WONDERFUL WORLD OF PAELLA
& COOKING ARTICLE
paella is Spain's favourite dish. It encompasses all
that is Spanish . . . the colour, passion, variety and
social warmth of the people.
a poor man's dish, the paella has worldwide fame with
each region, town, village and even household creating
their own versions of this gastronomic phenomenon. There
are many paella competitions all over Spain ranging
from the biggest to the best tasting and each region
has its own dedicated 'Paella Day' in Barcelona it is
a Thursday and here in Andalucia it is a Friday although
traditionally it was Spain's very own Sunday lunch.
origin of paella can be traced to the region of Valencia
in south eastern Spain where rice is extensively grown,
without which there would be no paella! The traditional
and original 'paella valenciana' contained apart from
rice, chicken, pork or rabbit and whatever vegetables
could be found in the countryside such as tomatoes and
peppers. It was traditionally cooked by the workers
out in the fields using whatever was to hand at the
time to combine with the rice in order to make a satisfying,
nutritious meal to sustain the workers for their day
its humble beginnings, the paella has adapted and blossomed
and can contain a whole host of ingredients including
seafood, different meats and other local specialities
such as chorizo, Serrano ham or purely vegetables. It
is because of the contrasts of the country, the people
and the variety within Spain that the ancient paella
dish has evolved from being a cheap means of feeding
many people to a beautiful, exciting social dish steeped
modern day paellas can contain almost anything, there
are a few basic ingredients which must be included for
a paella to be a paella and the rice used is the most
important one. True paella rice comes from Valencia
and is known as 'arroz de calasparra' it is short grain,
has a protective 'denominacion de origen' quality stamp
and has outstanding absorption characteristics. Local
'bomba' rice is also considered the perfect rice for
paella as it too is deliciously plump with capabilities
of absorbing the all important stock, thus each grain
being packed full of flavour.
cooked, genuine paella rice should be soft, moist and
each grain needs to be separated - totally different from
risotto rice which goes creamy and sticks together. Another
characteristic of perfect paella rice is it produces a
delicacy known as 'socarrat' which is when the rice sticks
to the pan at the bottom and becomes crispy. Although
this can be achieved by turning up the heat for the final
few minutes of cooking your paella, the only way to do
this properly is to cook your paella outdoors on a wood
fire as was the traditional method.
is probably the next most important ingredient which
gives the rice the lovely, deep golden yellow colour.
Colorants can be used to achieve a similar colour but
there is nothing quite like the true taste and smell
of saffron. Although saffron is quite expensive, only
a small amount is needed as a little goes a long way.
It will also keep for up to three years if stored in
the right conditions and really is a key ingredient
in a truly authentic paella.
the chosen ingredients, a paella must be cooked in a
proper paella pan or 'paellera' which is a large flat
shallow pan first introduced to Valencia by the Romans.
The characteristics of this special pan, means all the
ingredients are cooked in one layer and the rice absorbs
the stock right down to the bottom where most of the
flavour is. It is from this pan where the name 'paella'
can be traced as it was called a ' patella' which is
Latin for flat pan. Other theories about the name's
origin include deriving from 'para ella' (for her) as
it was traditionally the men folk who cooked this dish.
Or from the Arabic word baqiyah, meaning leftovers as
servants to Moorish kings used to mix the leftovers
from frequent banquets with rice and take them home.
Although the latter two are a bit more romantic, it
is understood that the paella really is named after
the pan used to cook it in, as it is such an important
piece of equipment, no other type of pan will do.
only is it important to have the right pan, it must
be used properly for a perfect paella. Cooking outdoors
on a wood fire is important for the socarrat and also
important to cook the paella evenly. The heat source
must be the same size as the base of the pan so if using
an indoor stove with burners not quite big enough, it
is important to straddle the pan over two or three burners
to achieve an even heat. Similarly if cooking on an
outdoor barbecue or burner that is not quite as big
as the pan, rotate the pan several times during cooking
to distribute the heat evenly and stir the rice a few
times at the beginning of cooking.
only is the paella pan important for cooking, it is
important for serving and makes a great table centrepiece.
The traditional and best way to serve a paella is to
do as the Spanish do and simply let everyone dig in
with their forks. The paella is a truly social affair
right from the cooking to the eating and there is nothing
like jostling with friends to get the best bits of meat
or enjoying a lively conversation over the pan while
the stock bubbles and the fire crackles. Paella is often
an excuse for a party as you never make a paella just
for two, you can enjoy it for lunch in the countryside
or even on the beach during the warm summer evenings
with friends and family.
If there ever was a perfect dish to capture the generosity
of spirit, warmth and friendliness of the Spanish people,
then the paella is it.
Copyright 2008 Orce Serrano Hams - www.orceserranohams.com
21 January 2008
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