect refer to the tool "paella", when the truth is both terms are acceptable.

                        Seafood Paella  

Time:1 hr 30 minutes
Difficulty: High
Price: Medium

3 cups of rice                  
6 prawns
1/2 kg. clams                   
1 or 2 squids
6 crayfish (optional)
1/2 kg. mussels
1/2 kg. s1 kg. fish for broth                     
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tomatoes, cubed
2 cloves of garlic                    
paprika powder
olive oil, always better if extra virgin

How to cook fish broth

Clean fish by rinsing thoroughly, and then boil for 1 hour in 6 cups of water. Strain the broth and blanch all shellfish heads (not the squid) and mussels for 5 minutes.

How to cook Paella

Put the paellera onto the stovetop with 6 tablespoons of oil. Fry the garlic for five minutes, and then add the chopped onion. Once browned, add the rice, a little paprika, and continue stirring for a little while, before pouring in the cubed tomatoes. 

Wait 2 minutes before pouring in 6 cups of fish stock. Add  the clams, squid rings, and mussles (previously cleaned). Add salt to the rice before it boils.

Crush a teaspoon of saffron (or several threads) in a mortar and pestle, together with some broth and parsley. Put it back into the Paella to change the color, and then mix the rice in the paellera, simmering for twenty minutes (heat needs to be equally distributed).  

Before all the broth is gone you should  add the rest of the shellfish and mussels.  Right before serving, remove one of the mussels´ shells and allow the Paella to cool for 5 minutes (covered with a cloth) and then it will be ready to serve.

You can always use your favorite seafood, and can also cook what we call "mixed Paella", consisting of chicken or pork meat together with the seafood. It cooks the same way, but you will need to fry the meat before incorporating it into the Paella.

If you are a vegetarian, you can also cook Paella using a vegetable broth, with artichokes, green beans, lima beans, peppers, tomatoes, and peas instead of the  seafood or meats.   

                                  Mixed Paella

See also:

Seafood Rumba