Let's Talk... Paella.
Updated: Sep 28, 2018
Paella is probably Spain's most famous and exported dish, and the chances are that wherever you are reading this, you are likely to have tried one. What fewer people outside Spain know, however, is that the dish is very specific to, and is a strong point of pride of the Valencian region. This has given rise to many fierce debates about the dish, what can and can't be called a paella, and how it should be cooked.
When I was in the Valencian region this summer on holiday, I stumbled across the Els Paeller's restaurant on the way back from the beach one day. I stopped by for a lovely meal, followed by a chat with with the Head Chef to learn a little more about paella. We talked about it's culture, how the dish developed to be what it is today, and to get some tips how to take mine to the next level - which you can see in the video below.
Below the video, I've shared a recipe of my take on the paella valenciana, which I've developed over the years.
Recipe: Paella de Abbas con habas (Serves 4)
4-person paella dish (preferable), or 40-45cm flat, wide-bottomed saucepan
Paella gas burner or wood fire (ideally, but who are we kidding), or regular kitchen hobs (more realistic) (See note 1)
Ingredients (See note 2)
1kg rabbit (See note 3)
100g garrofón (Lima beans, habas limas)
400g judías verdes anchas (Wide green beans)
3 tomatoes, cut in half and grated
1 tsp pimentón dulce (sweet paprika)
Big pinch of saffron
320g short grain rice (Ideally arroz bomba if you can get your hands on it. Do not use long-grain rice for this)
Water (5x volume of rice)
Bring your paella pan over medium high heat, and add a very generous amount of oil, and some salt.
Add the rabbit to the pan and fry until it's golden brown. This step is super important as we want the dish to take on these beautiful, deep browned flavours.
Add the garrofón and the judías verdes until softened.
Push everything towards the sides of the pan, creating a little hole in the middle. Add the grated tomato and let fry for a few minutes.
Stir everything together, and add the pimentón dulce.
Add the water to the pan, add some salt, the saffron and simmer for 15m. (See note 4)
Taste the stock for salt, bearing in mind that the rice will absorb the salt during the cooking process.
Add the rice evenly across the pan. After this step you can not touch or move the rice around - we don't want the grains rubbing against each other and releasing additional starch into the broth, and hence changing the texture of the dish. This isn't a risotto.
The total cooking time of the rice is ~18 mins, as follows:
8 mins: high heat
6-7 mins: medium-low heat
3-4 mins: Adjust the heat depending on how liquidy the dish is. E.g., low heat if not much liquid, medium heat if there is still stock left. (See note 5)
Take off the heat and cover with a kitchen towel or a newspaper (As long as it isn't The Sun or The Daily Mail) for 5 minutes before eating. You can serve it on plates but I find it much more fun to eat directly from the pan as a group.
Enjoy your meal. You've earned it. Since you've done the cooking, get someone else to do the washing up for you.
Notes on the recipe
The downside of cooking in a regular kitchen is that your hobs are going to be smaller than your paella dish. For even cooking, you'll have the hassle of having to move the dish around constantly.
Of the many different variations of paella valenciana, this is the version I like to make. You can check here for other variations of paella valenciana, which include ingredients such as rosemary, snails and pork ribs. Alternatively, you can use this recipe as a process guide and literally add whatever you want, e.g., kimchi or figs! In that case, however, call your dish an arroz (rice) instead of a paella. That way we can all eat what makes us happy whilst respecting culinary traditions, and everyone wins.
If you're getting the rabbit from a butcher, keep a hold of the offal, so you can fry it and have the traditional starter we had in the video. I also like to include the head as well to give extra flavour to the dish.
Adding the rice after the water is one area where my paella differs from Jose Mari's, as you'll notice from the video. I personally prefer to have the water take the flavour from the meat and vegetables for a little bit, before the rice goes in.
In the shots towards the end of the video, you can see up close the consistency and texture of the paella to get an idea of what it should look like, and what to aim for. A good sign, one that you'll get if your paella isn't too liquidy, is that beautiful sizzling sound you can hear in the clip at the end of the video. Then again, a paella that is too dry or too burnt is not what we want either. This aspect of the dish is the hardest to control, and unless you're a natural-born culinary genius - it's something that will come with practice - so don't get disheartened if it's not perfect.