Mention cooking paella in front of a Valencian and you’ll have a friend right away. They’ll be happy to tell you what’s the best way to cook paella and with which ingredients you need. These traditions and authentic ingredients must be respected. If you deviate from it, it’ s no longer a real paella. Strict? Maybe. However, the Valencians are definitely proud of ‘their’ paella. Most families in and around Valencia spend every Sunday at Paella Valenciana. And that includes fixed habits.
Most non-Spanish people consider paella as a national dish from Spain. Most Spaniards, however, consider it as a regional Valencian dish. The Valencians, on the other hand, consider paella as one of the most important symbols of their city and their own identity. Paella is a typical lunch dish. The Spaniards consider it too heavy for dinner. Only tourists order paella in the evening!
Dry rice and crispy crusts
Rice plays a leading role in paella. The best paella is made with local paella rice.
Medium-sized grain paella rice
This rice has a medium-sized grain and can absorb large quantities of liquid. These kinds of rice also retain their shape and do not become sticky.
Paella is a dry rice dish and differs therefore from Italian risotto. A well-prepared paella has as little residual moisture as possible. The rice must fully absorb all the humidity.
Crispy socarrat on the bottom
Besides, it is important that a considerable amount of socarrat is created: the crunchy pieces of rice that are caked at the bottom of the pan.
The fact that the Valencians have a word that means “the crispy pieces of rice that cling to the bottom of the pan” is proof of how seriously they take their rice!
Large pans on an outdoor grill
Cooking paella isn’t done in an ordinary frying pan. There is only one way to cook authentic paellas, which is in a large, flat paella pan.
Why use a paella pan?
The large, flat cooking surface and the shallow edges ensure better heat distribution and stimulate the evaporation of the moisture and the formation of the crunchy soccarat.
The paella pan is used in Spain for centuries and distributes the heat equally. Using in an oven, stove or wood fire is safe.
Paella pans are often too big for a regular cooktop. That is why many Valencians have a paellera in the garden or on the terrace.
This is a kind of stone barbecue, on which they cook paella on fire of orange wood. A round-shaped grill or a special paella burner on gas are good alternatives and are also often used. The most important thing is that the bottom of the pan is heated evenly.
Of course, you can also cook paella in a large frying pan at home. If the pan is big enough, it will taste quite well. However, the presentation is far less than that of a real paella pan. You are more likely to get a clean Asian rice dish than a Spanish paella.
An ultimate family dish
Ask any Valencian who cooks the best paella, and they will tell you that it is their mother or mother-in-law or, more likely, their father.
Cooking paella is one of the few culinary tasks that Spanish men take on at home. Probably the main reason why they do it is because they can play with fire.
Some Valencians refuse to eat paella in restaurants. Nothing is as good as a homemade paella, and no one can prepare it better than they can!
Spanish chefs are not only very selective about the ingredients and perfection in making paella.
Above all, it is the family atmosphere that is a big part of the dish. Eating together from a large pan in a family setting, along with many other people, increases the social bond.
The group factor, therefore, is vital when cooking a paella. Spaniards do not cook rice for two people.
A Spanish saying goes: “Cuantos mas seremos, mas reiremos.” The more we are, the more we will laugh!
Both the preparation and the eating of paella is a real family thing.
A few tips when cooking paella
- Don’t put too much rice in the pan. Do you need more rice? Use a bigger pan.
- Never add onions to paella. Paella is a “dry” rice dish. Onions are humid vegetables. Use onions in other rice dishes, but never in paella!
- Don’t put a lid on the pan. If the liquid has evaporated and the rice is not cooked yet, sprinkle some water over the rice.
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