Valencian paella

Geanina Bechea
How it's made: 

In the next few days, we'll be visiting Iva in Valencia. Here is the first part of the Spanish culinary trip:

The Paella is one of the most famous dishes of the Spanish cuisine. It is one of the first things tourists try once they set a foot in Spain, and it is the dish locals prepare for their traditional Sunday family lunches.

Having spent several months in Valencia, I have come to know the good places to order paella are not the ones, where a huge pot is displayed on the window, but the ones where a pre-ordered paella would take about an hour waiting to get. Also, locals commonly consider the places where one can see the most leftovers on the floor a good sign for the quality of the food here.

The name of the dish comes from the name of the pan, in which the rice dish is traditionally prepared. The paella dishes (Paellera) are traditionally round and shallow, made of polished steel with two handles to withstand the weight of the dish. On special occasions, Valencians peasants and fishermen used paelleras to cook rice in the open air of their orchards near lake Albufera.

Today, there are three main known types of paella: Valencian paella, seafood paella and mixed paella. Valencian paella consists of white rice, green vegetables, meat (rabbit, chicken, duck), snails, beans and seasoning. Seafood paella replaces meat and snails with seafood and omits beans and green vegetables. Mixed paella is a free-style combination of meat, seafood, vegetables and sometimes beans.

Today, Valencians do the hunting for their paella in the Mercado Central on Saturday morning. It is a place that breathes history and lets one dive in diversity of fresh ingredients that boost the culinary imagination.

On Sunday, according to tradition in Valencia, men cook paella over an open fire. The smoke gives the paella unique flavor. Families gather for lunch around 2pm. The paella is served in the same pot in which it was cooked, add some garlic butter if you wish. What is really important is to scrub the bottom of the dish well while eating, because well-prepared paella is well burned and sticky on the bottom.

Pour the oil into the center of the paella dish and light the fire and heat it. When the oil begins to smoke, add the sliced and lightly salted chicken and rabbit meat. Sauté Brown carefully over medium heat. If the fire is excessive, sprinkle a little salt on the edge of the paella dish, in the areas where there is no oil to prevent burning.

It is very important that all meat is well-browned. Paella’s success depends a lot on this stage of processing. Add the chopped vegetables and sauté for several minutes. Move aside the meat and vegetables and put the tomato, fry a few minutes and add the paprika. Let it cook for another minute. Make sure the fire is smooth when adding the paprika, as that will result in bitter paella taste.

Next, pour water to the edge of the pan. Add some salt and cook for 30 minutes, adding more water if necessary. In half an hour, ensure that the paella broth reaches to the middle of the rivets on the handles and taste the broth. It must be flavorful, meaty and slightly saltier, as the rice, when cooked, will absorb some salt.

Add the rice. The perfect rice-broth ratio is 1:2. It is hard to estimate the exact ration in the pan, but make sure the broth that covers the rice twice the volume of the rice. Ideally, use a larger diameter Paellera. All these references are approximate. The hardness of the water, the power of fire, the rice variety and even the altitude change to a greater or lesser degree the cooking process. However, I hope this short explanation help the most inexperienced and most importantly – be bald and experiment!

Add saffron. Stir well and make sure all rice and vegetables are covered with broth. Boil at very strong fire for 7 minutes, or until the rice is half cooked. Then bring the heat almost to a minimum and cook for another 4 or 5 minutes, thus avoiding the release of rice starch, which thickens the broth and burns the bottom. Add fresh rosemary. When the broth is absorbed, let it cook for another 5 minutes over very low fire.

After removing the dish off the fire, wait 5 minutes before serving the paella, to make sure the rice absorbs all the juices and flavors.

Shopping list: 
1 ½ white rice
700 gr. chicken meat
400 gr. rabbit meat
¾ cup white beans
1 1/2 cups green beans
2 grated tomatoes /tomato paste/
5-6 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 tablespoons Paprika
Salt and pepper
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