The Making of an Authentic Valencian Paella

Even though paellas are well known as a national Spanish dish, they originated from the Spanish region of Valencia. Before anything else, let’s all say PAELLA as pronounced in Spanish:

PA – E – JA

I recently went to visit some friends in Valencia. I love them to pieces because we used to live together for a few years in a cottage tucked away in the English countryside. The cottage was surrounded by woods, so we had wild animals coming into the garden all the time. Behind the trees there was a gorgeous lake. In front of the road and on the other side of more trees there was the Queen’s Sandringham Palace. Looking back to those days nearly feels like remembering an incarnation from another era.

As well tempered Valencians, my friends had brought over to England their paella dish with which we had many great paella cooking weekends warming ourselves up around the wood stove in the cottage garden.

I realise I hardly have any photos from that period. At that time I had a dodgy film camera, and I had no photographic knowledge whatsoever on how to make great photos with it. At that time digital cameras had only began to creep into existence. Besides, I was not in possession of one yet. At that time, too, perhaps the most pioneers of bloggers were making their way into the internet world. I never envisioned having my own blog, probably because I didn’t even know the existence of blogs then. Isn’t it amazing how we’ve evolved with technology in such a short time?

After a few years we all moved away from the cottage, everyone went back to their respective hometowns, except for me, because where is my hometown? I somehow ended up in Barcelona. So the Valencians moved back to Valencia, and in a recent visit to them, they decided to make an authentic Valencian paella, on a wood stove in the garden, for old times sakes. I arrived with my Nikon dangling around my neck, adamant to photo-document the whole process. As promised, here we go:

STEP 1: Light the fire and pour the best extra virgin olive oil you can find into the paella dish

The olive oil here was of excellent quality. Note just how green it is in the photo. Ok I did some minor lighting adjustments to the photo but I cross my heart I did not photoshop the greenness of the olive oil.

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STEP 2: Add pieces of chicken and rabbit

Authentic Valencian paellas are made with chicken and rabbit. The seafood variation, paella marinera, can also be considered authentic and originated from the fishermen’s villages right by the Mediterranean coast in Valencia.

Needless to say, putting ingredients into a paella such as chorizo, carrots – or god forbid, guacamole or barbecue sauce as I have seen in some touristic menus – is not only frowned upon but not even considered having the honour of being called a paella.

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STEP 3: Add vegetables, such as green beans and lima beans

A trick is to push the chicken and rabbit pieces over to the edges of the paella dish, as it has a slightly rounded bottom, and that way the meat pieces won’t continue to cook and get burnt, while the vegetables can become tender and absorb the meaty flavours.

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STEP 4: Add tomato purée

This jar just contained a few fresh puréed tomatoes, uncooked, unspiced, mashed up that same morning and conveniently stored into a jar so it could be thrown into the paella at the right moment.

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STEP 5: Add salt, paprika and saffron

If saffron is too costly or hard to find, add special yellow paella colouring. The paprika should be the non-spicy type. The adding salt, paprika and saffron bit is not pictured here so I was obviously amusing myself with something else at that moment.

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STEP 6: Add water

The amount to add is enough to reach near the top of the edges of the paella dish. One has to know one’s dish well, and have experimented in it a few times to know how much water should be added. As you can observe in the photo, this moment requires a lot of concentration because you want the amount of water to be spot on. Let it cook for about 20 minutes so that all the flavours mix together.

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STEP 7: Add rice

This paella dish was quite big, meant to serve about 12-15 people, so we added rice for about 15 people. Don’t worry if there will be leftover paella. The leftovers taste even better the next day.

The rice should be a rounded kind of rice, similar to risotto rices but I would say perhaps each grain is smaller.

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STEP 8: Allow the paella to bubble away while the rice is being cooked

Important: you are allowed to gently poke between the rice to see how it’s going, but stirring the paella is strictly forbidden. Stirring is for creamy risottos. The idea behind a perfect paella implies that- indepentently of whether you want the paella to be drier or brothier – the rice should be separated. Plus you want to achieve some socarrat, which is like a practically burnt rice stuck to the bottom of the paella dish, while the rest of the rice looks perfectly done.

Yes, you do want socarrat, because it’s crunchy and delightful. Everyone fights over getting their share of the socarrat.

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STEP 9: Drink and nibble while the paella is bubbling away

Make sure you have some apperitives and drinks at hand. This laboratory looking kind of glassware is called a porrón, and that is simply beer inside. You can put wine or any other stronger alcohol drink in there. But you have to drink it like they do.

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STEP 10: Before the paella is fully cooked, have a tasting session, in case you need to add more salt

Make sure a wide representation of the guests try it, even the kids, so that everyone can have they’re say. Like a democracy. If the outcome is to add salt, then add salt.

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STEP 11: Once the paella is cooked, let it sit for a few minutes

It will still be very hot so the socarrat will still be forming and any excess water will evaporate.

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STEP 12: Solemnly carry the paella to the table

Happy eating!

