The Perfect Paella
It is difficult to define what the perfect paella is. For me, the perfect paella is the one my mother makes with the ingredients used in the Valencian area where I grew up called “l’ horta Nord” (see recipies). There is no need to travel far away to find that another village or region will use and add other ingredients (in “la rivera” they always use red pepper). One thing is for sure, in Valencia we don’t like to mix meat and fish flavours (paella mixta is found in tourist resorts). The one thing on which everyone agrees, is that the most important ingredient is the rice.
The perfect paella must have a thin layer of rice (no thicker than a half inch) or “un ditet” (small finger). This is the reason we use a paella pan with its large surface area. The rice is in contact with the pan to achieve even heat and therefore flavour.
The rice has to be the short grained type, round and short. It does absorb the stock very well and stays firm during cooking and dry and separated when done. The saffron or “colorante alimentario” gives the rice its distinctive yellow colour and adds some flavour as well.
The paella pan is wide, round and shallow. It is not completely flat but with a slight dip in the middle to collect the oil ready for the “sofrito”. The width of the pan is used to maximize the amount of rice touching the bottom of the pan for an even heat and also to optimise the flavour.
What gives the real flavour to the paella is the preliminary “sofrito” (sauté). With the Fish and Vegetable paella a good stock will make all the difference. There is a short cut for the meat paella if you are following our recipes and you’re pushed for time. After doing the sofrito, instead of filling up the paella with water and reduce the liquid for 40 minutes (to create the stock), you can use already made stock. If you do, remember to add twice as much stock as rice and leave it on a medium heat.
The traditional way of eating paella is straight from the dish. Once you have finished the cooking let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes and place in the middle of the table. It will be a good centre table piece. Enjoy it!
Paella is a traditional dish of Spain, and its original home is in the region of Valencia. The name Paella comes from the name of the dish in which it is cooked using flat round pans made of steel with two handles. It is traditionally cooked over a wood fire outdoors. Although there are as many ways of cooking paella as there are little towns in the region, the paella will always contain ferraura (wide-pod green beans) and garrofo (dried butter beans). The most common meat used in the paella is chicken and rabbit, and in some cases even wild duck. For extra flavour some people use snails known as xonetes or vaquetes. In the towns along the coast the paella is enjoyed with fresh sea-food (mussels and langostines) and for the tourist, there is always the paella mixta (meat and fish).
The principal ingredient of the paella has to be the rice. Originated in Asia around 3000BC it was introduced in Spain by the Moors in the eighth century. They also introduced the complex irrigation system and began the cultivation of oranges and a rich variety of vegetables and fruit. Most of the rice produced in Spain comes from the area of the Albufera, south of the city of Valencia, near Sueca. The Albufera is nowadays a Nature Reserve area and in the town situated in the middle (Perellonet) you can taste the best paella ever. In paella, the short grain rice is much better than long grain rice, simply because short grain soaks up all the flavours from the stock more fully.
Other variants to the paella could be Arros negre (black rice from the squids’ ink). Arros a banda (made with fish stock and served with allioli on the side). Arros caldos (rice stew) and , of course la fideua, a type of paella cooked with special type of noodles, fish stock and sea food originating in Gandia.
. The Guinness Book of World Records documents one instance in which paella was made for 50,000 people using 10,000 pounds of rice with the paella pan measuring 60 feet across. More realistically, paella is frequently sold in restaurants as a dinner for two. . Valencians consume more than fifty pounds of rice a year per person, and much of this rice is found in paella. Paella suits every taste and budget: Based upon what ingredients one decides to add to it, paella can be a poor man's dish or an extravagant blend of expensive meats and seafood.