Paella (traditional Valencian style)

Valencian Paella
Valencian Paella

Paella is a very simple dish that Valencian peasants would cook using cheap, fresh and widely available ingredients. Yet despite its innate simplicity, people repeatedly misunderstand and complicate it, causing us Valencians a great deal of stress in the process, because we know it could be so much better and yet people keep insisting on bastardising our national dish in every possible way! 😭

Also if you, like me, do not live in Valencia and hence do not have access to some of the “niche” local ingredients, I will also provide acceptable replacements that follow the original spirit. I live in the UK, so my suggestions will reflect what I can find in local markets and supermarkets. If it’s not in my list, it quite probably is not acceptable, so don’t add it 😜

Hope you enjoy it!

Ingredients (for 4 people)

Ingredient Alternative
350 grams of bomba rice (it’s round and absorbs water) (75 gr per person)

I’ve seen these sold in Waitrose and Sainsbury’s (called “paella rice”).

Generic “paella” rice, Calasparra rice, Risotto rice, Sushi rice.
Half a chicken, with skin and bones 4 wings or thighs, or a combination
A medium sized tomato Half a tomato can (~200gr)
Garlic clove
Broad flat beans (“Batxoquetes” in Valencian) Green beans, green peas (last resort)
Garrofó beans

This is a local type of beans you can find in Valencia. Alternatively you might find them in a Spanish food store. They are sold dried; you soak them overnight.

Butter beans, Judión beans (Brindisa sell them)
1 tbsp paprika (not smoked or spicy paprika)
Olive oil
Saffron Paella seasoning or “colorante para paella”

You can get this in a Spanish food store. It tends to be a very bright ORANGE and/or have an orange lid (like this). Most people in Valencia use this, rather than the most expensive saffron.

Optional
Fresh rosemary branches
Chicken liver
Artichokes

And not an ingredient, but an essential element is the pan itself, which is called a paella. Yes, the dish name comes from the pan name. If you’re not cooking in a paella pan, you’re not cooking a paella.

Paellas are flat and wide, to allow water to evaporate uniformly. The walls are straight, allowing water steam to escape. Paellas also have two handles, which can be used both as handles and as reference points (I’ll cover this later). When cooking a paella at home, you might find it useful to have a lid as well, to avoid making a big splattery oily mess when sautéeing the meat.

You can find paella pans in many kitchenware shops and department stores in the UK these days, although they don’t tend to stock lids. I bought mine in Spain–it’s stainless steel, with a thick base that works with electric and gas hobs. I would advise against black lacquered paellas as they tend to chip easily. Iron paellas (traditional in the past) get rusty very easily and you need to be very vigilant and quick to clean them (plus they’re harder to wash). In short: stainless steel paellas are great. In the worst possible scenario, you can use a large flat shallow pan, but it isn’t quite the same.

Preparation

  1. If you’re using dried garrofó beans, put them to soak 24h in advance. I put them in a glass of water, but later had to move them to a bigger container as they absorbed liquid and became too swollen for the glass

    garrofo beans, soaking
    garrofó beans, soaking
  2. We’ll prepare everything before cooking. Chop the green beans (I didn’t have broad beans, but green beans provide “the green touch”)

    Chopped green beans
    Chopped green beans
  3. Wash and finely slice the tomato(es)—these were pretty small so I used two small ones.
    two small tomatoes
    two small tomatoes

    I diced them into cubes, but you could also use a grater and grate the flesh and remove the skin. Up to what you feel doing (and the equipment you have handy)…

    diced tomatoes
    diced tomatoes
  4. Also peel and slice a clove of garlic
    sliced garlic
    sliced garlic

    That’s for the vegetables!

  5. We want the meat chopped in small pieces, if it’s not chopped already. If you don’t have a chopping knife, take the biggest, heaviest and sharpest knife you have, and drop it against the bones to cut them. Alternatively, don’t do that and use the whole piece, but it might take a bit longer to cook.
    Chicken thighs
    Chicken thighs
    Chicken thighs, roughly chopped
    Chicken thighs, roughly chopped

    I’m using just two thighs because I am also using chicken livers. Otherwise I would have used more thighs! Also, thighs have more fat, meat and flavour than wings.

  6. Cooking time! Set the paella on a high heat, and add a generous amount of olive oil, and some salt.

    Olive oil in paella
    Olive oil in paella
  7. Add the chopped chicken when it’s hot

    Sautéeting chicken
    Sautéeting chicken
  8. Add the chicken livers, if using them.

    Chicken livers
    Chicken livers
  9. Stir often (keeping a high heat) to make sure everything is evenly browned. If you have a lid for the paella, you might want to put it on in between stirs, to avoid your whole kitchen getting covered in oil splatters.

    Browned chicken and livers
    Browned chicken and livers
  10. When browned, it’s time to start adding vegetables.  Add the green beans, tomato and garlic, and stir. We’re still using a quite high heat here so you don’t want things to get burnt. STIR!

    Adding vegetables
    Adding vegetables
  11. Drain the garrofó beans (which will be really swollen by now)…
    Rehydrated beans
    Rehydrated beans

    … and add them to the pan:

    Garrofó beans in the paella
    Garrofó beans in the paella
  12. Add a tablespoon of paprika, and stir

    Paprika in the paella
    Paprika in the paella
  13. Now we’ll add hot water to the pan, in a proportion of about 2:1, i.e. since we will use 350 grams of rice, we add 700ml of hot water. Pay attention to the water levels (it’s about a centimeter from the edge… or approximately where the handles are 😎). Bring it to the boil, then reduce the heat and leave to simmer for about 30 minutes.
    Simmering
    Simmering

    If you had home made chicken or vegetable stock you could have used it instead of plain water (makes it even more flavourful), but you don’t need to as the simmering period along with the bones in the chicken will produce a nice stock right here in this pan.

