Paella is Spain's most famous dish. The heavy
rice-based speciality is laced with saffron
or paprika and can contain intriguing morsels
of seafood, meat and vegetable. Every region of Spain favours
particular ingredients, however, 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
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, deseeded 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
• 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
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.