27th March is National Paella Day in Spain. I am a big fan of Paella so although I am not Spanish I thought it appropriate to join in.
Paella has come to be regarded as the national dish of Spain but it originated in Valencia in the north-east of the country. When the Moors reached Alicante in 718 they discovered a pleasant climate perfect for growing crops that wouldn’t grow in Africa and set about turning this part of the peninsula into an Arab centre of horticultural excellence.
They developed a system of irrigation and exploited the wetlands that were created to grow the rice. Not just any rice however, not your supermarket economy rice, not Uncle Ben’s ‘boil in a bag’ rice, but ‘arroz bomba’ introduced from the east which has the perfect constituency to produce the dish.
A lot of people make the mistake of assuming Paella is full of fish but this is not the case. I rarely make a Paella with fish. I prefer fish and shellfish in a pasta rather than rice..
These days people will add almost any ingredient to a paella but the true Valencian meal is always made of chicken, rabbit and white beans. Most things work but I have a friend who adds liver and that doesn’t work at all but then again I have strong culinary views on liver – avoid it at all costs – it tastes offal.
Paella originated, as many traditional dishes do, as peasant food, a lunchtime rice dish prepared by workers in the fields over an open fire.. Always cooked in a round, flat bottomed pan with handles, the dish most likely takes its name from the Latin term ‘patella’, a flat plate on which offerings were made to the gods. The open flame is essential, as it creates the layer of toasted rice at the bottom of the pan called ‘socarrat’ that is essential and unique to paella. Delicious!
The best Paella that I have ever had was in a restaurant in the hills above Benidorm in a village called ‘Rincon de Pepe’ where they really nailed the ‘socarrat’, close behind that was in an artisan bar in Barcelona called ‘Petit Xaica’ located just off the busy ‘Las Ramblas’ where the Paella was so good we ate there three nights on the trot, a meat Paella, a fish Paella and a black Paella coloured with squid ink which you really don’t want to spill down your ‘going out‘ shirt.
The worst Paella that I ever had was my friend’s liver Paella but after that was a very disappointing one in a restaurant in Madrid where the chef had tried to be too clever with it and serve a modern variation of the Valencian classic. It just didn’t work for me. Best to keep it simple in my opinion.
Anyway, enough of that, here is mine…
I always start with a good chicken stock, after a Sunday roast I boil up the carcass, add vegetables and seasoning and a saffron packet mix of course and then strip every last piece of meat from the carcass. Every time I do this I wonder just how much good meat is thrown away after a chicken dinner has been finished. Scandalous waste in my opinion. As a rule I leave that overnight to infuse the flavours.
Ingredients – chicken, chorizo and bacon. Onion, tomato and pepper. Chicken stock. Paella rice – no other rice will do.
I haven’t got a proper Paella paellera so I just use a flat bottomed frying pan. I had one once but it went rusty and it wasn’t so good for use on a ceramic hob. A bit too aggressive.
When it comes to cooking I start with onions and chorizo, set these aside and then start with the rice, first in olive oil and then the stock, one ladle at a time so that the rice swells evenly. As it cooks I add the meat, the chicken, the chorizo, bacon and some frozen peas instead of white beans. Never liver. Never, ever liver.
I would like to try and get the burnt ‘socarrat’ base but that makes a mess in the bottom of the pan and that’s not fair on Kim who has to wash up later so even though you are not supposed to I do give mine a stir now and again.
Just before it is cooked I add sliced red tomatoes and yellow peppers as a topping to recreate the colours of the flag of Spain. Let it rest for a few minutes and then serve.
I give you my Paella…
March 27th is also the day that my dad Ivan was born. He would have been ninety-one today. I am fairly certain that he wouldn’t have liked Paella, he liked traditional food and only had rice in a rice pudding.
I wrote a post about Ivan Here…