  14. Once the 30 minutes have passed, check the vegetables are nicely cooked (specially the dry beans can require a bit extra time). Refill with water to compensate for the evaporation (remember, there should be about one centimeter of margin between the water and the edge). Then taste the liquid and adjust for salt. You want it to be flavourful, and not brutally salty. So add the salt in small increments, stir and taste again until it’s good.
  15. Time for the rice! Weigh it: 350g.
    Uncooked rice
    Uncooked rice

    I’m posting the picture of the uncooked rice to be clear about the type of rice we’re looking for: a round short grain. Not brown rice, or jasmine rice, or basmati or any other exotic invention like I’ve seen in other people’s recipes.

  16. Bring the water to a boil again. If you want to add saffron or paella colouring, you can add it now, and stir too.
  17. It’s a sort of superstition/practice to distribute the rice forming a cross on the pan
    Rice forming a cross in the pan
    Rice forming a cross in the pan

    This helps you spread the rice evenly; superstitious people think it brings good luck. It possibly can’t do any harm, so I do it anyway.

  18. Once it’s in the pan, I finish spreading the rice all over with the spatula, ensuring all grains are submerged under the stock.

    You can't see it, but the rice is there
    You can’t see it, but the rice is there
  19. And now that the rice is in place, we let it boil for 2 or 3 minutes but do not stir. STIRRING IS OVER. The most you are allowed to do is rotating the pan to ensure the heat is uniformly distributed (it can happen that the pan is too big to be perfectly centered in the hob).
  20. Then, reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the water looks like it’s almost all evaporated. The grains should look almost cooked and full of water. They must not look mushy or exploded, and you should not be able to see the visible white core on uncooked grains.
  21. Turn the heat off.
  22. Place the lid over the pan (or a tea towel, or kitchen paper if you don’t have a lid) to form a seal that allows the rice to rest and finish absorbing the steam. If you have rosemary branches, you can place them between the lid or tea towel, and allow them to infuse the rice while it rests.
  23. Ta-da! A cooked paella!

    Cooked paella
    Cooked paella

To serve, remove the rosemary branches if using, and place the rice in a medium-deep dish:

Valencian Paella
Valencian Paella

Hope you enjoy this paella! The flavour will be delicate, as we are using subtle ingredients that complement each other to build a more complex profile. It’ll be unlike any of the “paellas” you’ve eaten before, which are based on strong flavours that compete to dominate the dish. You might need to leave your preconceptions at the door.

By the way, paella is a main dish and as such it is served in individual dishes. It’s not a tapa—sharing a paella dish feels super gross to me. It’s also best served warm, not piping hot, so the resting time also helps bringing it down to a proper temperature. You can also squeeze a wedge of lemon if you’d like the citrus touch, but it’s not mandatory (lemon wedges are not decoration only).

What you would traditionally share is a big salad, placed in the center of the table, with fresh ingredients such as lettuce, tomato, onion, cucumber and, if you’re feeling splendid, olives (possibly with the stone in), dressed with a hint of vinegar (often wine vinegar) and generously with olive oil and salt.

To drink, you could have a light white wine with it, although it would also work well with some lemonade, or a cold beer (for example try the classic brand, Turia – slightly toasted, with citrusy hints), or 50:50 lemonade and beer, which we call a clara, or lemonade and wine! But those are summery things, and I’m not really fond of any of those mixes personally.

Why all this insistence on not stirring?

One of the main reasons we do not stir is so that a caramelised crust can form on the bottom of the pan. This crust is called socarrat (which means “burnt” ) and is highly valued amongst connoisseurs, who will fight to get their share of socarrat (or socarraet, colloquially).

Socarrat
Socarrat

I’m not a big fan of socarrat so mine is not very thick and dry, but some people can create wonderfully consistent yet thin layers. (It can also be hard to clean, specially in old fashioned iron pans!)

Another side effect of stirring constantly would be releasing too much starch and breaking the grains and creating a mush, which would also be gross because we’re not cooking congee here. I love congee, but the grains in a paella are supposed to be intact! Next time you see one of those street vendors cooking paella and stirring like there’s no tomorrow, notice how it’s all mushy and starchy and super EWWW looking 🤢

Other paellas

Here’s a couple other examples of how real valencian paellas look like in the wild. Notice not only the rice is not smashed and exploded, but also there is no chorizo, no prawns, no parsley, no beef, no pork, no sausages, etc, etc (I have many feelings about this topic, and I’m trying very hard to contain myself 😜)

Paella with artichokes
Paella with artichokes
Mum's paella
Mum’s paella – note the socarraet on the bottom left
Restaurant paella, in Valencia
Restaurant paella, in Valencia
Laura's mum paella
Laura’s mum paella

Let me know if you try to make a paella! I’d love to see more people eating and enjoying real paella! 🙂

And if you’re vegetarian, despair not! Although the original recipe does include meat of some sort, there are alternative options, and I will post a vegetarian paella recipe if there’s popular demand. Leave a comment, here or in my twitter or instagram, and I’ll happily devise a veggie option. Maybe even vegan ✌🏼

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