When people think of food and Spain they usually end up thinking of the paella. It is probably the most famous dish in Spain and throughout the many regions the recipe will vary in ingredients. In fact it is one of those dishes that every family seems to have a secret recipe of their own. The reason a paella varies so much is that it was traditionally made with whatever ingredients were to hand such as rabbit, chicken, snails and nowadays seafood.
So what is a paella?
For those of you that don’t already know what a paella is we will explain. It is a rice dish that originated in Valencia and got it’s name quite simply from the type of frying pan in which it is cooked, a “paellera”. The ingredients of a paella will vary from each establishment or household that you eat it, but the main ingredients that must never be left out are rice, saffron and garlic.
The most popular type of paella by far is the seafood paella which can be ordered at restaurants and beach bars up and down the whole country. Normally a minimum of 2 persons will need to order a paella in most restaurants and be prepared to wait about 30 minutes as they tend to be cooked to order. The paella will arrive in the dish it has been cooked in and will be an array of yellows, greens and reds. Traditionally a paella is a lunch time dish but due to tourism in Spain it is now eaten for lunch or dinner.
We receive lots of inquiries about whether you can use Risotto rice for Paella. The answer is yes of course but be aware it is slightly softer so you need to keep an eye so you do not end up with a pudding of paella. Remember you should not keep stirring a paella or the rice will break down.
How to make a paella
As mentioned above, there are hundreds of recipes for paella. Below you will find a selection of different recipes starting with a non seafood, traditional Valencian paella.
Ingedients (serves 7 to 8)
110g (4oz) dried white haricot or butter beans (garrofon), soaked overnight
3 – 4 tablespoons of olive oil
4 – 5 garlic cloves, skinned and crushed with a little salt
1 young wild rabbit or small chicken, jointed into bite size pieces
2 – 3 large ripe beef tomatoes, pulped cut in half and grated
About 12 saffron threads, soaked in a little boiling water
Handful of ready-starved snails (or if you prefer a few sprigs of rosemary)
110g (4oz) shelled broad beans (fava)
1 teaspoon of pimenton (Spanish paprika) 750g (1lb 10oz) round grain rice or paella rice (risotto or pudding rice will do)
Handful thin green asparagus or green beans or even chopped fresh fennel
Select a good sized paella pan that will be adequate for the number of people you are cooking for. The pan must be large enough to accommodate the raw rice in a single layer. Set the pan on the heat. As soon as the metal changes colour, add the olive oil. When it begins to smoke a little add the garlic and fry for a few minutes being careful not to let it burn. Now add the rabbit or chicken joints, salt lightly and keep turning them until they are evenly browned. Add the cooked white beans together with their cooking water, bring back to the boil and add the tomatoes, saffron, snails (or rosemary), broad beans and the pimenton. Leave to simmer gently for about 40 minutes until the meat and beans are tender.
Sprinkle in the rice and enough water to submerge everything (as a rule of thumb you generally need two measures of water per measure of rice). Place the green vegetables – asparagus or beans or slivers of fennel – on the top and cook in the steam. Leave to cook without stirring for 12 minutes, adding more boiling water as the surface dries out. At the end the rice should still be juicy and the surface pitted with tiny craters. Remove from the heat, cover with a thick cloth and allow to stand for 10 minutes for the rice to finish swelling.
Place the paella pan in the middle of the table and let everyone help themselves to you delicious paella.
Paella with Chicken, Artichokes and Olorosa
This paella is a richly flavoured dish and incorporates the fine oloroso sherry
Ingredients (serves 6 as a starter or will serve 4 as a main course)
6 tablespoons of olive oil (Spanish for a better flavour)
350g skinned and boned chicken cut into about 2cm cubes
2 large Spanish onions (as they are slightly sweeter), finely chopped
3 large globe artichokes
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
250g of paella rice (or risotto rice at a push)
150ml meduim dry oloroso sherry
800ml hot chicken stock
a small bunch of flat leaf parsley rougly chopped
4 gratings of fresh nutmeg
1 lemon cut into wedges
sea salt and black pepper
Now for the fun bit, the cooking process.
If you have a paella pan then use one that is about 30cm to 40cm or if not then an equivalently sized frying pan. Place the pan over a medium to high heat and add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. When the oil is hot add the chicken and fry for around 2 minutes until just over rare in the centre. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Now add the remainder of the olive oil and onions and cook until soft over a low to medium heat for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally so as not to burn them. While they are cooking prepare the artichokes by cutting the stalks off 5cm from the base. With a potato peeler peel the rough exterior of the remaining stalk. Now carefully pull off enough of the tough green outer leaves until you reach the ones that are mainly yellow. Cut the tips of these leaves and peel the base. Scrape away any furry choke with a teaspoon and cut each prepared artichoke in half lengthways and then each half into sixths. Now add the artichoke sections to the softening onion along with the garlic and cook for another 10 minutes or until they have some colour and sweetness. Stir in the rice and coat with the oil and vegetables for about 1 minute. All of this can be done in advance but the next stage should be started about 20 minutes before you wish to sit down and eat.
Set the heat to meduim high and add the sherry to the pan of rice and vegetables and cook off some of the alcohol for about a minute. Then add the stock to the pan. Bring everything to a gentle boil and then season with salt and pepper before adding half the chopped parsley and nutmeg. Simmer for 10 minutes until there is just enough liquid to cover the rice. Spread the chicken evenly over the rice and then push each piece under the juice. Gently shake the pan to help stop it from sticking and turn the heat down to medium low. Cook for another 5 minutes or until there is just a little liquid left at the bottom of the rice. Turn off the heat, cover very tightly with foil and let the rice dish sit for 3 to 5 minutes. Now serve with the rest of the parsley sprinkled over the top and decorated with the lemon wedges.
Paella with seafood recipe
Ingredients for this seafood paella dish are:
4 tablespoons of olive oil
1 kg (2 lb) chicken, cut into small pieces
2 Spanish onions, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon of paprika (pimenton)
350g of paella rice or risotto rice
3 beef tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1.75 litres (3 pints) boiling chicken stock
1 sprig of rosemary
salt and freshly ground black pepper
large pinch of saffron threads, finely crushed
225g (8oz) small squid
150g (5oz) green beans
450g (1lb) mussels in their shells
225g (8oz) raw prawns in their shells
115g (4oz) broad beans
Method for cooking the seafood paella
Heat the oil in a 40 cm (16 inch) paella pan or a 4 litre (7 pint) wide and shallow casserole pan. Add chicken and cook for about 10 minutes until lightly browned. Add onions and garlic and fry for 5 minutes then stir in the paprika followed by the rice. Stir for about 2 to 3 minutes then stir in the tomatoes, stock rosemary, salt and pepper. Dissolve the saffron in 2 tablespoons of stock, then add to the paella. Boil for 8 to 10 minutes.
Prepare the squid
If using whole squids you will need to cut off the fins. Pull the bag section and tentacles apart. Remove backbone and any soft innards from bag. Cut head away from tentacles discard. Rinse bad under cold running water. Chop bodies into rings and chop tentacles. It is possible to buy pr prepared squid in some supermarkets.
Cut green beans into short lengths. Scatter all seafood, green beans and broad beans into the paella. Do NOT STIR. Gradually turn down the heat and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes until the rice is tender and the liquid has been absorbed. Cover, remove from the heat and leave for 5 to 10 minutes before serving in its cooking pan.