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Paella

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Paella is a rice dish that originated in its modern form in the mid-19th century near lake Albufera, a lagoon near the eastern coast of Spain's Valencian region. Many non-Spaniards view paella as Spain's national dish. However, most Spaniards consider it to be a regional Valencian dish. Valencians, in turn, regard paella as one of their identity symbols.

Left: Paella made in a large patella.

Paella is a Catalan word which derives from the Latin word patella for pan.

There are three widely known types of paella: Valencian paella (Spanish: paella valenciana), seafood paella (Spanish: paella de marisco) and mixed paella (Spanish: paella mixta); but there are many others as well. Valencian paella consists of white rice, green vegetables, meat, 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.

Most paella chefs use calasparra or bomba rices for this dish. Other key ingredients include saffron and olive oil.

During the 20th century, paella's popularity spread past Spain's borders. As other cultures set out to make paella, the dish invariably acquired regional influences. Consequently, paella recipes went from being relatively simple to including a wide variety of seafood, meat, sausage, (the most popular being Spanish, chorizo) vegetables and many different seasonings. However, the most globally popular recipe is seafood paella.

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According to tradition in Valencia, paella is cooked by men over an open fire, fueled by orange and pine branches along with pine cones. This produces an aromatic smoke which infuses the paella. Also, dinner guests traditionally eat directly out of the paellera.

Left: Paella with chorizo and roast chicken.

Valencian paella

This recipe is standardized because Valencians consider it traditional and very much part of their culture. Rice in Valencian paella is never braised in oil, as pilau, though the paella made further southwest of Valencia often is.

  • Heat oil in a paellera.
  • Sauté meat after seasoning with salt.
  • Add green vegetables and sauté until soft.
  • Add garlic (optional), grated tomatoes, beans and sauté.
  • Add paprika and sauté.
  • Add water, saffron (or food coloring), snails and rosemary.
  • Boil to make broth and allow it to reduce by half.
  • Add rice and simmer until rice is cooked.
  • Garnish with fresh rosemary.
Highslide JS Seafood paella

Recipes for this dish vary somewhat, even in Valencia. Below is a recipe by Juanry Segui, a prominent Valencian chef.

Left: A large seafood paella served in a paellera.

  • Make a seafood broth from shrimp heads, onions, garlic and bay leaves.
  • Heat oil in a paellera.
  • Add mussels. Cook until they open and then remove.
  • Sauté Norway lobster and whole deep-water rose shrimp. Then remove both the lobster and shrimp.
  • Add chopped cuttlefish and sauté.
  • Add shrimp tails and sauté.
  • Add garlic and sauté.
  • Add grated tomato and sauté.
  • Add rice and braise in sofrito.
  • Add paprika and sauté.
  • Add seafood broth and then saffron (or food coloring).
  • Add salt to taste.
  • Replace the whole deep-water rose shrimp, mussles and Norway lobster.
  • Simmer until rice is cooked.
Mixed paella

There are countless mixed paella recipes. The following method is common to most of these. Seasoning depends greatly on individual preferences and regional influences. However, salt, saffron and garlic are almost always included.

  • Make a broth from seafood, chicken, onions, garlic, bell peppers and bay leaf.
  • Heat oil in a paellera.
  • Sear red bell pepper strips and set aside.
  • Sear crustaceans and set aside.
  • Sauté meat until golden brown.
  • Add garlic and sauté until brown.
  • Add grated tomatoes and sauté.
  • Add onions and bell peppers. Sauté until vegetables are tender.
  • Add dry seasonings except for salt.
  • Add rice.
  • Braise rice until covered with sofrito.
  • Add broth.
  • Add salt to taste.
  • Add saffron (or food coloring).
  • Simmer until rice is almost cooked.
  • Replace crustaceans.
  • Continue simmering until rice and crustaceans are finished cooking.
  • Garnish with seared red bell pepper strips. 

All types of paella usually have a layer of toasted rice at the bottom of the pan. This is considered a delicacy in Spain and is essential to a good paella. The toasted rice develops on its own if the paella is cooked over a burner or open fire. If cooked in an oven, however, it will not. To correct this, place the paellera over a high flame while listening to the rice toast at the bottom of the pan. Then, remove it from the heat once the aroma of toasted rice wafts upwards. The paella then must sit for about five minutes before serving to absorb whatever broth remains in the rice.

 

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