First thing that comes to your mind when you think of Spanish food, is the « paella ». For me it brings out summer memories, it’s a dish that brings family and friends together.
There are several varieties, the most common are « paella de marisco » seafood paella, and « paella mixta » mixed paella combines meat, seafood and vegetables.
Some recipes contain chorizo or sausage, if you want to prepare an authentic one and not disappoint the Spanish people, please avoid the chorizo and the sausage.
My favourite is seafood, I used prawns, squid, and cooked mussels (I kept the cooking water). To make it as close as possible to what I could eat in Spain, I followed the advices of the Spanish chef « Omar Allibhoy ». The result was spectacular, I’m so proud of it.
What is paella ?
Paella is one of the most popular dishes in Spanish cuisine, originally from Valencia.
There is an old strory of how the Moorish king’s servants created rice dishes by mixing the leftovers from royal banquets in large pots to take home. Some said that the word « Paella » originates from the Arab word « Baqiyah » which means « leftovers ». However, the problem with this etymology is that the word paella isn’t attested until 6 centuries, after Moorish Valencia was conquered by Jaume I.
« Paella » actually refers to the wide, shallow traditional pan used to cook the dish on an open fire. The word paella is from Valencia dialect meaning pan, it’s probably derived from the latin word « patella » for pan.
As a dish it may have ancient roots, but the modern paella was created until the mid-nineteenth century, in an area around the « Albufera » lagoon adjacent to the city of Valencia, on the east coast of Spain. Where fishing and rice dominated the region for centuries.
Paella valenciana believed to be the original recipe, and consists of round grain rice as « bomba rice », green beans, rabbit, chicken, sometimes duck and garrofó which is a variety of lima or butter bean, all cooked in olive oil and chicken broth. There are several varieties, the most common are « paella de marisco » and « paella mixta » which combines meat, seafood and vegetables.
The key ingredients to make paella :
The main key ingredient is the rice. You can’t use any rice, it’s important to use a paella rice like « Bomba rice » or «calasparra». If not you can use the Italian « Arborio rice », which is the most available. Short grain rice is obviously essential for this dish . But never use long grain rice.
The saffron is a fondamental ingredient, which gives the amazing golden color to the rice. Before starting cooking, infuse the saffron in the stock, and set aside until needed.
Other spices are used like, sweet smoked paprika. I added some turmeric to the stock.
Stock or broth :
If you are making a meat based paella use a chicken stock, and if you go for a seafood one use a fish stock ( you can use the shellfish to make your stock). The stock is one of the ingredient that can make a big difference.
In my case I used a seafood stock and I added to it the cooking water mussels.
How to cook a this amazing dish ?
It’s true that cooking paella is done over an open fire, which adds an exceptional flavor to this emblematic Spanish dish. You still can make it at home without any problem, you can cook it on the stovetop. Use a paella pan if you have one, if not, a stainless steel large skillet or a frying pan can be perfect.
Place the pan, on a medium-high heat, add a good amount of extra virgin olive oil, start with the squid, then add the bell pepper, sweet paprika, stir for 2 minutes and add the tomato to avoid the paprika from burning. Cook for about 3 minutes, before adding the rice, stir to make sure that the rice is coated and adsorbed all the flavours.
Add the stock, give a stir to be sure that the rice is evenly distributed. And once the stock comes to a simmer you don’t touch your rice. You will add the shellfish depending on how long it will take for cooking.
A crusty golden layer of roasted rice can be formed on the bottom and sides, called « socarrat » in Valencia. This is traditionally considered positive thing and is coveted by true paella lovers who enjoy eating it.
Once it’s cooked, let it rest for 5 – 10 minutes before serve it.