Last weekend we hopped over to Valencia. We spent one day at the beach and one in town, walking, walking and walking some more. Being in Valencia we thought we had to try paella, which originated there and then spread (like wildfire) throughout the rest of Spain. We (imagine me blushing a bit) chose an Italian restaurant to try our first, real, Valencian paella. Well, everyone has their quirks, right? After living in Spain for a while a real Roman restaurateur was exactly what we needed. We ordered paella, making sure it wasn’t made with bell peppers or paprika (I’m allergic) and were told that the wait was going to be forty minutes. Better. It wasn’t made beforehand and mirco-waved, obviously. It arrived and we were surprised to see a seafood-less, meaty and vegetabley paella dish. Apparently the original paella (which, in Latin, means pan. The same root as the padella – Italian for pan, paellera – Spanish for pan, and poêle – French for pan) did not present seafood or fish but general leftovers. A bit like the English shepherd’s pie. Anyway, Valencian’s used to use water vole’s meat first, then moved on to more socially acceptable meat such as rabbit, chicken, etc. Ours had said rabbit, chicken, sugar snap peas and other unrecognisable ingredients. It was excellent.
Having come into possession of a paella pan we invited two friends over for lunch today. Paella was the occasion and yesterday’s trip to the market gave me the chance to chat with grandmothers and accumulate precious advice on the dish. Jamie Oliver and Martha Stewart also helped, of course. With all the information I had, I decided to make a mixed paella, with meat and seafood (and few vegetables). These were the proteins:
Some golden rules:
Make sure all your ingredients are cooked perfectly. Sauté the chicken first, then put it in the oven to finish up. In the same pan (with all the yummy sauce) fry the pancetta cut up in chunks. Use a large paella pan (paellera, paella, skillet, whatever you prefer) and put your ingredients in the pan consciously (not in a haphazard way). I put garlic first, then chopped up tomato, then the pancetta (yes I cooked it twice 🙂 ), then the prawns, squid, peas, rice and broth. I made broth the night before with chicken, cow bones (is there a culinary name for this?), beef, onion, tomato, celery and parsley. I also added the saffron (not the cheap chemical colouring that Spanish restaurants use nowadays: I used real Italian saffron and you could taste the difference) not in the broth as some websites suggested but directly in the pan just before adding the rice. It was fine. I added the chicken around the same time I put the broth.
Once you add the broth to the rice do not stir it! Paella is not like risotto and it must stick to the bottom of the pan for a healthy, crunchy and typical Socarrat to form. Other Italians, like me, used to cooking risotto and trained to cringe at the slightest sign of stickiness will find it hard (I had to physically remove myself from the kitchen to refrain from stirring) but remember: do not stir the paella! It should cook on the widest flame possible (ideally all the pan should have direct heat): high flame for the first 2-3 minutes, then medium until it’s ready.
When the rice has been cooking for about twenty minutes, add the mussels and clams. They’ll open in no time and not become gummy and hard because you overcooked them. Mussels take less time than clams to open (not sure why..).
Remember the salt 🙂
Some people put the paella, pan and all, in the oven as a finishing touch. I wanted to but completely forgot and ..well, it was perfectly good anyway. I might try next time though, just to see if there is a difference!
It was pretty good. And the Socarrat was delicious, too!