Inma is our fabulous Resident Director in Barcelona, Spain and she sent over this post about paella. Think it’s just some rice and seafood? Think again!
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You’ve probably heard less about the gastronomy of Spain than other Mediterranean countries, so let me introduce one of the most famous dishes in Spain, La Paella.
Perhaps you’ve already heard about paella? Many Americans think of paella as a Spanish dish, but while it is popular all over Spain, it is a more regional than national dish. But let me tell you more about where it is from and why it is so special and popular!
La Paella is originally from Valencia and it is one of the most popular dishes in Spain, and the most popular ingredients were what every village had. So it was like a “potpourri” of various foods cooked with rice. Today we associate paella with seafood, but in the 18th century, common ingredients included things like voles, eel, snails and beans. Later in the 19th century, chicken and rabbit became more common and the dish grew in popularity.
The origin of the name comes from the pan used to cook the food: the paella or paellera. A paella is a pan with two smaller handles on both sides, intended to support the weight of the stew. It must be a minimum diameter of 30 inches and not very deep, with edges of 7 or 12 inches, according to its diameter. It is essentially a farm dish, born out of the culinary practices of agricultural workers: the paella is perfectly suited to make while in transport, cooked over an open fire, a large dish that can accomodate many, and can be prepared with whatever is available.
Paella should be cooked outdoors and, if possible, with orange wood. Take care in preparing the paella because it is very important to control the fire as we increase or decrease as required for different parts of the cooking process.
- 2 cups of rice
- 3 1/2 cups of chopped chicken breast (and liver if you’re adventurous!)
- 2 1/2 cups of rabbit
- 1 cup of green beans
- 3/4 cup of white beans
- 1/2 cup of crushed tomato
- 2/3 cup of olive oil
- Saffron, or food coloring (it’s not the same of course!)
- One teaspoon of sweet paprika powder
- 4 cups of water (as a gernal rule, twice as much water as rice)
- Put the olive oil in the pan until it gets hot. When the oil is smoking, without burning, we add meat: chicken and rabbit. Fry the meat very quickly searing it everywhere.
- Add the vegetables: green beans and white beans. We fry everything for two or three minutes and then add the tomato.
- Once the tomato sauce is added and cooked down, we add the water. Increase the heat to high for about 5-7 minutes. During this, add some saffron, a sprig of rosemary and salt.
- When it starts to boil, add the rice. The first 10 minutes keep the heat at full power, and reduce it as the rice absorbs water. Always stirring to prevent burning it.
In Spain, it is very common to find that restaurants serve paella on Thursdays. Why? There are many theories. Reportedly the favorite food of Franco was paella. He had the habit of going out to eat this dish every Thursday at a restaurant in Madrid. Every Thursday he went to a different one, forcing restaurants to prepare the dish, and not lose the opportunity to please the dictator. Thus, the tradition continues. Or it could be that Thursday was traditionally the day off for service people. To make it easy for everyone to eat, the house prepared the sauce so later it was only necessary to add the rice.
So, in other words, do try this at home. Or, head to Barcelona to try it (and learn to cook it!) yourself. Questions about paella, or all things Barcelona? Email Inma! And find out more about Spain on our website.