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The End.

42 Comments

  1. apuginthekitchen 2015-11-13 at 00:04

    Beautiful Paella, one of my all time favorite dishes and I have never seen it oooked this way. I love that it is the authentic Valencian method. If you don’t want rabbit I guess you would just use chicken right? Looks delicious everything!! Love that it was cooked over fire.

    Reply
    1. Sofia 2015-11-13 at 16:59

      I’m really glad you enjoyed it <3 Yes, you can use chicken instead of rabbit. Wishing you a great weekend! xx

      Reply
  2. Guillermina Bósquez Stover 2015-11-13 at 01:03

    Beautiful, simply beautiful photographic essay of preparing paella!!! I have seen three different paellas being made, and they were all WONDERFUL, DELICIOUS. And it wasn’t until I returned to the U.S. of A. that I learned of socarrat. A native of Valencia who was a Spanish Air Force pilot, stationed as part of an exchange program with Spain, told me about it…

    And I particularly liked your delightful trip down memory lane, especially the question ‘because where IS my hometown?’ Loved it all!

    Reply
    1. Sofia 2015-11-13 at 20:22

      But have you tried the socarrat then? I hope you do get to try it!
      Yeah my hometown thing can be confusing..

      Reply
  3. Little Borneo Girl 2015-11-13 at 01:30

    Thank you for sharing. Such lovely post and great photography. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Sofia 2015-11-13 at 20:23

      Oh thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      Reply
  4. Mabel Kwong 2015-11-13 at 01:49

    Love the way how you described making authentic paella. Love the images and gif too. The paella is coming to life 😀 “guacamole or barbecue sauce ” I too wonder why anyone would put that into paella…I suppose then that becomes hybrid paella. Don’t know if it will rock my tastebuds. Personally I am a huge fan of seafood paella. I find that the portions here in Melbourne are small…but then again, paella is very filling 😀

    Reply
    1. Sofia 2015-11-13 at 20:26

      Oh gosh, yes, when I saw the guacamole and barbecue sauce in the menu of a restuarant with paellas, it sort of made me want to get up and go (but we were lots of people seated). For records sakes, the food from that restaurant was quite awful! Anyway, yes, seafood paellas are great, its what we usually order when we go out to a GOOD paella restaurant 🙂 Sure I’m sure the portions there are small and probably expensive as they probably sell it as something really really special! xx

      Reply
  5. Patty Nguyen 2015-11-13 at 02:32

    I love, love, love your writing! What a fabulous evening to remember!

    Reply
    1. Sofia 2015-11-13 at 20:26

      Aww thanks Patty <3

      Reply
  6. Dorcas 2015-11-13 at 02:42

    I was eagerly awaiting this post! Exciting and gorgeous photos. You make us readers feel like we are right there, especially with that GIF. I always thought paella had to have seafood so I am glad to learn that there are the 2 versions (husband is allergic to shellfish!). So thanks for straightening that out. And thanks for clearing up the NO Stirring because right before you said that I started wondering if you stir it like risotto. A thoroughly fun and educating post! Thanks! p.s. Guacamole sounds so wrong!! 🙁

    Reply
    1. Sofia 2015-11-13 at 20:28

      I’m so happy that you enjoyed it! Oh no, he’s allergic to seafood… what a pain! And did he develop that at a later age or was he born like that. You see my brother came out with a horrible allergic reaction to seafood last week, when that had never happened before. I’m telling him he should do allergy tests.
      Oh yes, no stirring once the rice is in! 🙂

      Reply
  7. Pemberley Cup & Cakes by Rosa 2015-11-13 at 10:48

    Great post here, Sofia, about the proper way to cook a paella! No puedo seguir viendo impasible chorizo en más pseudo paellas!!!!! Es algo que se escapa a mi tolerancia paellera, así que desde aquí reivindico NO MORE CHORIZO as far as paellas are concerned!
    Donde yo vivo, Alicante, no se concibe una paella sin ñora y es muy, muy habitual añadir unas tiras de pimiento rojo (cocinados junto con las verduras y reservados) al final para decorar (y comer, claro está).
    Qué gran historia la del cottage y qué grandes amistades. He disfrutado mucho leyendo este post de principio a fin 😀
    Great job! Un beso.

    Reply
    1. Sofia 2015-11-13 at 20:31

      Oh thanks Rosa, I was a bit nervous in case you might not approve seeing you live in Alicante 😉
      La verdad es que hoy mis amigos me han escrito diciendome de cambiar un par de puntos, y que se me olvidó mencionar un par de ingredientes y cositas asi. Ya esta todo corregido a su gusto, jeje. Ah si, también reivindico el no more chorizo en las paellas!
      Que tiempos en el cottage! Besos

      Reply
      1. Pemberley Cup & Cakes by Rosa 2015-11-14 at 15:00

        Please, don’t feel nervous about my approving your paella; there’s no one and only way to make them properly if you stick to the basics (that is, no chorizo or any other ‘creative’ ingredients of the like 😉 )
        Un beso enorme!

