Paella – The Spanish Dish That’s So Much More Than RiceWednesday, May 2nd, 2012
Paella, the famed rice dish much beloved in Spain, has become wildly popular outside of its madre patria. With its golden, fragrant rice and smoky paprika flavor, it is no wonder that not only the Spanish are enamored with this delicious and communal dish.
Paella is a dish that originated near Valencia, a Catalan-speaking city located on the western coast of Spain. Paella is a Catalan word meaning ‘pan’.
The most important component of paella is the rice. The two varieties of rice most often used are calsparra and bomba, which are similar in texture to the arborio rice used in risotto. Calsparra and bomba are both highly absorbent, allowing them to absorb the flavorful broth.
Paella is often served at the ‘almuerzo’ on Sunday, around three p.m. Often entire families or groups of friends gather to cook and enjoy the meal together, lingering for several hours after dinner for the ‘sobremesa,’ or after-dinner talk.
The pan traditionally used is the paellera, the round, shallow pan that is often several feet wide.
The process of making paella begins with the ‘fondo,’ or prep-work of the dish. This might involve anything from shelling beans to making home-made chicken stock. The next step is a generous pour of olive oil over the paellera, the first-step in almost all Spanish recipes. Finally, vegetables are sauteed, proteins browned and the rice is left to simmer gently without interruption.
“You don’t want to stir the paella,” says Spanish chef José Andrés of minibar. “You want the bottom to get a little brown and crispy, what Spaniards call soccarat.” Once the paella is set over flame, it is best left undisturbed.
Types of Paella
The paella that has risen to global fame is paella de marisco. This paella recipe calls for many kinds of seafood including prawns, clams and mussels.
Valencian paella differs from paella de marisco because it generally includes meat instead of seafood. The main protein of Valencian paella is usually rabbit or chicken. Other common ingredients are runner beans, artichokes and fresh rosemary.
A third type of paella is paella mixta, or mixed paella. This paella is named as such because it mixes meat and seafood, along with a variety of other vegetables and spices.
Paella recipes vary household to household, as paella is a very traditional and personal dish. The ingredients used often depends on what is seasonally available; anything from mushrooms to snails may be added.
The Key Ingredient
Every variety of paella includes saffron, the golden-hued spice that gives paella its signature color. Saffron (known as azafrán in Spanish) is a spice taken from a flower known as the ‘saffron crocus’. Because it must be harvested by hand it is extremely expensive. Saffron is famously worth more than gold in terms of weight, with one gram costing around three dollars.
Whether paella is something you grew up making with your grandmother or sounds like a new and exciting way to spend a Sunday afternoon, it’s delicious to eat and share with friends. Enjoy the video below, as Jose Andres instructs us how to prepare paella with chicken and mushrooms.
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