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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
STEP 12: Solemnly carry the paella to the table