        Reply
  8. Mitzie Mee 2015-11-13 at 10:49

    I love paella and I love this post! The picture with the paella sizzling over open fire is just gorgeous. Chorizo and barbecue sauce sounds like really odd ingredients, but I do remember seeing some strange combinations at the touristy spots along Costa del Sol:) How long does it take to make a paella?

    Reply
    1. Sofia 2015-11-13 at 20:33

      Oh yeah, I find really strange touristy combinations all the time. I saw one called tex mex paella, it was like nooooo, thats wrong! How long does it take to make a paella? Gosh, this one as we were all finding tree branches, and everyone helping and nibbling etc… a couple of hours at least. But it’s sort of more like a social ceremony. I suppose if you streamlined it in a restaurant it would be quicker! xx

      Reply
  9. eleieleika 2015-11-13 at 10:57

    Excellent post, well done!
    One question, did they put some garlic and red pepper apart from tomato puree? Remember,
    we lived one year in Valencia but I never tried to make paella then. We had it at the restaurant, usually with rabbit, which I prefer ‘chicken’ or ‘mariscos’. 😄

    Reply
    1. Sofia 2015-11-13 at 20:35

      Thanks! No garlic. And after the tomato pure yes some red pepper (not spicy: pimentón dulce). I forgot to write it but Inma just told me to add it 🙂

      Reply
  10. pianolearner 2015-11-13 at 18:49

    I would have certainly assumed that chorizo went in a paella. I live and learn! That looks so tasty, although I have no idea of the point of the porrón. Perhaps it is to introduce air as you drink.

    Reply
    1. Sofia 2015-11-13 at 20:36

      Only touristic paella have chorizo! lol. I don’t know the science behind the porrón, but the part trying to make sure it all goes into your mouth as opposed to splattered all over your face and shirt is fun!

      Reply
  11. Inma 2015-11-13 at 22:35

    Es simplemente genial! Y lo pasamos tan bien con vosotros! Fue como si el tiempo se hubiese detenido años atrás…qué recuerdos…. Habrá que repetirlo pronto, besos!

    Reply
    1. Sofia 2015-11-14 at 00:19

      Lo pasamos genial también Inma. Y si, que recuerdos <3 Tenemos que repetirlo. Besos a toda la familia!

      Reply
    1. Sofia 2015-11-16 at 09:45

      Thanks Joshi!! 🙂

      Reply
  12. Kiss & Make-up 2015-11-15 at 20:12

    Seeing the whole process almost makes it feel like I’m THERE, haha, this was awesome.

    Reply
    1. Sofia 2015-11-16 at 09:43

      I hope you had a good time there then 😉 xx

      Reply
  13. Lily @ChloeAsh 2015-11-16 at 16:18

    Oh thank you so much for sharing, Sofia! I haven’t had paella before (gasp!) but I can imagine how tasty it would be, thanks to your illustration here. Also, ahem, I’d probably enjoy too much nibbling and drinking before eating the meal proper. LOL!

    Reply
    1. Sofia 2015-11-18 at 22:29

      Gasp! It’s ok, I don’t recall eating paella when I lived in Asia… We could nibble and drink together, but make sure theres some room for the paella too 😉

      Reply
  14. Tracy@Beauty Reflections 2015-11-16 at 17:20

    AMAZING!!! I love how you cooked it outdoors over an open fire! So cool! It sounds delicious too!

    Reply
    1. Sofia 2015-11-18 at 22:29

      Hi Tracy! Thanks for coming over 🙂 Oh yes a paella over in open fire taste even better than a kitchen one ofcourse…

      Reply
  15. Dalo 2013 2015-11-18 at 02:37

    Wah, this is such a perfect post…showing the background of how a great Valencian paella is made. I’ve never had a great paella dish, so this post made me wish to be there to experience everything your photos showed as it looked like a great day. Great shots, but mostly great dialogue as you walk us through the evening…

    Reply
    1. Sofia 2015-11-18 at 22:31

      Wah, thank you! Yes, so many touristy restaurants can get it so wrong, but this is just so awesome. And the whole ceremony behind preparing it together is so much fun. You would have loved it!

      Reply
      1. Dalo 2013 2015-11-20 at 04:35

        One day, one day ~ I keep telling myself, I’ll be in Spain enjoying an authentic paella 🙂

        Reply
    1. Sofia 2015-11-18 at 22:32

      Thanks Michelle! 🙂

      Reply
  16. Vasun 2015-11-25 at 16:16

    Beautiful, beautiful post! Nice to meet you here,my IG friend 🙂

    Reply
    1. Sofia 2015-11-26 at 23:44

      Thanks so much for visiting, it really makes me happy, yes my IG friend <3 I hope you have a great weekend ahead! xxx

      Reply
    1. Sofia 2015-11-26 at 23:42

      Thanks so much Shanna <3 xx

      Reply

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