Paella – Busting the Myth

July 8, 2021

Like many culinary stereotypes, Paella conjures up an image of how it should look and a list of mandatory ingredients. If we were to use a “thought bubble” then it would look something like this.

Basic Paella, right?

As I have entitled this post “…Busting the Myth”, I need to address the myths. Number 1 is Paella is Spanish, and is the national dish. Not quite! Paella originates from a region of Spain, but isn’t considered their national dish. Offend a north Walian by insisting “Cawl” is the thin broth that ‘mam made the best’ and they would retort by asking which flavour soup would you like. Similarly the Cornish would object to the suggestion their pasties weren’t as a good as a Yorkshireman’s pudding.

Valencia in eastern Spain, located on the coast of the Balearic Sea is where paella originates and would be considered their traditional, signature dish.

Paella has loads of fish and shellfish in it, right? Wrong! There are 3 variations of Paella; Paella Valenciana, Paella del marisco, & Paella mixta.

Paella Valenciana is the traditional dish from the Valencia Community and has in it meat; usually chicken, rabbit and even duck. Paella del marisco is where the stereotype comes into the equation: seafood including fish, prawn, clams, mussels etc. Finally Paella mixta or mixed paella incorporating seafood and meat. The one myth universally accepted as being started by a well known UK TV chef, is the addition of chorizo to the dish – never in a million years!

So what’s in a name? Names can cause more confusion than the worth. For example, Sushi is raw fish, right? Wrong! Sushi means ‘sour rice’. In a similar way as Tandoori Chicken is derived from the style of cooking, baked in the Tandoor (clay oven), Paella translates to English as “frying pan”. Yet another myth debunked; you dont need to own a special pan.

It is becoming apparent that there isn’t a universal recipe per se. What I would say is there are a few mandatory ingredients and the actual method of cooking makes Paella the dish it is.

Special rice? Not really but short grain is traditional. Spending a lot of money buying in ‘authentic’ is a joke in itself. Saffron is needed to dye the rice yellow? Nope, again saffron is quite expensive but turmeric is much cheaper and does the same job.

It takes hours and then sticks to the pan! Ok a good Paella including preparation should take an hour but not hours. If your Paella has stuck to the pan then you didn’t follow the method correctly, therefore here’s my method.

Firstly prepare the pan with oil, a dash of olive or squirts of 1cal – it doesn’t matter as long as the heat is no hotter than medium. This is not flash frying egg fried rice.

Secondly add your meats, fish or meat substitutes and sauté for 5 minutes or so until cooked at least on the outside. Remove and set a side.

Thirdly start cooking your onions garlic and peppers until soft. Now add the rest of your vegetables and combine. Cook for a further 5 minutes or so, before adding your dry rice. Mix well then add the spices (sweet smoked paprika & turmeric) and again stir well.

Fourthly, add your liquid. Chicken stock from a cube or vegetable cube works great. About 600ml, again mixed thoroughly.

Fifthly, pour a glass and sit down for 15 minutes. Let the pan do its work.

Sixthly, stir the pan, add the ‘meat’, stir again and switch off the heat.

Seventhly, cover with a clean tea towel and allow rest on the hot hob ring for another 15 minutes, minimum.

Serve with a wedge of lemon and a nice bread.

Paella is a warm dish not hot! And as always, season to taste.


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