All You Need to Know About Paella


Paella is currently an internationally-known rice dish from Spain.  What we know today as Paella was created in the mid-19th century near lake Albufera, a lagoon in Valencia, on the east coast of Spain.  Many believe that paella is Spain’s valencia spainnational dish, however most Spaniards consider it to be a regional Valencian dish.

Origins of Paella

The history of paella begins with Spain’s Moorish influence.  During family gatherings and religious feasts, the people of Moorish Spain often made casseroles of rice, fish and spices.  Some old stories tell a tale of how the Moorish kings’ servants created rice dishes by mixing the left-overs from royal banquets in large pots to take home.  Whether or not this tale has any truth to it, the Moorish influence is what established the custom of eating rice in Spain and what led to rice becoming a staple by the 15th century when Spanish Catholics expelled the Muslims and Jews.  Over time, it became customary for cooks to combine rice with vegetables, beans and dry cod providing an acceptable meal for Catholic observance of Lent.  This was the foundation and beginnings of what we now know as paella.

On special occasions, 18th century Valencians used paelleras to cook rice in the open air of their orchards near lake Albufera. Water vole meat was one of the main ingredients of early paellas, along with eel and butter beans. Novelist Vicente Blasco Ibáñez described the Valencian custom of eating water voles in Cañas y Barro (1902), a realistic novel about life among the fishermen and peasants near lake Albufera.

With the sociological changes of the late 19th century in Spain living standards rose giving rise to reunions and outings in the countryside.  This led to a change of paella’s ingredients as well, these being rabbit, chicken, duck and sometimes snails.  The dish became so popular that in 140 a local Spanish newspaper first used the word paella to refer to the recipe rather than the pan.  Paella as we know it today was born.

About the Paella Pan and How to Season It

paella pansThe paella pan is a large, flat, open round pan with handles.  They can be as inexpensive as $20 or several hundred dollars depending on the metal material used…carbon steel, stainless steel, copper, etc.

Just like other pans, there are many ways to season a paella pan and each chef has their own method.  The method we use is as follows:  wash the pan with warm water and soap and dry with a soft cloth immediately.  Using a paper towl or soft cloth, rub olive oil over the entire inside of the pan.  Bake the pan rubbed with olive oil in an oven at 350 degrees for 2 hours.

It is very important to thoroughly clean the pan immediately after each use. Then, before storing it, rub it with olive oil to prevent it from rusting.

If you ever pull out your pan and it has begun to rust, don’t panic and run out to buy a new one! Simple use a soapy steel wool pad to gently wash it and rub off the rust. Then, rub with olive oil to season it again.

How Paella is Cooked

According to Valencia tradition, paella is cooked by men over an open fire, fueled by orange and pine branches along with pine cones.  This produces an aromatic smoke which infuses the paella.  Dinner guests traditionally would eat directly out of the paella pan.

Paella is best prepared over an open fire.  A charcoal BBQ grill or gas paella burner is preferred, however a gas range may also be used.  If using a charcoal BBQ grill, it is best to use a round kettle-style BBQ grill like a Weber brand so that the heat is evenly distributed and because the heat should gradually decrease as you cook it.  It must be hot enough to brown the meat at first, but then the heat should be reduced in order to simmer the rice.  A gas paella burner is definitely the preferred method.  Designed specifically for cooking paella outside, a paella gas burner and adjustable tripod stand usually come with two-ring or three-ring burners and allow adjusting each ring separately.  These burners connect to a propane tank via a hose and regulator.

Varieties of Paella and Recipes

There are generally speaking three main types of paella:  Valencian paella, seafood paella, and mixed paella.  There exists many other variations as well…about as many versions as there are cooks.  Valencian paella consists of white rice, green vegetables, meat (rabbit, chicken, duck), land snails, beans and seasoning.  Seafood paella replaces meat and snails with seafood and omits beans and green vegetables.  Mixed paella is a free-style combination of meat, seafood, vegetables, and sometimes beans.  Most paella chefs use bomba rice or when bomba rice is not available, medium-grain rice.  Other key ingredients include saffron and olive oil.  Saffron is the spice that turns the rice a wonderful golden color.

Now that you know the origins of paella, try some of our recipes and enjoy this delicious dish.  You will certainly love our paella recipes.





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