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What is Paella?

Paella is one of the most popular Spanish Food dishes. But, what is paella, and what makes it one of the most celebrated foods from Spain?

What is paella, and what makes it one of the most celebrated foods from Spain?

There is something so appealing when you see this full pan of golden yellow rice topped with all sorts of meat and vegetables. 

What makes it even more special to your eyes is the way it is served – on the pan where it was cooked, in the middle of everyone whose gazes are directed towards the lone star of the dining table. 

Check out Ana’s easy and delicious Paella Recipe.

What is Paella

What is Paella?

It is safe to say that there is no other food that screams Spanish as much as a pan of paella. What is paella, really?

Paella is a dish made up of short-grain rice cooked with seafood and your choice of meat.

What is paella without its crispy bottom?

Surely nothing near the traditional!

The famous paella crust is called the paella socarrat.  It comes from the verb “socarrar” which means “to toast lightly.” This is achieved by not stirring the pan as you cook the dish.

Where is Paella from?

Paella is popularly from Spain, although a lot will say that its historical origin is practically untraceable. 

Experts of Spanish cuisine attribute the creation of what we know as paella today to the city of Valencia in Spain.

When you eat paella that comes from Valencia, it is the most authentic paella that you can ever taste.

Paella Valenciana traditionally has round grain rice, beans, meat (which can be rabbit, duck, or chicken), snails, and artichoke. 

What is Paella

What’s in Paella?

Seafood paella or Paella de Marisco can include:

  • Shrimp
  • Mussels
  • Snail
  • Lobster
  • Clam
  • Crab

Meat paella can have:

  • Chicken
  • Rabbit
  • Duck

Mixed paella or Paella Mixta can have a variety of meats from both classifications. A vegetarian version or Paella Vegetariana is also entirely possible.

After distinguishing which type of meat goes into your paella, both will have similar ingredients from this point on.

The vegetables that are usually included are onions, tomatoes, and peppers. 

What is paella best known for when it comes to appearance? It has to be its golden color. You achieve this by adding saffron threads to your dish.

The stock that cooks your rice is something you should give importance to. After all, this will be the base flavor of your rice dish. You can achieve a good broth by simmering parts of fish or chicken for a good amount of time.

Paella Rice

The rice used in Paella is short-grain rice. In Spain, there are specific varieties that they typically use to make different kinds of paella.

  • Bomba or Valencia Rice – a short grain round rice that is most preferred when making paella. 
  • Calasparra – a short grain rice that grows in the town of Calasparra, Murcia.
  • Calrose – a medium grain rice which is an acceptable substitute if short grain rice is not readily available in your area.

How to make Paella?

When you cannot possibly go to your favorite Spanish restaurant to have a pan of authentic paella or when you have a party of people to impress with your cooking skills, knowing how to make a good paella comes in handy.

Here are the essentials in cooking Spanish paella:

What is Paella

The Paella Pan 

The paellera is made especially for paella. It is round and has a flat bottom, with some having small dents all around.

The paella pan can come in different diameters, but it will always only be thumb deep. 

If you do not have a paella pan, can you still cook paella at home? Yes, you can.

If you have a shallow yet wide skillet at home, you can use it for cooking paella. You might not be able to achieve the same cooking that a paella pan gives.

The Rice used in Paella 

Do not make the mistake of using only the rice that is available in your pantry.

Exert some effort in getting the best short-grain round rice available near you. This makes the dish as close to the traditional as possible.

The Method of Cooking Paella

You have three cooking options when making paella.

First, you can choose to cook on your stove burner. Just make sure you can temper the heat efficiently. The stove method is by far the best way to make paella because you can adjust the heat accordingly.

Second, you can choose to use wood for a fire. This is the traditional way of cooking paella. However, it takes skill to master the lowering and increasing of heat when using wood.

What is Paella

Third, you can use the oven. This is ultimately nontraditional, but it works for some.

