Paella is currently an internationally known rice dish from Spain. It originated in the fields of a region called Valencia on the east coast of Spain. Today, paella is made in all regions of Spain and uses almost any ingredient that goes well with rice. There are as many variations of paella as there are cooks. It may contain chicken, pork, shellfish, fish, eel, squid, beans, peas, artichokes, or peppers. Saffron, the spice that also gives the rice a wonderful golden color, is an essential part of the dish.
Origins of paella
There is an old story about how the servants of the Moorish kings prepared rice dishes by mixing the leftovers from royal banquets in large pots to take home. Some say the word paella comes from the Arabic word baqiyah, meaning leftovers. However, linguists believe that the word paella comes from the name of the pan in which it is prepared – the Latin term patella, a flat dish on which offerings were made to the gods.
Tales of servants preparing dishes from the king's remains are romantic, but we do know for sure that modern paella was not made in an area around Albufera (a freshwater lagoon near the city of Valencia) until the mid-19th century . . During lunch, the field workers prepared the rice dish in a shallow pan over the fire. They mixed in everything they could find – like snails and vegetables. Rabbits and later chicken were added on special occasions.
The basics of paella
There are three basic rules to follow when preparing paella.
- Cooking over the fire: Paella is best prepared over an open fire, charcoal grill or gas paella burner. Use a round kettle grill, for example from the Weber brand. The reason for this is that the heat is evenly distributed and the heat should gradually decrease as it cooks. First, the fire has to be very hot to brown the meat. then it should be lower to simmer the rice. If you cook paella frequently, consider investing in a paella burner and an adjustable tripod stand that are specifically designed for cooking paella outdoors. They are usually equipped with burners with two or three rings and allow each ring to be adjusted separately. These torches connect to a propane tank with a hose and regulator.
- Use a paella pan – A traditional paella pan is a must. The pan is sometimes called paellera, although there is some disagreement over the use of this word among Spaniards. It is a large, flat, open, round steel pan with handles.
- Use bomba rice or medium grain rice – For best results, use the Bomba rice variety, an almost round grain of rice from Levante (the east coast of Spain). If bomba rice is not available, use medium grain rather than long grain rice. Both bomba and medium-grain rice absorb a lot of liquid, making them particularly good for paella. You can order bomba rice from many Spanish online grocers.
How to season a paella pan
Before cooking in a paella pan, it is imperative that the pan is seasoned. Although there are several ways to do this, the easiest method is to first wash the pan with warm water and soap and dry it immediately with a soft cloth. While the pan is still warm, use a soft cloth or paper towel to rub the entire inside of the pan with olive oil. If the pan isn't warm after rinsing, place it in the oven for a few minutes, then rub the oil over it.
It is very important to thoroughly clean the pan immediately after each use. Then rub it with olive oil before storing to keep it from rusting.
If you ever take your pan out and it starts to rust, don't panic and run to buy a new one! Just use a soapy steel wool pad to gently wash and rub off the rust. Then rub with olive oil to flavor it again.