Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Paella Valenciana

With the paella cooking class and the excursion to Valencia this weekend with Tía Tula, I thought I'd write a little post about paella and its history, and give you a recipe to follow so you can try and make it yourself at home!

Paella originally came from Valencia, and so can be seen as the most authentic Paella in Spain. It has been a traditional Spanish dish for many years and you can now find many different types of Paella across the whole of Spain, and in Spanish restaurants across the world. The word 'paella' actually means frying pan in Valencia, owing to the large round frying pan with two handles that is typically used to cook the famous dish (though I'm sure a normal frying pan would suffice!) The traditional paella pan usually has no more than 5 or 6cm of depth, but can be as big as 90cm in diameter!
Many believe that rice first came to Spain imported with the Moors, along with saffron, another of paella's key ingredients. The Moors also greatly improved the irrigation system in southern Spain, making the growing of rice much easier and successful. Despite it's early start in Spain, it is believed that rice didn't become popular in kitchens until during the 16th century, around this time people used to cook with whatever ingredients they had, and there is reference of paella existing in the Valencia area at this point. The dish however was popular around other parts of Spain as well, but was originally named 'Valencian rice' before gaining the name paella a couple of centuries later.
It is difficult to define a 'true paella' recipe as the dish changes depending on the gastronomy of the region it was being made in. For example a typical Valencian paella consists of chicken or rabbit and vegetables, where as in towns closer to the coast 'paella marinera' was much more popular, using seafood and shellfish in place of the meat and vegetables of the Valencian version.

Traditionally paella is seen as a dish for festivities, being made for large family dinners or parties, however now it is widely available across the whole of Spain, and even the world, in its many different forms.

Find below a recipe for the traditional Valencian Paella:

Ingredients (for four portions):
·         500 grams of Spanish rice
·         800 grams of chopped chicken
·         600 grams of chopped rabbit
·         250 grams of wide green beans
·         200 grams of large white lima beans
·         100 grams of crushed or grated tomato
·         150 cc of olive oil
·      Fresh saffron strands, if not available you can use another food dye. It won't be the same though!
·         1 tbs of paprika
·         Salt
·         Fresh rosemary if possible, but dry if fresh is not available
·         1 litre of water
·      First level the paella (pan) so the rice will be evenly distributed. Pour some olive oil and put the paella down, the oil must pool in the centre. Once it's levelled, light the fire and wait till it's very hot

·         Spread the oil throughout the paella with a spreader. Add the chicken and rabbit with salt to taste. The bigger pieces go in the centre and the smaller pieces closer to the edge, in this way we avoid burning any of them. Turn the pieces over until they are browned all over. This must be a slow process, without rushing. The secret of a good paella is that the meat is properly fried!

·         Once the meat is well browned, remove it from the centre towards the edges (where the heat is less intense). Add the wide green beans to the centre of the paella. The green beans must be properly fried too, they take less time than the meat, and we must turn it over constantly as not to burn them.

·         When the green beans are done we add the crushed tomato (natural, not canned). As before, we push the friend beans towards the exterior and place the tomatoes in the centre. Sauté until the tomato has released all its liquid.

·         Once all these ingredients are ready stir the contents to spread them well in the paella. Add the paprika and stir quickly so it doesn't burn.

·         In paella the amount of water should double the amount of rice, so if we use 500 grams of rice we should use 1 litre of water, in any case the water should cover all the ingredients

·         Add the saffron strands or food dye and the lima beans. Check salt and add more if necessary, no more salt should be added after the rice.

·         Once the broth reaches boiling point, let it boil for 5 minutes at high heat and then simmer at low heat for 40 minutes

·         After the 40 minutes we turn the heat up again and add the rice evenly in the paella. Instead of measuring, the expert make a cross like shape that about 1 finger higher than the paella. Cook for 5 minutes at high heat, then 5 at medium heat and then for 8-10 minutes at minimum heat. In total the rice cooks in 18 to 20 minutes, it should never be more than this even if there's still some broth, as the rice will overcook.

It's traditional to let the paella stand for a few minutes, but it also serves a purpose. If the rice is still hard it will get more cooked, and if there's too much broth, it will soak in the rice
If you want to get very traditional, the paella is eaten straight out of the paella with wooden spoons!


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