What is Paella?
Many of us when we think of Spain we think “Sun, Sea Sangría and Paella"!
We all know that Paella is a rice dish, but what do we really know about this traditional Spanish dish.
Paella is a Valencian dish and has roots back to the mid 19th century near the city of Valencia. Non spaniards think of it as a spanish dish whilst the spanish themselves consider it a regional valencian dish.
There are varying types of paella, vegetable, seafood, mixed, amongst others but valencian paella is thought to be the original receipe.
Consisting of white round grain rice, Green beans, meat (chicken or rabbit, sometime duck), lima beans or butterbeans, sometimes snails and seasoning such as Rosemary or saffron, this in essence is the base of the paella.
You will see variaties on this such as a seafood paella, where the meat is substituted by seafood and the beans and vegetables are left out. A mixed Paella is very much a free for all! – so can be made of whatever the cook desires, meat, seafood, vegetables and beans. Vegetable paella very much what the name states, vegetables.
The rice itself in a paella is usually a bomba rice, cultivated in spain and used for their ability to absorb water or if this isnt available the closest equivalents would be arborio rice or a short grain or round rice. All the ingredients of the dish are always cooked in olive oil.
Now this dish is not just a cooked rice dish with ingredients added, oh no…………………………………
The key to a paella is the socarrat, this is the crusty crispy bottom of the paella that becomes caramelized and toasted on the bottom of the pan when it is cooking. And it is this that gives a true paella its authentic taste.
Once you have cooked your ingredients and have added the broth, rice and ingredients back into the paella pan, here is a tip to get that authentic paella taste.
To get the socarrat this can be acheived in two ways:
One way is when the rice has almost finished cooking, take the pan off of the heat and leave the rice to absorb the remaining water. This will let the rest of the rice continue to cook while the heat from the bottom of the pan creates a crust.
The other way to obtain the crust is to use a very high flame to cook the bottom of the rice. BUT be carefull and watch the paella as it can easily burn and you want crispy not burnt.
The main tip here is DO NOT stir the rice.
So if you fancy a little culinary prowess in the kitchen and want to try to make your own, dont be hard on yourself, cooks have taken years to get this dish right.
If it all sounds a bit too much like hard work, head to a restaurant who make their own paellas (key here is the wait time for the dish or having to preorder) and enjoy and savour all those authentic tastes, whilst knowing a little more of how they have got there.