We are off to Spain, so the food research commenced without fail. One of the first dishes I am anxious to discover in its native land is paella. I’ve loved paella ever since my first bite, and while researching potential destinations, Valencia, Spain was on this list when I discovered this area was the birth place of paella, well of course my curiosity was piqued.
If you asked me to pick a dish that exemplified Spain, prior to this research, I may well have picked paella, and I would have been wrong. Most Spaniards consider paella a regional dish hailing from Valencian, and most Valencians regard paella as a defining dish for them.
Paella is a Valencian rice dish that originated in the mid 1800’s near Lake Albufera, in Valencia. Valencia is located on the east side of Spain, on its Mediterranean coast.
While chefs have taken great liberty with this dish, the three widely accepted basic paellas are:
- Valencian paella (paella valenciana)
- seafood paella (paella de marisco)
- mixed paella (paella mixta)
Valencian paella consists of rice (bomba), green vegetables, meat (rabbit, chicken, duck), snails, beans and seasoning. Seafood paella replaces meat and snails with seafood and omits the beans and vegetables, and the mixed paella is just that, a free-for-all combination of meat, seafood, and vegetables. Other key ingredients include saffron and olive oil.
Bomba rice is not just any rice, but a Spanish short grain rice that when cooked expands width-wise, as opposed to length-wise like most other rice. It can absorb three times its volume in liquid and the grains do not clump together, making it the perfect base for this tasty dish. The crispy rice that develops at the bottom of the pan is a favorite part of the dish (and a sign of a good paella). It is called socarrat, it reminds me of the tahdig (crust) on Persian rice (chelo).
Paella is a Catalan word derives from the Old French word paelle for pan. Valencians use the word paella for all pans, including the special shallow pan used for cooking paellas. However, in most of Spain and throughout Latin America, when using the term paellera this is the pan that comes to mind. Paelleras are commonly round, shallow and made of polished steel with two handles.
The people of Moorish Spain often made casseroles of rice, fish and spices for family gatherings and religious feasts, firmly establishing the custom of eating rice in Spain. By the 15th century, when Spanish Catholics expelled the Muslims, rice was a staple. Rice cooked with vegetables, beans and dry cod was a de facto choice for Lent in this Catholic country.
With improved living standards in the late 19th century in Spain, reunions and outings in the countryside became popular. Paella was a natural choice to serve at these festive events, and given the added income, protein choices extended beyond snails and shellfish to rabbit, chicken, and duck (but certainly not limited to these three). By 1840, this dish was popular that a Spanish newspaper first used the word paella to refer to the recipe rather than the pan. Now there are so many versions of paella, its limited only to the imagine of the chef. For the longest time, I thought chorizo was a required component, but have learned it was a late comer to this party dish.
According to tradition in Valencia, paella is cooked by men over an open fire, fueled by orange and pine branches to produce an aromatic smoke that infuses the paella with extra goodness.
and then there is the pasta version….
Just as the proteins are mixed up in the different versions, an addition option is fideuà which replaces the rice with thin, vermicilli like noodles. Fideuà also originated in the same region, although whether it was Valencia of the nearby Gandia seems to be open to debate.
Paella de bogavante y pollo( Rice with lobster and chicken)
Adapted from Chef Jose Andres, author of “Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America”
- 2 oz. Spanish extra virgin olive oil
- 1 whole lobster (cut tail into medallions, claws in ½, body in ½, arms in ½, no little arms)
- 12 oz. chicken thighs (cut 1-inch to 2-inch cubes)
- 2 c morel mushrooms
- 2 oz ñoras sofrito (recipe below)
- 1-½ c Spanish rice – Bomba or Calasparra
- 5 c fish stock
- Pinch of saffron
- Salt to taste
15 ñoras (small, dried red peppers)
4 oz Spanish extra virgin olive oil
2 red peppers
4 garlic cloves
24 ounces grated tomato puree
Salt to taste
6 pounds fish bones
4 quarts water
2 heads garlic
4 c red bell peppers, large dice
4 ounces ñoras
4 ounces Spanish olive oil
Salt to taste
For the Paella: Put the extra virgin olive oil in a paella pan over high heat. When it is hot, sauté the pieces of lobster. Remove and reserve.
Add the chicken and sauté both sides. Add the morels and sauté. Add the ñora sofrito, rice and saffron. Sauté for a few minutes and cover with the paella stock. Set the timer for 5 minutes and cook the paella over high heat. Stir in the rice.
Once the five minutes is up, do not touch the rice! Lower the temperature and set the timer for 6 more minutes. When the timer goes off, add the lobster, shell side down, to the pan. Set the timer for 5 more minutes. Do not touch the rice! Once the timer goes off, remove from the heat and let the paella rest for 5 minutes. Serve with alioli on the side.
Note: By not touching the rice, that incredible crust, the socarrat, develops. Trust me, you want that to happen.
Deep fry the ñoras (small, dried red peppers) and set aside. Heat the olive oil and sauté the peppers until they get soft. Add the fried ñoras and cook until they get soft. Add the garlic and cook until the mixture has a nice brown color; add the tomato pulp and reduce. Pour the mix into a blender and add salt to taste. Add a little water to the pan to get the pan flavor, and add to the blender, mix until you get a thick paste consistency.
Caldo de pescado (Fish Stock)
Place bones, water, and lobster in large stockpot. Bring to a boil and simmer for approximately 1 hour. In another pot, heat olive oil. When hot, add red peppers, cook until tender. Remove and set aside.
In the same oil, add the garlic cloves. Cook until brown. Remove and reserve. In the same oil, add the ñoras. Cook until a little soft. In a large container, blend tomato sauce, garlic, red peppers and ñoras. Add mix to fish stock and simmer for approximately 1 hour. Strain and season to taste. Let cool.
When Paella Goes Global – Filipino Bringhe
Given that the Philippines was occupied for a period of time by the Spanish, its no surprise that they have their own version of paella, bringhe. I had to share this video, as this version sounds amazing.