Paella is Spain’s most famous dish. Paella is Spain’s most famous dish. A rice-based speciality is laced with saffron or paprika and contains seafood, meat and vegetable. Every region of Spain favours particular ingredients and has its own distinct method of preparation.
Paella is often served at lunchtime on Sundays and holidays, and is particularly tasty when cooked outdoors over a wood fire. Huge pans of paella are cooked up on the beaches of Southern Spain, catering for masses for hungry holiday-makers in authentic Spanish style.
Origins and History
The dish evolved when the Muslims first came to El Palmer in Valencia, in the 8th century. They brought with them sacks of a strange white grain now known as rice, and the locals learnt to combine what ingredients they had to hand – such as seasonal vegetables, wetland wildlife (frogs, ducks, snails, eels, partridge) and spices – to this otherwise bland new staple.
Interestingly, Valencian paella doesn’t usually contain seafood, an ingredient strongly associated with the dish.
In other regions variations have grown up which include locally available produce: in the areas around Seville and Cadiz you’ll find big prawns and maybe lobster, and along the Costa del Sol mussels, prawns, red peppers and lemons are favoured ingredients.
Though original recipes used saffron to spice up the dish, these days it’s worth more than its weight in gold and unless you’re eating at really classy joint in La Mancha, the prime saffron growing region, it’s likely that paprika will be used as a cheaper alternative.
Serving Suggestion – Serves 4
The secret of cooking up a good paella is in getting just the right rice texture after cooking – it should be loose, dry and soft, and be tinged with the combined taste of the other ingredients. Follow our simple recipe to cook up an authentic paella storm:
• 3 tbsp of olive oil
• 2 cloves of garlic, crushed with a little salt
• 6 chicken thighs
• 1/2 green pepper, de-seeded and diced
• 1 large ripe tomato, skinned and finely chopped or grated
• 8 king prawns, keep their shells, heads and tails on
• salt (to taste)
• 2 cups of risotto or pudding rice / Spanish short grain rice
• 10 threads of saffron, soaked in a little boiling water
• 1 cup of sliced calamari
• 8 cups of fresh chicken, vegetable or fish stock
1. Heat the paella pan of the right size for 4. It should be wide enough to cover the dry rice in a thin layer. As soon as the pan is hot add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, let it heat up. Then add the chicken thighs, a pinch of salt, and let them brown slightly, turning them patiently.
2. When they are cooked through, (no juices run pink), add the green pepper and tomatoes.
3. Add the rice and stir in until translucent. Add the saffron with the water it has soaked in and stir well. Then add the stock, half first and then submerge ingredients. Add the king sized prawns.
4. Bring to the boil and leave to cook without stirring for 12 minutes adding more stock if the surface dries out. After 12 minutes the rice should still look succulent and juicy. Remove from the heat, cover with a thick cloth and leave to stand for a further 10 minutes for the rice to finish soaking up the remaining juices.
5. Feel welcome to dress the paella with thick slices of lemon, salt and a touch of olive oil.