Spanish Paella

spanish-paellaThe absolute essence of the feast during a family day out in the country and the original dish for sharing, the paella epitomises Spanish cooking at its simplest and best. First a bit of history: the paella is Valenciana in origin and the first recipes date back centuries.

The idea was to produce a dish that could use up all the local specialities such as rabbit, chicken, green beans, sweet red peppers, olive oil, saffron and rice. Other seasonal vegetables such as peas and artichoke hearts were also added as and when.

Today the paella is still often called “Paella Valenciana” in lots of restaurants but its fame and fans have spread all over Spain. Consequently, there are now myriads of different paella recipes including different sorts of meat, fish and shell fish depending on the regional products. In fact, you could say that there is no fixed recipe at all! Every housewife and kitchen has their own!

However there main basic ingredients, short grain rice, chicken, saffron and red peppers are always present. The method of cooking hardly varies at all either. To make good paella you need time and patience. The absolute essential is the paella dish (paella means saucepan in the Valenciana language).

Paella means Saucepan in the Valenciana Language

This is a shallow dish with two handles which comes in a range of sizes depending on how many you are cooking for, although it should have a minimum diameter of 30 cm and sides of 7 cm. These dishes can be bought readily in hypermarkets along with all the appropriate implements and paraphernalia.

Huge paella dishes, to feed 40 plus, can be bought in ironmonger shops (ferreterias) and for the cheats you can even buy electric paella dishes. Although this definitely detracts from the fun of building the fire or barbecue! In fact the biggest paella made was to feed 1500 people in the town of Arquillo near Jijon. This was to celebrate their Festival of San Anton in January and included 110 kilos of rice, 5 boxes of squid, 50 kilos of chicken and 20 kilos of pork! A communal dish indeed!

To make paella you first need to cook the meat and/or the fish for about 10 minutes, then take out the prawns (if you are including them) so they don’t disintegrate and add all the vegetables chopped up with your spices and seasoning. Saffron is a much more flavoursome option than the horrible “colorante” or even turmeric.

Soak the strands in a little hottish water before adding them and the water. Cook the dish for a few minutes longer then add the rice and cover it with stock. The rice should take around 30 minutes to absorb all the liquid and it should really be stirred. When it’s done leave it to stand a while and then decorate with lemon quarters and the prawns… y voila!

Paella is best experienced out of doors at group occasions or at a special do such as a First Communion. Often there will be a family in the town or village who specialize in making large delicious paellas and they will be contracted in to do the honours. Children love watching paella being made and can often be roped in to dole out the steaming plates when it is ready!

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