All you need to know about… Paella
Full of flavour, the humble paella is a dish that has history and cultural significance. Originally from Valencia, on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, paella has long been considered the Spanish national dish. Paella can be traced back to the mid-19th century, however it is a dish with ancient roots. Traditionally it was cooked over an open fire of orange tree branches and other fragrant plants. Like many culturally significant dishes the flavour and ingredients of paella are diverse and change depending on the region, and the chef.
Originally a peasant dish that was eaten by farmers and labourers for lunch in the rice fields, paella was often made from readily available ingredients such as chicken, rabbit, duck and sometimes even snails. Cooked in a delicious broth in a shallow pan for which the dish is named (La Paella is old Valencian for pan), paella is a dish built on community, celebration, and culture. The fragrance and colour of paella comes from the use of saffron, which was introduced to the region by the Moors during their invasion of Spain in the 10th century.
There are many variations of paella but the most authentic is ‘Paella Valenciana’ which is traditionally made with chicken, rabbit and sometimes snails spiced with sweet paprika, and saffron, with green beans. Contrary to popular belief Paella Valenciana doesn’t include seafood.
One thing that all good paellas should have is the socarrat which is the caramelised and crispy base that forms when the rice absorbs the liquid, and the heat of the pan creates a delicious crust. To achieve the perfect socarrat you should only turn the heat up once the rice is almost cooked. Once you have added the rice you can give the pan a quick stir, but otherwise leave the paella to cook and absorb the broth without stirring. You’ll hear a popping, crackling noise (not unlike that of popcorn); leave the pan on the stove allowing the crackling to continue for approximately 30 seconds, then remove it from the heat. This should have formed a delicious, crispy layer on the bottom of the pan.
One of the wonderful things about paella is that it is a dish that is easy to make your own by using ingredients that you like. If you like seafood, add prawns, fish, mussels or scallops; replace beans with peas, add some chorizo, adjust the spices to your taste – it is all completely customisable to suit you. If you’re looking for some recipe inspiration, try our recipe for a delicious Seafood Paella.