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We’re Ready for Paella

April 2015

While many people associate the warming weather with flipping burgers on the grill, for us, spring signifies cooking some paella outside over an open-flame. A comforting dish filled with meats and seafood, paella is considered one of Spain’s most iconic dishes despite its humble beginnings. It originated in Valencia, located in the southeastern region of Spain, as a laborer’s meal. Cooked over an open fire in the fields while they worked, it was made with simple ingredients and whatever they had on hand – chickens, rabbits, snails, or anything else that they could hunt. Its name has two legends behind it, one being that it was derived from the Arab word “baqiyah,” meaning leftovers, and another that it’s simply the Valencian word for pan. Either way, it is honored today as a great representation of two unique cultures that inspired Spain’s cooking. The Romans, for the pan it is made in, and the Arabs, for its star ingredient: rice. 

Today, paella is a celebration of Spanish culture that has evolved from a simple dish of rice and meat to gorgeous creations that are made with varying vegetables, stocks and spices but still remain deeply rooted in tradition. Paella is so highly regarded in Spain that there is even a Spanish non-profit known as Wikipaella that is dedicated to the preservation of Valencia’s paella traditions. As a part of their efforts, Wikipaella seeks out and names certain individuals or groups as “Defenders and Protectors of Paella,” a distinction that our very own Jaleo proudly holds. 

The best part about paella? It’s a great dish to make outdoors over a fire pit. Now that the weather is warming, grab your paella pan and head outside! To make the perfect paella, follow these five important rules:

  1. THE RICE: While many compare paella to the Italian’s risotto, its distinctive trait is that the grains of rice are smooth and separated. A firm, absorbent rice is essential to get this result, like Spanish rice from the region of Calasparra, which is protected by a Denominacion de Origen stamp (because of its outstanding absorption traits) meaning it can only be grown in that area.
  2. THE BROTH: This is considered the soul of the dish, so it must be tended to with care. Store-bought stock always gets the job done, but aficionados suggest enhancing its flavor with fish or chicken bones or shrimp shells.
  3. SAFFRON: One trait you’ll always notice in a paella? Its beautiful golden hue, and there’s only one thing that can have that effect - saffron.
  4. SOCARRAT: In other words, the beautiful crisp, golden brown crust that every paella should have from the bottom of the pan. The only way socarrat can be achieved is by letting the paella cook without stirring. The no-stir policy also lends to the rice remaining firm and separated. 
  5. FIRE: Last but not least is the flame you are using to cook your paella. The pan has to be hot in order to achieve the most perfect paella, so big, open fires are preferred over a stovetop.

Oh and did we forget to mention the pan? Make sure you’re using a paella pan, of course, and you’re in business.  

Click here to see the recipe for Seafood Paella.