Paella is one of those exotic sounding dishes – the kind of thing we’re more inclined to try when travelling or dining out, but you may be surprised to discover that this is actually an incredibly easy dish to make yourself. Another common misconception about this classic Spanish rice dish is that it always features seafood and fish. In reality, Paella is a dish enjoyed across all of Spain and each part of the country has come up with its own regional interpretation featuring local ingredients, so while coastal villages (with plentiful access to the freshest fish and ocean delicacies) certainly use generous amounts of seafood in their Paella recipes, the areas further inland have adapted this dish (often more broadly referred to as Arroz, or rice) to include poultry, pork, wild game and even snails. Today, we wanted to introduce a selection of delicious recipes which will tantalize for their diverse regional Spanish flavours and inspiration.
Paella is typically made from Bomba – a variety of short grain rice grown in eastern Spain which is ideal for this style of dish as it absorb double to triple its own volume in water without bursting, an amount 25-35% greater than other varieties of rice. It is believed that Bomba migrated to Spain from India, and is today the most expensive variety of rice grown in Spain. Through the early to mid 1900s, there were fears that Bomba was on the brink of extinction, as it is a relatively challenging rice variety to grow. The resurgent interest in Paella and other Spanish rice dishes has led to increased plantings of this variety which now thrives across several regions in eastern Spain.
Agents of Flavour
There are two main elements that help give Paella its distinctive regional flavours – the stock (or cooking liquid) and the spices. Like any dish which involves the gradual concentration of liquid through the cooking process (think braised meats or risotto) the best stock for making Paella requires great natural flavours and low amounts of salt. Increasingly, there is a better and wider range of stock available for purchase in grocery stores, however the best results will be found when using homemade stock made from scratch. The type of stock best suited to a given Paella depends largely on what assortment of seafood, meat and vegetables you plan on using. Chicken stock is a sage choice, but fish stock along with great fresh seafood and fish will help create an abundance of depth and flavour. Next up are the seasonings and spices, which most traditionally include Saffron, Paprika, Cayenne and Garlic and the fresher the spices the better the results will be. These four characters come together to create wonderfully savoury, smoky and earthy addition to your rice. Of course, you can adjust the proportions of each of these four key spices to reflect your personal tastes and preferences, but I’ve found the best results occur when taking it easy with the Cayenne and Garlic, allowing the smoky Paprika and floral Saffron to take centre stage.
Stars of the Show
Let’s face it – if you get the rice or seasoning wrong, it can wreck this dish, but the star attractions that everyone’s come to see – or, more aptly, come to eat – are the meat, seafood and/or vegetables you add to the mix. It’s key to allow the rice to cook slowly and reach near completion before adding these additions to the pan as you don’t want to kill/overcook the fish, seafood and vegetables. They should be added just before you’re ready to serve the rice, giving them just long enough to cook and warm gently – often the residual heat in the pan is enough to cook most seafood and vegetables, if you want to remove the rice from the direct heat. While we’ve assembled a collection of classic regional Paella recipes of Spain for you to check out below, I’d suggest that you think of Paella as a tasty alternative to Risotto in that it is a fabulous vehicle for delivering a collection of your favourite seasonal flavours. Be creative – and consider marrying flavours you love in this delicious, hearty and humble Spanish rice dish.
[ Recipes ]
Traditional Valencian Paella w/ Rabbit + Snails: RECIPE
Wine Match: Mid-weight reds like Monastrell or Garnacha
Fisherman’s Paella w/ Scallops, Prawns + Clams: RECIPE
Wine Match: Albarino from Rias Baixas or dry Rose from Bobal or Rioja
Paella Mixta w/ Chorizo, Chicken, Mussels + Prawns: RECIPE
Wine Match: Younger Tempranillo from Rioja or Mencia from Bierzo
Black Rice w/ Cuttlefish: RECIPE
Wine Match: Cava or sparkling wine or Godello from Bierzo or Valdeorras
Artichoke, Sweet Pepper + Mushroom Vegan Paella: RECIPE
Wine Match: Richer barrel-aged white Rioja