The Most Sociable of all Culinary Occassions

Paella is a well-known Spanish dish that has made it’s way around the globe. While it originated in Valencia, Spain and is still unique to the area, variations of the recipe are now created all over the world.  Since I will be traveling to Spain in 2 short months, I decided to learn how to prepare my own paella.

I started by reading several different recipes for the dish on various sites, both formal and informal. What I found was there is no definitive recipe for paella. Not only do the majority of the protein-rich ingredients depend on personal preference, but every style of preparation seems to vary from another.

I found Spanish blogs (in English), such as Taste of Sundays, proudly sharing detailed, personal family recipes. I found vague descriptions of variations of the traditional paella recipe on blogs such as this. I even found how-to video tutorials by Spanish chef’s specializing in paella, like the one seen below.

 

Large paella's are commonly served during Spanish fiestas. Photo credit: Chris Gray

Large paella’s are commonly served during Spanish fiestas. Photo credit: Chris Gray

I did come to find a few staple ingredients that continually make their way into the authentic dish. Paella rice -which I found out the hard way is not labeled in the local grocery store, as paella rice at all- is one of the staples to any variation of the recipe. Bomba and Arborio are the most commonly used rices. Saffron is another necessity when preparing anything close to the authentic styled paella.

Saffron offers a unique, valuable flavor to paella. Photo credit: Aidan Brooks

Saffron offers a unique, valuable flavor to paella.
Photo credit: Aidan Brooks

 

Paella was originally a farmers’ and farm laborers’ food. The workers cooked the dish over an open fire using rice and whatever ingredients were at hand around the fields and countryside. Tomatoes, onions, snails and beans were some common original ingredients. Since Valencia is on the coast, it’s no surprise that various kinds of seafood made their way into later recipes. “To this day a “true” Paella Valenciana has no seafood but a mixture of chicken, rabbit and snails with green and white beans” (The Paella Company). Visit The Paella Company’s site to learn more about the origins and developments of this dish. 

 

As shocking as it may seem, snail was not one of the ingredients I was ready to try so I figured I’d take a more common and widely spread approach to the recipe. Aside from a few modifications, I followed this recipe.

Here are the ingredients and measurements I decided to go with:

2 full chicken breasts
1/3 lb shrimp
4 large scallops cut in fourths

½ cup tomato sauce
4 cloves chopped garlic
1/3 chopped red onion
1 red bell pepper
½ cup green beans cut in 1” sections
½ tsp saffron
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups paella rice
1 ½ cup chicken broth

I started by sautéing the chicken in olive oil until it was mostly cooked. Then I added tomato sauce, bell pepper, onion and garlic to the pan. After about 4-5 minutes, I added the rice, saffron, green beans and cayenne pepper. Once the combination started to boil, I tossed in the shrimp, scallops and broth. I let the ingredients simmer for roughly 15 minutes; stirring frequently to ensure the rice was evenly cooked. I garnished the completed dish with additional peppers and lemon wedges. True to Spanish tradition, it was served family style, in the center of the table for my roommates to gather around.

Here’s a glimpse at my first attempt:

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While there was definitely room for improvement and we had nothing to compare it to, my house was pretty impressed with the results!

Today, paella is commonly prepared as the centerpiece for many fiestas. It is a social dish, meant for sharing and often associated with celebration.  It is known for being eaten right out of the pan rather than on plates. Kitchenproject.com describes the typical style of eating the dish in Spain. “Each guest starts at the perimeter of the Paella and works toward the center.” Visit their site to view different variations of the dish. 

FreshLiving Magazine recently tweeted a variation of the recipe, using chicken, bacon, chorizo, mussels and prawns. Head over to their twitter page @Fresh_Living for more interesting recipe variations.

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I’m looking forward to tasting the real deal during my summer abroad in Spain. Maybe I’ll learn a thing or two before my next attempt at preparation.