At a glance, you’d think a paella dish is just some rice and seafood cooked together. But it’s so much more than that.
In fact, it made our list of 21 Delicious Spanish Foods To Die For.
Paella is a piece of Mediterranean heritage; it’s a well-balanced combination of Spanish, Roman, and Arab cultures.
You can enjoy the mouth-watering taste of cultural diversity in it without moving from your place.
Here, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about the authentic paella plate: paella Valenciana. You’ll get hungry; I’m warning you!
The Early Years of Paella Valenciana
Paella was born in Valencia, around lake Albufera on the eastern coast of Spain. There are diverse claims as to where it started.
Some historians believe the servants of Moorish kings were the ones who cooked it first, using leftovers from royal banquets. It went as far as thinking the term ‘paella’ has Arabic origins, but that turned out to be false.
Other stories claim that the Romans started cooking it in the 15th century when they first developed irrigation systems.
They supposedly used water vole as the main ingredient at first, before evolving their habits and adding poultry instead. Personally, I’d go with the story that doesn’t include any rodents!
The meal started as meat-based. Then, fish began emerging as an ingredient as the dish’s popularity spread. It was being cooked on the Mediterranean’s shores, so it’s only normal to let seafood join in.
The Origins of the Name
There were a lot of revelations about paella’s name; tourists thought there’s an interesting secret behind it. However, it’s simply named after the pan that’s used to cook it.
A cooking pan is called ‘patella’ in Latin, which is where paella got its name. Valencians used to speak their own language, which has some Latin terms.
The language is also strikingly similar to Catalan, but that’s now what we’re here to talk about.
There was one interesting myth about the naming that romance-enthusiasts will love. Some people believe the dish was first cooked by a man for his lover. So, the term paella comes ‘para ella’, which means ‘for her’ in Spanish.
As for the word ‘Valenciana’, it obviously comes from paella’s birthplace: Valencia.
Spanish Dish – Everything You Need to Know
Now that you know all about its history, it’s time to know how paella Valenciana is prepared.
It’s not hard to cook, but there are several factors to consider, including the recipes, the cooking, the secret ingredients, and the rice!
Paella Valenciana Is Just One Recipe
Paella has various recipes, and they’re all equally good. Paella Valenciana is the authentic recipe; it’s said to have the best taste out of the others.
On top of that, it’s the most widely known recipe. It’s made using chicken, rabbit, olive oil, green beans, and saffron.
The other recipes are as follows.
Paella De Marisco
If you’re a seafood-enthusiast, you’ll love Paella De Marisco, which is also called Paella Marinera by some people. It’s a tasty combination of mussels, clams, prawns, and calamari. The rice is so juicy that it almost resembles soup; it’s an intense meal indeed.
Restaurants usually serve Paella De Marisco with the seafood in its shell. However, some luxurious places will remove the shell as per the chef’s instructions.
Paella Mixta combines both paella Valenciana and Paella De Marisco, which explains the naming. It’s a unique mixture of seafood and chicken. The diversity of ingredients makes it a tourists’ favorite.
If you’re a vegetarian, order Paella Vegetariana and enjoy it. It’s made using a wide variety of vegetables, including lima beans, artichokes, and bell pepper. It has a similar taste to Paella Valenciana, except for the chicken and seafood part.
Paella Negra isn’t for the faint of heart; its main ingredient is squid ink. Therefore, it’s served in black color. Once you get over the color, you’ll get to enjoy the adventurous taste that comes with it. This dish is especially popular among native Spanish; tourists usually shy away from it.
How the Cooking is Done
The Spanish folks take their cooking too seriously. When you want to cook something, you usually light up the oven and get going. But that’s not how it’s done in Spain. They cook paella over an open fire, so the intense flavor gets to mingle with the fresh European air.
The most essential cooking tool is the pan. The Spanish use huge convex pans to cook paella.
Of course, there are now hundreds of different shapes of the pan, but that’s how it started. The design was well-thought, too.
They designed a convex shape instead of a flat bottom to help with the sofrito’s preparation, which is the first stage of cooking the dish.
As for the sofrito, it’s a sauce that consists of onion, tomatoes, and olive oil. Every chef cooks it according to his personal preference, but the ingredients stay the same. It’s popular in Latin and Spanish native dishes, and it’s a vital component of paella.
The Not So Secret Ingredients
Paella doesn’t have secret ingredients; it’s a globally recognized dish, so the recipes are out for the world to see. That being said, some ingredients aren’t commonly included.
For example, not all chefs add the Socarrat, although it’s a gift from above. The Socarrat is a toasty layer of rice at the pan’s bottom. It forms under the heat of the open fire, and it adds to the overall heavenly effect of paella without meddling with the flavor.
Some chefs even went as far as making it into a separate dish. They serve it as a thin rice crêpe that’s separate from the paella. And tourists love that plate!
Good Rice Is Key to Good Paella
The choice of rice is a major contributor to the paella’s taste. Paella wouldn’t be paella without the juicy rice that fills the plate to the rim. When choosing the rice, you want to choose the right one.
You should go for a short-grained type. It’ll be a better absorbent for the liquid than the regular type. Additionally, slightly rounded rice will retain its firmness better while cooking.
You don’t want to end up with a plate of mushy rice for paella. That’s a humiliation to the Spanish heritage!
Where Can You Eat the Best Paella Valenciana?
If you want to eat native paella on your next trip to Spain, you should pay a visit to Valencia.
There’s a restaurant there that’s called La Pepica; it’ll serve you the best Paella Valenciana dish you can ever dream of.
Ernest Hemingway was a regular customer at that restaurant, and Joaquin Sorolla, the painter, visited it as a routine.
If that’s not impressive enough for you, King Juan Carlos himself loves to eat there. I guess the taste is hard to resist, even for royals!
The restaurant is located face-to-face with Playa de la Malvarrosa. You can choose to sit on its terrace and have a view of the Valencian beach.
Alternatively, you can enter the restaurant from the town side. If you do that, you’ll be able to take a tour through their kitchen.
I know you’re dreaming of the saucy taste of Spanish seafood and the crusty layer of paella rice right now.
Don’t sweat over it; book the next plane ticket to Valencia and have the most intense lunch meal of your life.
If you’re lucky, you’ll find a reservation at La Pepica, but you’ll need a hefty amount of money for that.
Don’t forget to tell me what you think about it afterward!
However, that might not be possible at the moment.
So learn how to make your own authentic Spanish paella with, The Best Rice for Paella and How To Prepare It!
Our blog is all about sharing our love of Latin American foods & drinks. We will bring you articles and recipes of the very best Latin American & Spanish cuisine. Amigofoods was founded in 2003 and is the largest online grocery store offering a wide variety of hard to find freshly imported foods & drinks from all over Latin America and Spain.