By Zach Frolich
Finally, mysteries revealed: how to make my Mother-in-law’s famous paella, “Paella Valenciana.”
Perhaps it comes from being a Texan who lives in the city of Valencia, but I sometimes think the Spanish paella culture is like BBQ culture back home. Everyone has their own trick for making it, their own opinion about what is the “real” paella, and everyone is certain that theirs is the best. It may leave an outsider wondering, what’s all the fuss about? And how does one actually make a good Spanish paella?
To help remove some of the confusion, in this series of paella entries, I’m going to walk you through how to make a Paella Valenciana, easily the most famous of all the Spanish paellas. Today, I’ll start with what you’ll need to make this dish, the ingredients and proper equipment.
My mother-in-law’s Paella Valenciana, which meets the criteria for the recent denominacion de origen standard.
Paella is a typical Sunday family tradition here. The first thing to clear up is that there are many types of traditional paella in Valencia, however, they are not all called “Paella Valenciana.” Just this last month local chefs finally secured a “denominación de orígen” for “Paella Valenciana,” which clarifies that the phrase “Paella Valenciana” can only be used to label a paella with the following ten ingredients: olive oil, chicken, rabbit, “ferraura” or bajoqueta beans, “garrafó” beans, tomato, water, salt, saffron, and Valencian rice.
To make sure you don’t upset a bunch of Valencians, do not confuse Paella Valenciana with the mixed paella (“paella mixta”), which mixes seafood and meat together, commonly made elsewhere throughout Spain (and looked down upon by Valencians). Also, paella Valenciana should never be confused with the “paella caribeña” that I have sometimes encountered in the U.S., which is made with fried plain rice and peas, and which restaurants stateside often mislabel “la valenciana” (to the great ire of my wife) so as to cater to the growing enthusiasts of Spanish cuisine.
As American chef Penelope Casas notes, it is a common misconception “that paella is loaded with ingredients.” Paella is meant to be a simple dish designed to foreground local, quality ingredients. Paella Valenciana, also known as “paella de pollo y conejo” is thus about a little bit of meat (chicken and rabbit), some fresh beans, cooked in the rice, and that’s pretty much it! In the next entry I’ll walk you through how to prepare one. But first you’ll need to make sure you have the right equipment and ingredients…
The dish “paella” is actually named for the dish “paella.” No wait, that’s confusing! What I mean is that originally it was the special frying pan that was called a “paella” in Catalán, and the culinary dish took on its name from the pan in which it is traditionally cooked. (Other Valencian rice dishes are cooked in other kinds of kitchenware.) So you will need a paella pan to make paella. You will also need a flat skillet (“paleta”) with which to stir the ingredients, and some kind of flat top with which to cover the paella while cooking.
For purists, you would want to cook over wooden fire, something you’ll see at Valencia street festivals like Fallas. Though for a routine Sunday lunch most Valencians are perfectly satisfied with cooking it on a stove.
Here is a list of ingredients to look for in your local market or supermarket (in Spain). Serves four people.
3 whole tomatoes
300 grams garrofón beans (with the skin)
250 grams Roget beans
250 grams Bajoqueta beans
half a rabbit (cut by the butcher into chunks)
half a chicken (cut by the butcher into chunks)
400 grams (100 grams/person) “Arroç bomba” Valencian Rice
pimentón de la vera
olive oil (Extra Virgin)
My mother-in-law often uses just the leg and wing cuts of rabbit and chicken, throwing in rabbit or chicken liver to add flavor. Two quality brands of Valencian rice that we use here are Dacsa and Fallera, though there are others. The important thing is that they be the thick, round Valencian rice, which fries very differently than the usual white rice one finds in U.S. supermarkets. According to the denomination of origin, Pimentón is optional, but if you want your rice to have the distinctive yellow color, my mother-in-law insists it is not optional.
Keep your apron on and check in to my next post to learn my Mother-in-law’s age old cooking technique.
Related Spain Scoop: Regina has The Scoop on the wild festival in Valencia, Las Fallas. We love shopping in the traditional Spanish markets – catch The Scoop’s video. Fake saffron in Spanish food? BBC has the video.
Where have you eaten Spanish paella? Akron, Ohio? Seville? Barcelona?
Zach Frohlich, originally from Austin, Texas, has been traveling between Spain and the U.S. for over a decade, and settled and 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: http://nothemingwaysspain.blogspot.com