How To Make My Mother-in-law’s Valencian Paella – Part 2

Making an authentic paella

Love Spanish food? Pick up a copy of our guidebook, Eat Guides: Barcelona, and dine like a local in the city. $4.99

Zach, our local expert, is back with his authentic Valencian Paella recipe. For Part 1, click here.

By Zachary Frolich

If you walked through Part 1 in this series, you should have everything you need to get started on a paella valenciana.  I’ll take you through the steps on how to prepare it the way my Valencian, and expert paella-maker mother-in-law makes it.

Since I am currently enrolled in language classes of Valenciano (a.k.a. Catalán), I thought I would make the experience that much more authentic by asking her to give me  instructions in Valencian. So sprinkled throughout this post I’ve included some useful Catalán vocab for paella-making.

Let’s begin!

My Mother-in-law’s Paella Valenciana Recipe (serves 4):

• Equipment: See my previous post.

• Ingredients: See my previous post.

• Preparation:

First prep the ingredients. Blend the tomatoes into a sauce. Wash the beans and split the bajoqueta beans in half so that they fit more manageable in the pan. Pour a thin layer of olive oil onto the frying pan and turn on the stove. Fry the meat (chicken, rabbit, and liver) in olive oil in the paella pan with a high flame. Add a bit of salt to add flavor to the meat. After the outside of the meat has browned, add the pimentón colorant and the blended tomato and cover with a top.

Delicious paella in the making.

After a few minutes, add the bachoquetas beans and, if you want, a bit more salt (to taste) and stir together. After another few minutes, add the garrofón beans, and stir together. Leave to cook for a few minutes. Stir occasionally to ensure ingredients cook evenly. Depending on the meat cuts you use the amount of grease they do or don’t add, you might want to add some more olive oil at this point.

About five minutes later, pour in approximately two bowls of water (I would guess about 3-4 cups), such that it doesn’t quite cover the meat (as pictured), and again add a bit of salt. Leave uncovered until the water starts to boil, and then cover again.

With experience, you can determine when you will want to cover or leave uncovered the paella pan as the ingredients cook. This is how you control how much moisture to let off or leave in for when you add the rice. This is the real art of making a good paella and cooking the rice just right.

And now you wait! For about 10-15 minutes. Every now and then rotate the paella pan so that it cooks evenly. Taste the broth to determine if it is dolç (sweet) or salat (salty) and decide if it needs more salt.

After you’ve let the meat and beans cook in the water, you add the safrà (safron) and romaní (rosemary), stir, and then you add the rice. According to my mother-in-law, there are two traditions for adding rice in the correct quantity. You either add the rice in one very tall stripe running down the center, called a cavalló (horse), or you draw a creu (cross) with the rice (as pictured).

Adding rice in the form of the cross in a paella.

As any Valencian will emphatically tell you, it is very important that, after the initial spreading of the ‘cross’ of rice throughout the pan, you do not stir the paella ingredients further. The rice is meant to cook sitting, and not be continually mixed. After you’ve cooked the rice 5-10 minutes, you can lower the flame, cover the pan, and leave it cooking at low heat until the rice is done. (My mother-in-law says she occasionally has to rectificar (adjust) the paella by adding a bit more water so that the rice isn’t dry at the end.)

Note: many Valencians like to burn the rice at the bottom a bit to create a thin layer of socarrat, a local Valencian word for burnt. The socarrat concentrates the flavor of the broth, creating an explosion of taste, which is why you’ll hear locals asking the server to scrape the paella pan for more socorrat.

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:

5 Responses

  1. Sam says:

    The soccarat is THE best! We battle over the “scrapeys” (the official English term:-). Great article!

  2. Sorokin says:

    Very good and clear explanation. I only have a doubt (a doubt that has been with me since the beginning of time): The right proportion liquid Vs rice has always been a mistery. I know that the valencianos feel it in an instinctive way, but my manchego instinct does not work. :-/

  3. admin says:

    Who would have guessed the soccarat would be the most coveted? Glad you liked our post. Where are you from?

  4. Sorokin, at some level finding the right amount of water is a question of practice, so it’s hard to remove the element of skill from it. That said, the tricks my mother-in-law offered were 1) to put in enough water to almost cover the meat, but to not cover it, 2) to have a top ready to cover the pan if you think too much water is evaporating off, and 3) to remember that you can always add a bit more water later if you think it is going dry.

    It is probably better to err on the side of too little water at first, because if the paella comes out soupy Valencians would argue that it is an “arroz meloso” and not a paella!

  1. February 3, 2012

    […] It’s my blog, so you’ll have to forgive my pretension for listing  my mother-in-law’s version here among the good versions of paella valenciana, but her recipe really is great, and follows the guidelines of the recent informal denominación de origen conferred on paella valenciana. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to take a moment and review those three entries at The Spain Scoop: […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge