Authentic paella?

maki
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Bento-ing from: somewhere › France
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Hi everyone! I know we have some Spanish members here (Jiza, Loretta...anyone else?) Anyway - I was recently asked for an 'authentic' paella recipe, and realized I don't have a clue! I'm wondering what to you is an 'authentic' paella? Do you need a paella pan? What kind of rice? What should go in it? What are the must-have characteristics? Please chime in whether you're Spanish or not, if you love paella :)

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maki
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Bento-ing from: somewhere › France
Joined: 24 Jan 2007
User offline. Last seen 1 day 13 hours ago.
Re: Authentic paella?

I will have to see if I can get Spanish rice here. Perhaps what I should do is to get some Spanish rice and then see how it compares to the locally produced Camargue rice. Thanks again for all your tips Loretta!

Loretta
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Bento-ing from: London › UK
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Re: Authentic paella?

Lot's of contention on this subject - far more than with gazpachos (a peasant's dish related to the bread and wine/vinegar dishes popularised by the Romans which is now indistinguishable from modern 'Gazpacho Andaluz' for many Spaniards - even here there's plenty of debate, with some scholars making a case for gazpachos coming from the Valencia region http://www.caroig.com/noticias/index.php?not=81 )

What can't be argued about (much) is that paella is indisputably a Valencian dish (quite literally! 'paella' refers to the special round pan it is made in and often eaten from). The parameters for what makes rice a 'paella' rather than any of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of the delicious alternative 'arroz' dishes that are popular throughout Valencia and the rest of Spain are incredibly narrow (or rather, seem to be, there is room for infinite variation within the strict confines). And this is the part that confuses and confounds so many people, Spaniards included. Even Valencians will quarrel amongst themselves, for some the ONLY authentic paella is that made with chicken and rabbit (with accepted variants including snails and, in Alicante, chickpeas). It should be said that Murcia (the region next to Valencia) also has a fine arroz/paella tradition - anyone wanting to make a paella-type vegetarian dish can take inspiration from the Murcian 'Arroz con verduras' http://www.regmurcia.com/servlet/s.Sl?sit=c,543,m,272,a,157&r=ReP-4706-D... (this recipe calls for salt cod/bacalao but is easily adapted - I'm happy to translate this if anyone is interested).

The arguments start in earnest when rice dishes made with a broader range of ingredients are called 'paella', but even these are quite a narrow range. I think a Valencian would have to be quite petty not to accept duck and chicken paella as a paella, but the jury is really out when it comes to the seafood paellas. I'm afraid I'm one of the many who pour scorn on the very idea of 'paella mixta' (the equivalent of surf and turf) being in any way 'authentic', "paella mixta" is all you need to say in order to make a paella purist shudder.

As with any authentic food, all one really needs to bear in mind is which ingredients were locally and cheaply available to the people who invented/popularised the dish. For peasants and farmers from the East of Spain these include a selection of local beans and pulses, dried red bell peppers (called ñoras and turned to powder/paprika), chicken, rabbit (or ducks for those who lived near the marshes), saffron (although more households than one would admit use colorant), rice, and it's usual to see some tomato used. The room for 'infinite variation' comes from other local ingredients in season - a popular one is sliced young artichokes, different pulses might be used and, as mentioned, snails (but these take quite a lot of preparation and are falling out of favour with young Spaniards).
It also has other room for variation - the fuel used to cook it. My mother swears on orangewood, others prefer to use vine branches. Some cook it on an open fire in the outdoors, others have what looks like a pizza oven for the flames. My mother's take on the importance of the smoke is that it forms a 'film' (kind of like a lid) over the paella pan and adds to and concentrates the flavours.
The unfortunate fact is that producing authentic paella is a skilled process and there are some unexpected factors involved, as well as the challenge of getting the fire to the right heat, one has to pick the right sized pan for the quantity of rice being made (both these contribute to the legendary 'socarrat', where the rice on the bottom crusts to just the right brown, and neither the tiny middle layer as well as the top layer are dry, over moist, over cooked or undercooked.) The water used has an effect and so does the altitude at which it is cooked. And the rice itself is extremely important (bomba rice is often declared as the 'best' but the reality is that it is lauded for being easier to get good and consistent results than with other kinds). As a result, even the finest Valencian paella maker can come a cropper when trying to replicate their speciality in other parts of the world, or even in Spain.
Here's a decent article with details of an Alicantinian based paella maker who's been getting a fair amount of English language attention recently
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121823079662025493.html
Few would argue about the authenticity of the dish described.

Since the early 1970s I spent all my summer holidays in Spain (for between 6 and 8 weeks) and remember many family reunions out in the country where a paella would be made at someone's 'finca'. These were often places without gas or electricity and where the water came from a kitchen well. Many of my family members raised chicken and rabbits (although I also remember a gamekeeper uncle who would bring freshly slaughtered free-range rabbit to the gatherings) and part of my morning duties might include plucking chickens or, with the other children, collecting snails from the wild thyme and rosemary bushes. There were always a few squabbles amongst the adults about the right way to make the paella, most of these involved the seasonings (using paprika or a ñora preparation was a debate that surfaced regularly), but these were always resolved. But I've been lucky enough to have had more than my fair share of paellas. It's the association with family gatherings and festivals and other celebratory and commemorative events that makes it such a very special dish for me.
And despite coming from the port town of Alicante, I didn't even know there was such a thing as a seafood paella until I was in my teens. I have to admit that I've never had a seafood 'paella' that even touched on the glories of the traditional chicken and rabbit kind. (Rather than try running the gauntlet and ending up with what is usually a disappointment, I'd recommend seafood lovers to try the divine 'Arroz a banda' instead - with a little alioli on the side).

It has to be said that it is very, very difficult to find authentic paella, even in Valencia.
Here's an example from Gordon Ramsay of a rice dish that no self-respecting Valencian would consider even remotely authentic:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/food_and_drink/recipes/a...

To put the wider popularisation of paella, both in Spain and overseas, into context it's best to remember a tiny bit of recent history. One of Franco's (still dead by the way!) lasting legacies was the 'industrialisation' of tourism on the East coast of Spain. People from Madrid and beyond were given easy rail access to the seaside as were tourists from other countries with cheap coach and flight packages. The mayor of Benidorm in particular became proficient in capitalising on the foreign market. Perhaps it was Elizabeth David's impact on the British that made many of them search out some local food, whatever the factors, marketing local food to the National and International visitors became a serious business.
The 70s and early 80s were a tough time economically in the Valencia region, most of the men I knew worked long hours, many holding down more than one job to make ends meet (in fact this was very common). The growth of tourism also brought in a lot of non-Valencians into the region to live and work. It's not very surprising that all kinds of rice dish aberrations started being presented to these visitors as 'paella'. Who had the luxury to educate such an undemanding clientele when it was far easier to knock up some rice with cheap cuts of meat, a few mussels and squid rings and some frozen peas? And so the tourist 'paella' was born. And from this came all the faux paellas that are popular throughout Spain and beyond. My husband explained the misuse of the word 'paella' for 'arroces' very well to a colleague recently - it's like all British pies being called 'Cornish pasties'.

I will ask my mother to post her recipe for 'English' paella. Whilst she is capable of making excellent paella in the Alicante region (she has some land up in the mountains and my Dad is a dab hand at getting a fire to the right temperature) she finds that the best way to approximate an authentic taste in the UK is to adapt/cheat. It will be a few days before I can get the recipe though.

Hope you don't mind the essay, it's a food close to my heart and it really makes me wince painfully to see it represented so horribly. Personally, although I do make 'paella-style' Arroz dishes quite regularly, I've never made anything I myself would DARE call paella. I've too much respect for this exceptional dish.

