What is paella rice? There are more than 40,000 kinds of grains considered rice currently in the world. All of them are a source of energy, strengthen the immune system, and help with digestion, with the advantage of being low in fat and rich in sodium, providing as well carbohydrates and proteins of vegetable origin.
All rice dishes are the seeds of Oryza sativa. However, not all types of rice yield the same results in cooking. The different varieties need more or less cooking depending on the amount of starch or their shape and how or where we want to cook them.
Therefore, a question arises: is there specific rice to cook an authentic Paella? Let’s find out in this article.
Types of rice around the world
It is not by chance that rice is part of the gastronomic tradition of many countries and that some of their most famous recipes are made with it. There are many examples of this, and depending on where you live, you might find several different types, all of them with unique characteristics. In this article, we show you the traits of the most famous ones.
Long grain rice
It’s the most consumed rice in America. Very high quality, thin and long, it needs quite some time to cook in comparison to other varieties and is a staple almost worldwide, as it is heavily exported by China.
This rice is homogeneously cooked. It absorbs the flavor of the food it accompanies and is the most commonly used for broths and stews. This grain is generally short and glutinous, making it also perfect for sushi.
The funny thing about round rice is that the final result depends a lot on the time passed since its harvest, the humidity or whether it is broken or not, which would show “old” rice, the kind of rice to avoid if we want the grains to stick together. There are so many sub-varieties of round rice that it doesn’t have a specific name, but we can look for it directly as Japanese rice, sushi rice, or short and round rice.
Basmati rice is well-known for having long grains that get even longer while cooking. During cooking they stay together and separate little; they are loose when done.
You will find Basmati in two forms: white and brown. Both are cooked at intervals of no more than 20 minutes. Because of the ability of the rice grains to stay together, many cooks wash them before cooking. If they are soaked for some time before cooking, the grains will be more likely to resist overcooking.
Due to its creamy texture and its homogeneous and consistent appearance once cooked, the arborio is the most recommended variety for preparing creamy rice dishes, such as rice pudding or the famous Italian risottos.
Unlike the others, this rice keeps its husk and skin, so it is dark, with more flavor and texture and more nutritional properties (it is very rich in fiber and minerals). It has slow cooking, needs more water, and is suitable for any recipe, although it combines very well with vegetables or nuts.
It is long and fine-grained, with a mild taste and floral notes. Especially aromatic, it is ideal as an ingredient in stir-fries, curries, salads, and Asian dishes.
This rice should be drained in water before cooking because it has extra starch content. The grains of this variety of rice tend to clump together when cooked, showing that they have less amylopectin. It is less sticky than other long-grain rice. It is often mentioned that this variety of rice has a taste very similar to that of roasted nuts or the aroma of popcorn.
This variety is known as oat or water rice. Fine-grain, elongated, scented, and very dark, it is more crispy than other varieties and combines very well with fish and other cooked rice.
This is more of a technique than a type, but it makes a significant difference when cooking since it is rice that has undergone a steam treatment that gives it firmness and a golden color. Long-grain, this rice is rich in fiber and minerals, is always loose, and never goes overcooked. It is ideal for preparing salads, stuffing vegetables, and preparing rice in broth.
Bomba rice originated in India and is grown at the Iberian Peninsula since the Middle Ages, and is less easily adhered to the bottom of cooking containers (this is due to the amylose content of one third).
It is of the short-grain variety, has a pearly color and a consistent appearance. One characteristic of Bomba is that the grain has a greater resistance to ‘opening’ during cooking, partly because it tends to expand during cooking; more on this later on.
It is ideal for preparing paella, although it can also be used in any dish where we want the rice to be loose, as it is difficult to overcook. It is rice that absorbs liquids very well and retains all the flavors of the broths.
What type of rice is the best for Paella?
Often when we go to a restaurant and eat a good plate of paella, we might wonder how to replicate such an amazing dish at home. And, while it-s perfectly possible if you’re careful about the ingredients you use or the type of cooking, the main secret when cooking an authentic Paella is the rice choice. Next, we are going to tell you the best picks and why they are such a good choice.
Although it is a technical issue, it is worth knowing what happens during the cooking of the rice: when the boiling water penetrates the grain, the structure starts to break from the surface towards the center. This process is called gelatinization. First, the amylose molecules released into the water are solubilized, and as a result, the starch granules begin to become flattened and soft, although they still retain their basic structure due to the amylopectin they contain. If we hold a single grain to backlight during this process we can clearly distinguish the external part that has already gelatinized, more translucent, and the intact center from a more opaque white, as if it houses a pearl, hence the name pearly.
