What’s A Paella, Anyway?
What makes a rice dish a paella? Paella is a rice dish from the Valencia – Alicante regions of Spain cooked in a wide shallow pan called a paella. The original Valencian recipe starts by sautéing chicken and rabbit … Luckily for vegetarians there are infinite varieties of authentic paellas using any mix of vegetables, including two of my favourites, artichokes and thistles
Here’s a quick guide. If you don’t care about the ins-and-outs of culinary history, authenticity or paella semantics skip to the recipe and come back later for a wee read
Arroz (rice) a la paella: the original name of the dish. Paella is made in a paella.
Paella is not yellow. It has saffron which is yellow, but this is used for flavour. Being expensive you might be tempted to omit this queen of spices. That’s fine. But please, please don’t stain your rice with that tartarazine-based paella colouring that Spaniards adore, but is only a food dye with no flavour and zero nutrition. Add turmeric when it’s aroma enhances your particular dish. But not just to make it yellow. Paella isn’t yellow. OK?
Valencian Paellas use paprika as well as saffron. Originally unsmoked from the Murcia region, you’ll find plenty of modern paellas using the smoky La Vera paprika
Alicante paellas use salmorreta: dried sweet peppers (ñoras) are sautéd with garlic, tomato, parsley and salt then blended smooth. Salmorreta will colour your paella a rich rusty red with no hint of yellow.
Paella contains beans. Originally a type of butter-bean local to the region, nowadays you’ll see any mixture of white and green beans including haricot and broad beans Peas are OK too.
When to add the rice? Valencian paellas add the rice before the liquid coating it in oil to keep the grains separate. Alicantine paellas add the rice last. Though there is a difference in the outcome it’s a fine point. What matters is the rice.
Which rice? Paella is dry. Bomba rice from the Valencian Albuferra is the classic, being highly absorbent, but there are many other types which connoisseurs can distinguish in taste and texture. Any medium grain highly absorbent rice which holds its shape is good.
Socorrat:, the crunchy caramelized crust at the bottom of the pan is an essential of authentic paella. it requires two things: a shallow paella pan and not stirring the rice after adding the liquid. This applies to all paellas. Finally:.
A dash of lemon? There was a big hoo-ha a while back in Spanish Master-Chef. Like onions in tortilla (or, dare I mention Brexit?) the country was split down the middle on the subject. Admittedly lemon with rabbit and chicken isn’t to everyone’s taste. But vegetables love a bit of lemon. You can go a step further and pound garlic with black pepper in a mortar and pestle then add lemon juice and smother your paella all over with the resultant majado
And now, here’s a recipe that respects principles while staying heroically unfettered by tedious rules: a long-grain rice paella with a smoked chipotle chilli – oregano salmorreta topped with avocado and a shallot-lime majado in the Alicante style A La Mexicana
Paella A La Mexicana
Marinate The Shallots
Prepare The Salmorreta
Prepare The Rice - Vegetable Base
Finish Off The "Majado" Dressing & Other Toppings