I've found a competent tutorial for a very simple version of Valencian paella. It's an advert for SOS rice but you can use Fallera rice or the 'standard' Calasparra rice (Balilla x Sollana) which is the one I use. In fact, most of the non-Bomba paella rices should be fine (Bomba requires too much water for the recipe)
http://www.tvcocina.com/video/video/show?id=1190341%3AVideo%3A24480
The ingredients are 425 gms rice, 1.4litres of water (EDIT- reviewing this, it seems like a good amount to end up with 2.75 measures of water to 1 measure of rice after 30 minutes simmering - it's important that the rice doesn't overcook or become soupy, so better to top up with a touch of water/stock later than trying to boil off too much as this can ruin rice)
Ingredients are:
5 tablespoons of olive oil, 200gms rabbit, 200 gms chicken, pinch of saffron (or yellow colorant)
25 gms of fresh Garrofon beans (I suggest butter beans), other large beans can be substituted
50 gms of flat green beans
0.5 teaspoons of paprika (sweet, not hot and spicy)
4 tablespooons of grated or pureed tomato, 1 small branch of Rosemary (optional)
In the first part the meat is fried until it is golden. The rest seems obvious enough, but then I do understand every word! Let me know if anything is tricky or needs explaining.
(There's a part about adding a little more salt than seems right to the stock as the rice will 'dilute' the saltiness, and after the last 3 minutes of cooking with the rosemary it's advised to cover with a damp dishcloth and leave to rest off the heat for at least 5 minutes)

maki
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Bento-ing from: somewhere › France
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Re: Authentic paella?

Wow Loretta - thanks for that tremendous reply! Now I'm going to go assemble the ingredients...

Loretta
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Bento-ing from: London › UK
Joined: 4 Mar 2009
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A quick note on the rice used

Can I ask you to ignore the comment on 1 part rice to 2.75 measures water?

As I said, I usually use the Balilla x Sollana rice from Calasparra. On investigation, it turns out that this rice is a bit harder and absorbs a bit more water than the SOS or Fallera rice brands (which also require a shorter cooking time).

SOS 'classic' needs 16 minutes - any longer and the grains lose their integrity. On the video it advises you to turn up the heat to medium from minimum if there is still any stock/water left during the last 3 minutes (but one should never cook this brand of rice beyond this time). It absorbs 2.5 measures of liquid to 1 measure of rice. As I don't have a packet in front of my I've not been able to figure out exactly which kind of rice variety SOS actually uses.

The 'standard' Calasparra rice absorbs a bit more liquid and requires 20 minutes to cook. The amount of liquid to rice ratio should be 3:1, but 2.75:1 is a safe place to start (easier to add stock than remove it - once Spanish rice has passed its 'cooking point' (punto de cocción) it's considered ruined (pasado).

I'm really conscious about how I'm bombarding you with information here! But Spanish rice is a huge subject by itself, and one I'm still learning about. The 'problem' with being Spanish is that you just take certain facts for granted and don't think too hard about them. The standard Calasparra rice suits my cooking style and I'd never thought much about it before, it's also one of the easiest of the Spanish rices to get hold of in London and I'm happy to pay a premium for it (just like the Japan grown Akita Komachi rice we get and refer to 'puchi puchi' rice - we 'upgraded' from Nishiki after getting our rice cooker!)

Loretta
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Bento-ing from: London › UK
Joined: 4 Mar 2009
User offline. Last seen 1 year 12 weeks ago.
paella rice

I'd be very interested to know how that goes!
http://www.riz-camargue.com/pages/typesderiz.html
Shows that local Comargue producers offer a a round white grain - I assume that's what you have in mind.

The only advice would be to find out how much liquid this particular rice typically absorbs and adjust the water in the recipe so that once the water has finished simmering and evaporating during the 30 minutes it takes to become a stock, what you're left with is this quantity.

