The original paella valenciana probably dates to the early 1800s and the earliest kinds of paella were products of purely available local ingredients. Today paella is made in every region of Spain, using just about any kind of ingredient that goes well with rice. In our area of inland Costa Blanca, the most widely accepted Paella consists of rice with rabbit, peppers and chicken, and of course snails!
There is an old story of how the Moorish kings’ servants created rice dishes by mixing the left-overs from royal banquets in large pots to take home. These stories are romantic and may be true, but it was not until the mid-nineteenth century that the paella as we know it was created in an area around Albufera (a fresh water lagoon near the city of Valencia). At lunch time, workers in the fields would make the rice dish in a flat pan over a fire. They mixed in whatever they could find – such as snails and vegetables. For special occasions, rabbit and later chicken were added.
How to Make Paella
Paella is best prepared over an open fire using a paellera, a large, flat, open round steel pan with handles. The reason for this is so that the heat is evenly distributed and because the heat should gradually decrease as you are cooking it.
For best results, use the bomba variety of rice, which is an almost round rice grain from Levante (the eastern coast of Spain). If bomba rice is not available, use a medium-grain rather than a long grain rice as it readily absorbs the liquid. For a paella, you throw the rice on to the boiling liquid, lower the heat, and cook without stirring.
Ingredients for the perfect Paella
12oz short-grain rice, Bomba or Calasparra Rice
3 pints chicken stock
1 chicken, cut into pieces
1 rabbit, cut into pieces
16 cleaned snails
2 tablespoons (100 ml) olive oil
1 red pepper, deseeded and cut lengthways onto thin strips
4oz tomatoes, deseeded and finely chopped or a tin of chopped tomatoes
a pinch of saffron strands, 1 tablespoon paprika, or ready bought paella spices
A good dose of salt
a sprig of rosemary
Trim the chicken and rabbit, leaving the bones on the flesh.
Heat the oil in the paella pan with a pinch of salt. When hot, add the red pepper and fry for 5 minutes, then remove and keep to one side
Add the chicken and rabbit and fry until golden brown on all sides.
Add the chicken stock, saffron, paprika, and tomatoes, then throw in the rice
Place the snails and peppers and the rosemary sprig on top of the rice, check the seasoning and bring the stock to the boil
Turn the heat down and simmer without stirring for 25-30 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice begins to stick to the pan.
Turn off the heat and cover with foil, letting the paella rest for 10 minutes
Serve with crusty bread and wedges of lemon