When the gelatinization of the rice has reached the middle of the grain, it is ready to eat. If the cooking continues, it deforms and opens up because the starch completely disorganizes its structure and begins to release amylopectin, which works like a glue. This is when the rice becomes overcooked, an unforgivable mistake for an authentic Paella lover.
Therefore, we look for rice starchy enough to gelatinize somewhat uniformly, absorb the liquid around it without becoming too dry, and withstand some cooking. Round, medium-sized grains meet all these requirements.
Denomination of Origin: Valencian heirloom
Once it’s been proven that the best rice is medium, round grain, the choice doesn’t end there As Spain is a country with a long tradition growing many different kinds of rice, we have to localize our search for the best rice to Paella’s place of origin: the Valencian community.
It is important to know that the Valencians have controlled nature by obtaining rice that allows them to achieve that desired end result. The round and pearly grain that is grown in Valencia, in its many varieties, is perfect. The know-how of rice cultivation expanded to other areas of Spain, the Ebro Delta and the Guadalquivir marshes, a good job done by Valencian farmers who settled there with their families at the end of the 19th century, and beginning of the 20th.
There are five main varieties of paella rice: J.Sendra, Senia, Bahia, Bomba, and Albufera. J.Sendra, Senia, and Bahia varieties offer optimal absorption of flavors. On the other hand, Bomba is a more popular choice, as it can withstand cooking better than other varieties.
This amicability towards the Paellero (the person cooking the paella) has earned Bomba a place on the shelf of every restaurant and most households. Last but not least, there is a new strand, the Albufera, which is between the two previous ones when it comes to flavor and cooking times.
J. Sendra, Senia and Bahia rice
Undoubtedly, these varieties are the best choice for flavor and the rice dishes with the best final result. However, if the cook in charge of preparing the paella has experience in its use since they have a series of characteristics that must be known well. We are talking about three different varieties but we are presenting them together because they differ very little.
J. Sendra rice is considered the best rice for a flavorful Paella. At the same time, this characteristic makes it very good for the elaboration of honeyed rice. Its cooking time is around 16 minutes. Bahia rice is very similar to the previous one, but its cooking time is estimated at about 20 minutes.
The Senia variety, on the other hand, shares with the former a good absorption of flavors and aromas, although not as good as those of J. Sendra and Bahia, but similar. Its cooking time is about 18 minutes.
The strength of the flavors of these three varieties is due to their high amylopectin content. But at the same time, the weakness of this group is that their amylose content is low, therefore, the interior and surface humidity makes their grains difficult to separate and unable to withstand overcooking, If the times are not well controlled, the grain becomes sticky. This is why these varieties are the best for making paella, but only if the chefs are expert and brave.
As stated previously, this variety works as a safe bet in the kitchen. The main feature of Bomba rice is that it never gets overcooked. It does not have such a high absorption of flavors as the previous ones, but the one it offers is not bad either. This makes it one of the favorite varieties in every house.
Bomba rice always stays in its place and after its cooking, the result is loose, firm, and consistent grains. Bomba rice is capable of absorbing a lot of broth, to the point of doubling its size. In addition, the grain continues to evolve very well once the cooking is finished and is removed from the heat so that when it is left to rest for a few minutes it still gains more flavor.
Bomba rice is cooked in 15 minutes in the case of brothy rice and in 18 minutes in the case of dry rice.
It is a hybrid that seeks the best of each variety. After years of study and research, rice professionals created this variety in search of the best product. Marketed from 2016, it combines the best characteristics of the Sénia and Bomba varieties, improving the results of the previous ones in the preparation of typical dishes and paellas.
Thus, Albufera is characterized by a good absorption of the flavors as in the case of Senia but at the same time for not being easily overcooked, as it happens with Bomba. So the result will always be tasty dishes capable of resisting a good rest, with grains that will not become cluttered.
With a history of over 200 years, rice is no small matter for the keepers of the authentic Paella in Valencia. Both professionals and amateurs in the Spanish region have preserved their tradition and perfected their technique around rice. For them, the authorities in the matter, there are indeed certain varieties of paella rice that excel when it comes to making the perfect Paella Valenciana, being those with Denomination of Origin the best for the dish.
Most of these can be obtained online; however, you can do well with what you can find around your home, as long as you aim for the characteristics that can yield a great dish. After all, the type of paella rice only comes second to how well you can cook it.