By Zach Frolich
You’ve gathered the ingredients, and you cooked them like a pro. Now finally the paella is ready to be eaten! Traditionally you would eat paella with a “cullera de fusta” (a wooden spoon) directly from the paella pan, which would be placed in the middle of the table so that everyone can reach it. Each person might stake out their territory in the pan, such that all that would be left is a border of rice between where each person ate their portion. Nowadays, however, it’s common for people to just serve the paella on individual plates. Not quite as social or communal, but perhaps a bit more hygenic.
A typical accompaniment is “amanida valenciana,” a simple Valencian salad of those deliciously fresh vegetables from “L’Horta de València” (the orchards of Valencia). It also never hurts to open a bottle of “vi blanc” (white wine), like the Viña Esmeralda we drank with this paella. My wife usually makes the garlic mayonnaise sauce “all i oli” (a.k.a. ajoacete) to accompany all our paellas, though traditionally all i oli is only served with fish and seafood paellas (e.g. negre, abanda, or marinera). But for garlic lovers it doesn’t hurt to serve it with the Paella Valenciana, too!
Now, Paella Valenciana is a tricky recipe to replicate outside the Valencia region (even in other regions of Spain!). For starters, the specific types of beans and the rice are hard to get a hold of outside Spain, though LaTienda.com has helped to remedy that in the States. What’s more, Valencians, who can be purists about their native dish, regularly say that the local water isn’t good for anything accept to make paella. In other words, they would argue that paella cooks better in the region because of the unique chemical composition of the water here (which for other purposes often tastes dreadful!).
You also may not have the right paella pan equipment, or may wish to skip the rabbit meat and instead use seafood ingredients more easily found in the U.S. or UK. That is why I recommend you try out this expat blogger’s recipe for “Paella a la Americana,” which adapts the recipe to the equipment and ingredients available to an ordinary American kitchen.
My wife’s arroz al horno de puchero, one of many variations of baked rice. This one mixes the meats and vegetables from Cocido with tomato, potato,
and chorizo all baked with Valencian “Bomba” rice in a clay “cazuelo” pot.
And as I said, Paella Valenciana is just the tip of the iceberg for Valencian rice culture. While certainly the most famous Valencian dish, Paella Valenciana is one of hundreds of paella recipes made here: Paella de Marisco, Paella de Verduras, Arròs Negre (made with squid and is therefore black!), “A banda”, and “L’Arròs del Senyoret,” just to name a few of the more locally popular ones. These paellas vary by locale and season, but all are paellas from Valencia, without being the “Paella Valenciana.” And that is not to mention Arroz al Horno, Arroz Caldoso or Meloso, Pimientos Rellenos… all considered by locals to be entirely distinct rice dishes, and not paellas.
So once you’ve mastered “Paella Valenciana,” the next step is to try out the hundreds of variations of delicious paellas out there. Just thinking about it is making me hungry!
Zach Frohlich, originally from Austin, Texas, has been traveling between Spain and the U.S. for over a decade, and settled and is living in Valencia for the last couple of years. He is a historian by training and married to a Spaniard. He shares cultural insights and background on Spain at: www.nothemingwaysspain.blogspot.com
Where have you eaten a delicious paella? What was in it?