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Inside PaellaInside Paella

August 1, 2006

3 Min Read
Inside Paella

Paella is Spain’s signature dish of rice cooked with seafood, chicken, chorizo, meat and/or vegetables in a saffron broth, seasoned with garlic and onion. The word “paella” in Catalan means “frying pan.” But today, since paella has become popular all over Spain, “paellera” is generally used for the pan and paella for the dish. Paella originated in the rice-growing region of Levante in eastern Spain. It was traditionally prepared over a wood fire by men for a hearty midday meal.

Whether a paella holds appeal depends upon the type of rice, the coloring, seasonings, cooking pan, distribution of heat and cooking technique used. Paella is traditionally prepared with short- to medium-grain rice, such as Valencia rice or bomba rice from Murcia. They retain their firmness better during cooking and absorb flavors well. The rice does not become sticky or mushy, but stays firm, separate and dry. Paella can also be prepared with Italian Arborio rice used in risottos. Olive oil helps keep the grains from sticking together.

Artificial yellow coloring often substitutes for expensive saffron. Typical paella vegetables include peas, sweet peppers and tomatoes, while green beans, broad beans, asparagus, mushrooms and artichokes have become popular additions. Seasonings for paella include paprika, bay leaf, rosemary, thyme, red pimento, ñora (small, red, sweet, dried bell peppers), black pepper and parsley.

Paella is cooked in a large, flat, shallow two-handled earthenware or steel pan which permits an even layer of cooked rice and even heating. The paellera is placed over a grill or open fire of wood, grape-vine prunings, wild rosemary or thyme twigs. The rice is lightly sautéed in olive oil before adding the saffron-infused broth.

Ideally, if the meat, chicken, seafood and vegetables are cut into large pieces, they are stir-fried in olive oil separately and then added after the rice has cooked. Alternately, they are cut in bite-size pieces and added to the rice mixture after sautéing in olive oil.

Paella is cooked uncovered. The pan can be moved around to evenly distribute the heat, but the paella is not stirred. When nearly done, the paella is removed from the fire and allowed to rest, covered, for about 10 minutes. Here, the rice absorbs the last drops of broth and continues to cook until it becomes dry. This keeps the rice texture al dente. Some lemon juice may be squeezed over the paella before eating.

Almost every village and household in Spain has its own paella variation. Paella or arroz a la marinera, or sailor rice, has rice with prawns, clams or mussels, squid, and fish or eel. Paella de peix contains fish. Paella de marisco is seafood paella. Paella de carne has pork, rabbit or meatballs. Paella a la Valencia is cooked with rabbit, snails and broad beans. Paella parellada from Barcelona has pork, chicken, squid, sausage, fish, prawns, artichoke and peas. Paella huertana and paella de verduras are vegetarian versions, while arroz negro is made with squid ink.

Susheela Raghavan is president of Horizons Consulting Inc., DBA Taste of Malacca, a New Rochelle, NY–based supplier of innovative spice blends and food-consulting firm that spots trends and develops ethnic and “new” American products for U.S. and global markets. She can be reached via e-mail at [email protected], or by visiting www.SusheelaConsulting.comor www.tasteofmalacca.com.

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