All About Paella and a little Flamenco

One of my most vivid travel memories is from 1991, my first visit to Spain.  This was one leg in the backpacking adventures with my great friend Deena. 

We met up with Deena's Mum, Diana.  Diana was one of the most beautiful and vivacious women I have ever known.  Diana was a very accomplished ballroom dancer, and wow, could should pull off those dresses.  The 3 of us traveled to Spain's Costa del Sol.  Deena and I in our cut off jean shorts and tie-dyed t-shirts and Diana wearing vibrant fuschia tops and fashionable above the knee black skirts, always with a fedora style white hat.

Diana found a tiny outdoor restaurant, known for it's Paella de Marisco, it felt like we were off the beaten track but perhaps that is my  memory embellishing the moment.  I do remember it was small, and there was a little stage at the front.   We ate paella, drank sangria and laughed.  The paella was amazing but what was even more magical, happened as were finishing our last bites of Sofrito and Socarrat.

A small group came on stage, two men and two women.  The men played the music and the women were the music....My first introduction to Flamenco.  I fell in love with it.  I think at the point I said to Deena we were going to go home to Vancouver and learn this dance.  Something I have always wanted to do, and have still yet to make happen, but I will. 

Sadly Diana is no longer with us, but I am so happy when I rifle through my files of travel memories, this one has Diana's name all over it.  Deena and Diana were the perfect pair to share my first paella and flamenco with, not the last, but the most memorable. 

Grab your Paellera, ask "Alexa" to play some Flamenco music and come to Valencia (virtually) with Emily and I on April 25th when we can create more paella and share more stories. ~ Paula

The Origins of Paella

The cuisine of Valencia, Spain has two components: the rural (products of the field) and the coastal (seafood). One popular Valencia creation is Paella, a rice dish cooked in a circular pan and topped with vegetables and meats (commonly rabbit, chicken or fish).

Paella is a Valencian rice dish that has ancient roots but its modern form originated in the mid-19th century in the area around Albufera lagoon on the east coast of Spain, adjacent to the city of Valencia.  You may be surprised to know that the original paella was made with rabbit and snails that fed off of rosemary growing in the fields.  

There are many types of Paella, Paella de Marisco is seafood paella. A great way to learn more about Paella is with a cooking class.

Rice Rules For The Paella

by Luise Wagner from "The Rules of Paella"
(Luise was an original IMK Host)

Paella is a rice dish and it is made to flavour the rice not the other way round. Rice is the main ingredient, therefore do not overload the pan with other ingredients.

In Valencia of course everyone insists on using the local rice that grows around the Albufera region. There are big major Spanish producers like La Fallera, Bomba, Albufera or Sara/Maratelli.

The variety you can find outside of Spain is mostly the Bomba rice.  Bomba rice is easier to handle and stays longer al dente. This is important when you make larger quantities and might need more time to make a paella. It needs more liquid than other rice and the cooking time is shorter.

Paella rice is always a short- or medium-grain rice and cannot be replaced with long-grain or Basmati rice, ever. The main characteristics are that it is non-sticky. If you can't get Spanish rice you can also buy Arborio rice from Italy which can be found in many supermarkets.

Do not rinse paella rice before adding. The starch is needed for the cooking process.

Do not stir the rice once it is evenly distributed and completely covered by liquid.

Never cover the pan when the rice is cooking. Ever. Paella is considered a arroz seco which means it is not a risotto but drier and the liquid must be absorbed completely by the rice.

If the liquid has evaporated but you have the feeling it is not cooked through on the top, sprinkle a little bit water on the surface.

Use these measurements to calculate the amount of rice per person: 1/2 cup or 100 g uncooked rice per person .

These are the cooking times for the different varieties of rice.

Bomba: 13 min
Arborio: 15 min
Albufera: 16
Sara/Maratelli: 16
La Fallera: 17

In My Kitchen sells paella making sets with the bomba rice, other ingredients and of course the paellera.

The Paellera

by Luise Wagner from "The Rules of Paella"
(Luise was an original IMK Host)

In the Valencian dialect paella means simply "pan". But there is also the expression paellera for the pan. It derives from the Latin word patella for sarten. The paella pans are flat and round. They come in all sizes from a mini paellera to gigantic pans that can feed whole villages. The pans may differ in width but they hardly ever differ in height. That is because the layer of rice that is being cooked has to be quite thin, so it can build a socarrat without burning and also cook through on the top.

Useful pan sizes (these are for full servings vs a side serving):

36 cm/14 inches for 3 - 4 people
40 cm/16 inches for 4 - 6 people
45 cm/18 inches for 6 people
50 20 inches for 8 people

The pans come with handles, so you can shake, twist and turn the paella on the fire or gas stove. Some bigger pans have four handles to make it easier to rotate and carry them.

Do not overfill the pan. The pan gets wider but the rice should not get deeper. One layer of rice is enough.

Maintain your paellera in a good state especially the steel paellas. After washing, dry it immediately and season it with olive oil. Steel paellas, like woks, tend to oxidize quickly.  This oxidization will happen regardless but you can slow down the process. Often paella pans look dirty before cooking but that is just the look they have when being well taken care of. Never use high heat or the paella pan tends to bend.

Learn to Make Paella de Marisco with Emily

In this two hour online cooking class, learn to make the perfect paella by award winning Cookbook Author and Olive Oil Sommelier Emily.  Emily is an eight time cookbook author including: Spain Recipes for Olive Oil and Vinegar Lovers.

What you will learn:

  • The history and origin of Paella
  • Two methods of cooking Paella: 1) Open fire 2) Stove top and Oven
  • How to properly clean and prep squid
  • How to make Emily's delicious Sangria
  • You will learn to make the simplest and most delicious tapa:  Pan Con Tomate (Tomato Bread)
  • Most importantly how to make the socarrat, the crispy rice on the bottom of the pan
  • All this sprinkled with olive oil tasting, buying and storing tips.

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