A Taste of the Spanish Coast: Paella Valenciana
Colorful costumes, the Formula One European Grand Prix, football, the Silk Exchange market, yearly tomato fights (La Tomatina) – much can be said about the beautiful and historic City of Valencia, Spain's third largest and one of Europe's fastest growing. Amidst its architectural wonders, grand heritage and rich culture, one dish stands out among Valencia's and Spain's array of gastronomic delights: the world-famous paella.
Paella, pronounced pa-eh-ya, is a testament to the wonderful flavors of Spanish cuisine. It is a complete and well-balanced meal in itself: a mixture of rice, meat, vegetables and / or seafood hanging on which paella recipe you're following. Traditional paella recipes use mainly chicken, pork, rabbit or snails but because of Valencia's coastal location, the seafood paella version has increasingly become the more popular, and it is typically this tourists and people not local to the region know. Its brilliant yellow-orange hue comes from the saffron used to season the dish.
In the olden days, paella was cooked over a wood fire, a method still preferred by purists and traditionalists to this day. Given the difficulty of making, manning and cooking over a wood fire however, you can now make a great paella using a charcoal grill if you want to embark on a semblance of the authentic paella experience. In addition, paella pans have thin bases, so they are not recommended for burners. But if you're determined to have a go at paella-making, a regular gas burner with settings for a really low fire will do.
A paella pan is the main utensil for this kitchen endeavor. This is a wide, thin-bottomed pan with shallow sides and two handles. The size of the pan depends on how many you're cooking for: the 28cm paella pan should do for 2-4 people but if it's for a large group, the 42cm pan works best. A long-handled wooden spoon is the recommended stirring implementation for this dish. Given below is the traditional paella recipe called Paella Valenciana , great for an extraordinary Sunday lunch with the family, a church potluck dinner or any other big occasion that allows you to show off your culinary prowess to a wide and hungry audience.
Preparation and cooking time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
1 onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 ripe, medium tomatoes, diced
1 whole chicken, cleaned
1 whole rabbit, skinned and cleaned
24 snails, cleaned
165 g wide green beans (bachoqueta)
130 g white lima beans (garrafon)
1 liter chicken stock
500 g short to medium-grained or "pearl" rice
90 ml olive oil
1 large pinch of saffron
1 teaspoon paprika
L large lemon, cut into wedges to garnish
Prepare the ingredients ahead of time. Soak the white lima beans overnight and drain before cooking. Cut the chicken and the rabbit into bite-sized pieces, and salt the pieces lightly. If the snails you're using are canned, drain them well. Clean the beans and snap them in half. Add the saffron to the chicken stock.
Start a fire in the charcoal grill if that's what you're using. When white ash has covered the coals, you can put the paella pan on. For regular gas burners, turn the heat on high. Splash in enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan and heat. Saute the garlic and onion until translucent but not browned. Add the chicken, snails and rabbit in, stirring constantly to prevent the meat from sticking to the pan.
When the meat has turned a light brown, put the green beans and lima beans in and mix together. Halve the ingredients in the pan and add the tomatoes and paprika in the middle, frying until they look a bit pasty. Pour in the rice, making sure to coat the bottom of the pan evenly.
Slowly add the stock with saffron in it until the contents of the pan are covered completely. Allow the paella to simmer until the rice is cooked. If the paella looks dry, pour in more stock until all of the stock has been absorbed by the rice.