Paella – the most famous of all Spanish foods
It was the poor peasant people of the Valencian region who invented Spain’s most famous dish, paella.
The original recipe combined home grown veg (usually green and broad beans) with offcuts of rabbit and the short grain rice that is mass produced around the City of Valencia thanks to the sophisticated irrigation system introduced by the Moors.
Even today this is the traditional Valencian paella which you’ll find in thousands of towns, villages and isolated mountain pueblos throughout the region. It’s cheap, full of flavour and filling. These were the three main ingredients most sought after by those struggling to survive in the dire days during and after the Spanish Civil War.
This kind of paella is a far cry from the exotic dishes you’ll find down at the seafront where chefs throw in an abundance of mussels, clams, langoustines and other pricey trimmings designed to tempt tourists with hungry appetites and plenty of money to spend.
No matter where you are in Spain, as a general rule of thumb you’ll get tastier food for far less money if you eat where the Spanish eat and follow them along to the street markets which are a treasure trove full of fresh, cheap and high-quality local produce.
Want to try Paella yourself, try our simple Paella recipe:
A bag of fresh mussels (2lb / 1kg)
1lb (450g) chicken pieces
1lb (450g) large prawn or langostinos
4oz (110g) pork or chorizo, cubed
1lb (450g) squid or jibia (”choco”)
2 medium tomatoes (or 1 large)
2 medium cloves of garlic (or 1 really big one)
A handful of peas (fresh or frozen)
13oz (370g) short/medium-grain rice
pinch of saffron
1 teaspoon pimenton dulce (sweet paprika)
A few drops of yellow food colouring
A bay leaf
Freshly ground black pepper & sea salt to taste
Roasted red pepper in strips (from a tin or bottle is fine)
1. Prepare the mussels: Scrub and debeard the mussels. Discard any that are open or broken. Put in a pan with a few tablespoons of water over a high heat, cover and cook for 2 or 3 minutes. Discard any that are still closed, and de-shell all but 8 of them, discarding the empty half-shell on this remaining eight. Strain and keep the cooking liquid.
2. Prepare the prawns: Cook 4 prawns for 60 seconds in boiling water. Put aside, and add the liquid to the mussel liquid. Shell the rest of the prawns.
3. Make a stock: Simmer any chicken wings and the prawn shells in the mussel/prawn juice, made up to 1.5 pints (900ml) with water. Strain and put aside.
4. Make the sofrito (fish, meat and vegetable mix): Put a 14in (35cm) paella pan, flat-bottomed wok or frying pan on the heat and brown the pork/chorizo and chicken (8 to 10 minutes). Add the squid for 4-5 minutes longer – be careful not to overcook it or it will toughen. Add the green pepper and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes more. Add the tomato and boil for a few minutes until it reduces to a thick paste, then add the prawns, peas and shell-less mussels.
5. Add the stock and rice: Stock first, bring to the boil, then add the rice evenly. Mix your yellowing ingredients (saffron, pimenton dulce and food colouring) and drip evenly into the pan. Season and add the bay leaf. Stir delicately just once to distribute all ingredients evenly, then never again!
6. Let the rice cook: 5 minutes on high heat, low heat for 15 minutes, then 1 minute on high to caramelise the very bottom layer to the paella pan. NO STIRRING! Ten minutes in, arrange the reserved mussels in half shells, and reserved whole prawns on the top of the paella to warm through.
7. Allow it to rest: cover with foil loosely if you like, but rest it for 10 minutes. Garnish with lemon wedges and strips of red pepper, then serve.