I'm sure you've already picked up on the fact that one should never EVER stir the rice when making paella (I think that's the bit that shocked me most when I saw the Gordon Ramsay recipe - He was televised making it as part of his efforts to save a restaurant in La Nerja and he repeatedly kept saying how authentic it was. My jaw dropped further and further as he was shown adding onions, chorizo and sherry - all big no-nos. However, the recipe's instruction to stir the rice is even more outrageous than the suggestion about using chili peppers)

I just found my 'twin' when it comes to thoughts and attitude towards paella
http://www.csl.cornell.edu/~martinez/paella/
I think this is an excellent summary of paella and has what I'm sure are wonderful tips for adapting the recipe for those in the US. It's the rice variety he recommends that motivated me to post this link as he suggests the Kokuho brand. I've already found Nishiki to be better for Spanish style dry rice dishes than the Italian risotto varieties so I'm convinced by Mr Martínez's suggestion and will send my husband for some Kokuho Rose rice (alas, I'm back to immobility... I'm sure you can tell by now I've way too much time on my hands!). I'll report on my findings - but for now I'll put an end the contributions... I promise!

Jiza
Bento-ing from: Madrid › Spain
Joined: 13 Feb 2009
User offline. Last seen 2 years 49 weeks ago.
Re: Authentic paella?

Wow Loretta O_O

I'm sorry for the delay! I've been on holidays completely outside of the word, lol!
There's no much to be added! My grand mother's family is from Alicante (right near Valencia), from a village called Monovar. We all live in Madrid, but I recall when I was like 10 years old, my grandmother made paellas on the garden bbq. They were the best paellas I've ever eaten.
My grandmother told me that originally, paellas were made with sea water, but she never ate them that way.

My mum makes paellas without chicken or rabbit meat because my dad doesn't like chicken and we don't like rabbit. She puts in green bean pods and butcher-bought sausages (not the ones bought at the supermarket, but those home-made by the butcher).

The most important thing is the rice. It should be short grained.

And be very careful when cooking the rice because it should be completely al-dente. Even a very little hard should be ok. The paella should be eaten right after cooking it. If you wait a little time after cooking it, it will not be as good. This is the most important topic here so be very careful! If you invite friends to have a paella, they sould be on time or the paella won't be good!

I've never cooked paella (it's a very dificult dish) but the first thing is to cook the olive oil with the water, add the meat, cook it, take it out, add the rice and add the meat somewhen in the rice cooking process.

I'll call my mum for directions tonight and post it right now :D

yummy, paella :3

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My bento blog: http://justbento.com/blog/1305
My art blog: http://jizaacaso.deviantart.com

Jiza
Bento-ing from: Madrid › Spain
Joined: 13 Feb 2009
User offline. Last seen 2 years 49 weeks ago.
Re: Authentic paella?

another important thing. This is a silly cultural topic.

In Spain, paella is eaten only at lunch time. Most restaurants in touristic zones serve paella for dinner too, but there is nothing that screams "tourist!!!!" more than eating paella for dinner. Really.

My mum says Loretta's recipe is good so i find it a little silly to post it again.

She also said that the pan is as important as the rice. The pan is called "paella" or "paellera". If you are trying to cook paella from now to then you should really buy one. They are big but they are cheap :)
How about a trip to Spain to get one? ;)

Don't forget to add a little lemon juice to your serving to boost the flavor of the paella :)

pilar.
Re: Authentic paella?

i want to comment on the water rice ratio. here in castellon we use the cruz which is very simple and very effective and very traditional. put the amount of stock or water you want without measurement because your eye and instinct counts for a lot with a paella. when you have boiled the water for about half an hour and added the azafran and salt you pour rice in a straight line across the paella until it comes just above the level of the liquid and then do the same across the other way creating a cross or cruz of rice once this is done just push the rice until it is even and leave to cook.

Loretta
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Bento-ing from: London › UK
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Re: Authentic paella?

Here's a link to a blog I've just found out about. The author is obviously passionate about the rice dishes from the Valencia region.
http://blogs.mis-recetas.org/pepa/
We only use the word 'paella' to describe very few of these dishes yet many of these 'arroces' conform much more to my idea of an authentic 'paella' than many things actually called paellas elsewhere.
I could never call paella the Spanish National dish. What most people think are paellas just aren't and there are simply too many 'arroces' to choose from.

Re: Authentic paella?

Hi! I am from Barcelona and I always follow this recipe > http://www.tasteofsundays.com/blog/ultimate-paella-recipe/
I hope you like it!!

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