Achieving the Socarrat

In the last two minutes of your cooking time, turn the hob to a high level and wait until you hear the sound of your rice cracking. There will also be a smell of toast – but not burnt. 

Check the socarrat with a fork. If you get a good crispy layer out, you have achieved arguably the best part of your paella.

Serving the Paella

What is paella to the Spanish citizens? More than it being a staple food, it is also a great emblem that signifies the value of sharing.

Allow the dish to rest before you bring it to the dining table. Afterward, serve the paella directly from the pan.

See your whole dining guests circle the dish, scooping a hefty serving of your masterpiece and placing them on their plates. 

Taking Care of Your Paella Pan 

It is essential to clean your paella pan thoroughly after every use. When it is dry, rub some olive oil on it so that it will not get rusty. This method is called “seasoning the pan.”

Frequently Asked Questions About What is Paella

What is Paella
  1. What is the best Paella Rice?

    The best rice for Paella is short-grain rice. In Spain, they call it Arroz Redonda or Round Rice. This kind of Paella rice absorbs liquid well.

  2. Can you use Basmati Rice for Paella?

    I do not recommend you use basmati rice to prepare your Paella. Firstly, basmati rice is long-grain rice, and secondly, it does not absorb liquids and taste very well.

  3. What makes a good paella?

    Although there will be differing answers on what makes a good paella, I would have to say that if the socarrat or the paella crust is on point, then the paella is good.

    For me, the star is not what’s in paella; it’s what is at the bottom of those many ingredients that speak of the dish’s goodness.

    If you can make the socarrat caramelized, smokey, and crusty, then you have a good paella.

  4. Should you stir a paella?

    You should not stir a paella. In fact, they are calling this a major Don’t when it comes to cooking paella.

    Once you stir your pan, you are not allowing the socarrat to form. This crust is a vital part of a good paella.

  5. Do you cook the rice before adding it to paella?

    What is Paella

    No, you do not cook the rice used in paella before adding it to your pan. The rice will cook alongside your other ingredients.

  6. Should Paella be covered when cooking?

    Never cover your paella while cooking it. If you are cooking your paella in a proper paellera, you will notice that it does not come with a lid.

    The paella should remain uncovered because you need to let all the liquid in the dish evaporate.

  7. Should you wash paella rice?

    You do not have to wash your paella rice before adding it to the pan. Actually, the outer starch of the rice should remain intact because it is needed in the dish.

  8. Should paella have a crispy bottom?

    Yes, paella should have a crispy bottom. That is why it is not required for you to stir the paella while cooking.

    The paella crust or the crispy bottom has a name: socarrat. Traditionally, this part of paella is even reserved for the essential guests in your gathering.

  9. Can I eat paella cold the next day?

    While it is true that there are people eating paella cold the morning after it is served, it is still best to reheat your paella.

    As with other cooked foods, reheating will destroy the bacteria that may have developed in your paella overnight.

    Be mindful, especially when your paella contains seafood. If there is, do not store the food for consumption for more than a day. Other meats like chicken are on the safer side.

    To reheat your paella, place it back in a pan, layer it evenly, and let the heat do its job. Alternatively, you can also use a microwave; however, this may affect the overall quality of your paella.

  10. How much liquid do I add to paella rice?

    The amount of liquid that you need to use for your paella ultimately depends on the type of paella rice you are using. 

    Bomba, for example, will require you to add three cups of broth for every one cup of rice.

    In general, one cup of short-grain rice (the best type of rice for paella) calls for two and one-fourth of cups of liquid.

  11. How long can paella be kept in the fridge?

    What is Paella

    If you are using seafood, it is recommended to eat your paella within 24 hours. If you are using meat such as chicken, it can be stored for up to a week in the fridge.

  12. Is it OK to reheat paella?

    It is OK to reheat paella. Place it back in a pan, even out the rice, and reheat it on a stove. 

    Transfer the paella back to a plate when the food is thoroughly heated.

    Otherwise, you can go for the microwave – although your paella will not be as good as the one reheated on the stove.

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