Imagine a dish that marries two distinctly different cultures, with each one bringing the best it has to offer to the world’s table. Now imagine that dish mingling exotic spices, fresh seafood, succulent sausage and locally grown rice in a way that offers a feast for the senses; The aromas tantalize, the colors dazzle and the taste is heavenly. My friends, that is Paella!
The Origins of Paella
The name “Paella” means “pan” in the regional language of Valencia, a reflection of the birthplace of Paella. This dish likely has ancient roots but the version so widely recognized and appreciated dates back to the mid-19th century. Paella has been described as the perfect union of the two most prevalent cultures is Spain-Roman and Arab. The Romans brought the pan, as the Valencian like to say, and the Arabs brought the rice.
Now, the pan may not seem so significant, but it really is a very integral part of Paella-making. The origins of the dish being as they are it was somewhat peasant fare made from the most plentiful ingredients available throughout the region-rice, seafood, meats and vegetables. Paella was a staple dish served to those working the fields. For convenience it was made outdoors over a quick hot open flame. The pan was created to facilitate the rapid absorption of the juices which served to cook the rice and infuse it with that mouth watering flavor that is Paella.
The ingredients that go into the dish can change based on availability, but traditional Paella includes the following:
Typical types of rice grown in Spain are medium in size. This way each grain grabs hold of the flavor without breaking apart. Unlike Arborio, the rice used to make Risotto, medium grain Spanish rice retains its shape and, as a result, Paella is not a creamy dish.
Meats and Seafood
In traditional Valencian Paella the meats vary depending on what’s available. Most commonly Paella would contain chicken or rabbit, snails.
Those veggies in Paella are dependent upon what’s in season. Fresh, fresh, fresh is always best when making this traditional Spanish meal. Artichokes, tomatoes, green peas, wild green beans, fat white lima beans are the vegetables that make Paella so colorful. Onion and garlic are a constant in any Paella recipe.
In addition to garlic and onion, Paella gets its uniquely rich earthy flavor and brilliant yellow color from threads of spanish saffron. In addition to the saffron-a must in Paella-authentic traditional Paella contains paprika-smoked is preferred but some cooks use sweet paprika.
Serving the Paella
Paella is served family style, in the pan, with each guest dishing up from the outer edge and working their way inward. There are lemon wedges on the table so guests can bring out the bright flavors with just a squeeze.
The Paella Experience
The best place to experience authentic Paella is, of course, in Spain. There’s nothing like enjoying this lusty and luscious dish in the country of its birth.