By Naomi Crisanteon 29th Apr 2014 01:41
Paella is one of those classic dishes that we should all cook at least once in our lives!
Originating in the region of Valencia in Spain where it was popular as a one pan dish cooked over an open fire outdoors to serve farm workers in the rice fields, it has evolved to become the ultimate sharing dish at restaurants around the world.
It is wise to invest in a paellera (paella pan) if you are serious as not only is it the best utensil to cook the paella evenly due to its wide flat base, it also looks great when served at the centre of the table. Paella pans are reasonably priced and you can find them in specialist cookware shops. I have had success cooking paella in a wok or large wide pot as well, if you are not keen to invest in a paella pan.
The basis of a good paella is the soffrito, the sauté of onion and capsicum in good quality olive oil to which diced tomatoes are then added. This aromatic sauce is what really flavours the rice when it is added.
The best rice to use is short grain Calasparra or Bomba rice but more readily Arborio is a good substitute. Unlike making risotto, the rice is not toasted first but added to the saucy soffrito so that it swells and takes on a full flavour. Home made stock is also key to add that authentic layer of flavour. I usually add a little tomato paste to the stock for a boost, and real threads of saffron are a must to achieve that golden colour.
A simple paella may be made with just the addition of chicken and vegetables but seafood paella or mixed paella, using both meat and seafood, are much more festive. Try my recipe for Spanish-style Paella that uses a delicious mix of chicken, chorizo, jamon and fresh seafood which gives it that definite wow factor.
Practice makes perfect with paella as monitoring the rice carefully to ensure it absorbs all the liquid and cooks fully takes some skill. Ultimately, the paella should form a crust of toasted rice on the base known as the soccarat. This caramelised crust is highly prized and ensuring it is toasted and crunchy but not burnt is the aim.
This Summer, I am going to do it the traditional Spanish way and have a go cooking it al fresco instead of having a barbie! Then I will gather friends around the table with my gorgeous paella garnished with lemon wedges and parsley leaves as the centerpiece and the only other thing we will need is a little Spanish wine to complete it!
P.S. Paella is correctly pronounced ‘pa-eh-ya’ as ‘ll’ sounds like a ‘y’ in Spanish!