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The History of Paella in Spain and How to Cook one by Manuel Rodriguez.


The History of Paella in Spain: A Culinary Journey

If there’s one dish that embodies the vibrant and diverse culinary culture of Spain, it’s undoubtedly paella. This delicious rice-based dish has become synonymous with Spanish cuisine, tantalising taste buds around the world. But have you ever wondered about the roots of this iconic dish?

To truly appreciate paella, we must delve into its rich history, which dates back centuries. Originating in the Valencia region of Spain, paella was initially a peasant’s meal, prepared using readily available ingredients. The word “paella” itself refers to the flat, wide, and shallow pan in which the dish is traditionally cooked.

The early versions of paella incorporated ingredients like rice, beans, and whatever meat or seafood was accessible to the rural communities. It was a practical dish, designed to feed large gatherings of family and friends.

Over time, as trade flourished, and spices and ingredients from different regions found their way into Spain, the dish evolved.

The golden era of paella came about in the mid-19th century, as Valencia experienced a booming agricultural industry. Farmers cultivated rice extensively, making it a staple ingredient in the region.

Traditional paella recipes started incorporating local produce such as rabbit, duck, snails, and a variety of vegetables.

Fast forward to the present day, and paella has taken on numerous regional variations, each with its own character and unique combination of ingredients. When you visit a restaurant in Spain you will typically see a variety of different paella types to choose from, Fish, shellfish, meat, mixed, vegetable, lobster, or even the famous ‘black rice’ which is made from squid ink!

If trying to cook a paella for the first time, the best advice is to experiment with ingredients, you really can’t go wrong. The second piece of advice is not to stir the paella once everything has been added! This is frowned up in Spain, a bit like adding Chorizo to the dish!

Paella Valenciana, perhaps the most authentic version, typically consists of short-grain rice, saffron, rabbit, chicken, green beans, and sometimes snails. Seafood paella, another popular variation, showcases the bountiful seafood found along the Spanish coast, with prawns, mussels, clams, and squid taking centre stage.

Now that we have explored the history of paella, let’s embark on the delightful journey of cooking it. The beauty of paella lies in its simplicity, allowing the flavours of the ingredients to shine through.

We would recommend that you invest in a decent paella pan (you can pick one up on Amazon for around 20-30 pounds). Don’t worry If you don’t have a paella pan though as any wide, shallow skillet will do the job.

To make a classic paella Valenciana, gather the following essential ingredients:

• 2 tablespoons of good quality olive oil (the better the oil, the better the taste!)
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 3 cloves of garlic, minced
• 200g rabbit, cut into pieces (Optional)
• 200g chicken, cut into pieces
• 200g green beans, trimmed and halved
• 2 ripe tomatoes, grated (or 1 tablespoon of tomato paste)
• 400g short-grain rice (such as Calasparra or Arborio)
• 1 teaspoon of sweet paprika
• A pinch of saffron threads
• 1 litre of chicken or vegetable broth
• Salt and pepper to taste
• Fresh parsley, for garnish
• Lemon wedges, for serving

(For a vegetarian version, you can opt for vegetables like bell peppers, tomatoes, and artichokes. Don’t forget the essential spices: saffron, smoked paprika, and a pinch of salt.)

Once you have your ingredients ready, here’s how to cook a delectable paella:

Cooking Instructions:

Heat the olive oil in your pan over medium heat.

Add the onion and garlic, and sauté until softened.

Add the rabbit and chicken pieces to the pan and cook until lightly browned on all sides.

Stir in the green beans and grated tomatoes and cook for a few minutes until the vegetables soften.

Sprinkle the paprika and saffron threads over the ingredients, giving the paella its characteristic colour and aroma.

Add the rice to the pan and stir it gently to coat the grains with the flavourful mixture. Cook for a minute or two, allowing the rice to absorb the flavours.

Pour in the broth, season with salt and pepper, and bring the mixture to a boil. This is the part where patience is rewarded – resist the temptation to stir the paella! Let it cook undisturbed and let it simmer for about 15-20 minutes, or until the rice is cooked and the liquid has been absorbed.

Once cooked, remove the paella from the heat and let it rest for a few minutes, allowing the flavours to meld together.

Garnish with freshly chopped parsley and serve with lemon wedges on the side. Squeeze some lemon juice over the paella just before devouring it to enhance the flavours.

The final step? Gather your loved ones, pour a glass of Spanish wine, and savour this delectable dish together, just as the Valencian farmers did centuries ago.

As you take your first bite of the beautifully crafted paella, savour the rich history and culinary journey that brought this dish to your plate.

Paella is not just a meal; it’s a celebration of Spanish culture, imagination, and the joy of coming together to share a delightful feast.

How to make a Spanish Paella? You’ve heard it from the best!

Don Manuel Rodriguez and his commis chef Damon.

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