Food is good. Spanish food is great. Spanish food in the shape of paella is something even more than great, it’s practically life-changing. The rice-based dish is known all over the world and served in just as many countries too, but unsurprisingly, for the best version of this Mediterranean staple, you need to head to España.
Eating a quintessential dish in its country of origin is one of the most satisfying things about travelling around this glorious globe, and even though Spain has a number of meals to whet your whistle, paella is perhaps the most synonymous. In this blog, we’re going to introduce you to a brief history of the food before detailing variations on the dish which you can eat around the country – steering clear of Jamie Oliver’s infamous take which incorporated chorizo and angered Spaniards the world over. Think a chicken and kidney pie, I’m sure it wouldn’t taste that bad, but it’s just not cricket.
Paella as a dish is one that comes with many variations and depending on the cook, the ingredients can vary wildly (though, to stress once more, not chorizo, Jamie). But in its first iteration, back home in the gorgeous city of Valencia, paella (known simply as paella Valenciana if you want to order it) was originally made with a mixture of chicken, rabbit, and snails, with green and white beans. With no seafood in sight, the addition of prawns and other aquatic creatures came much later.
Moving on from the traditional Valencian version, perhaps the most well-known version of the dish is a seafood paella, featuring squid, prawns, mussels and clams. Found in most of the country, this dish is particularly tasty in Andalusia.
Meat paella is made up of chicken, black pepper and paprika, and this version is often cooked on a Sunday for a family occasion with an accompaniment of olives. To round off a few more well-known offerings, mixed paella does what it says on the tin and combines both seafood and meats, black paella is a Galician option made with octopus or squid ink, and vegetarian paella utilises asparagus, mushrooms, and olives for a relatively light lunch.
Interestingly, the word paella traditionally meant the cooking pan itself and not the dish. Stemming from the Old Valencian language, it eventually came to be a moniker for the meal too.
Thought of as humble and wholesome, it was originally conceived as a meal for farmers and labourers as it was relatively simple to make large portions of, utilising rice and vegetables that they grew themselves. Even though in traditional Spanish families women still do the bulk of the cooking, paella is considered a man’s responsibility, much like a barbecue in the UK if you’re still into your gender-normative roles.
Far from superb chefs and culinary geniuses, we won’t pretend to offer you the fool-proof method of making unparalleled paella, but we will instead give you three tips to follow. Firstly, ensure you use a traditional pan, the fact that this whole dish was named after this piece of cooking apparatus shows you just how crucial it is. Secondly, when using your vegetables in the mix, don’t use onion but garlic instead. An onion adds too much liquid to the dish and a head of garlic (peeled and chopped) is a better alternative. Finally, and we cannot make this more abundantly clear, don’t use chorizo.
Whether eating it, making it or indeed writing about it, paella is a dish which many consider to be the most recognisable Spanish meal. Although a dish with many different ingredients, names and myths behind its origins, one thing is for certain, no matter what form it takes, it’s darn tasty.