Yesterday I was in a bit of a panic because I had nothing written or photographed for today. It's been a full on week at work and whenever I wasn't worrying about work I was trying to evade myself and staying as far away from a computer screen as you could find me. And in evasion I found this week's post! One of my oldest friends is staying with me for a few weeks this summer. Our dads were best friends and we grew up together near Valencia. Yesterday we went to visit one of his friends who lives in Leicester and who cooked a paella for a few of us. For me, the food from where I come from has the ability to send me on a trip down memory lane in seconds, and I can talk for hours about all the stories associated with eating that food, which in the case of paella involves family celebrations and helping my father cook it from a very early age. He made the best paella I have ever had but it was quite a process! It involved the rest of us chopping vegetables, tasting the broth for seasoning and just watching because it was important that we learnt.
When I moved to England he bought me a traditional enamel paella pan, a few years later he bought me a notebook where he wrote a few traditional Valencian recipes and one day he made me take photos of all the steps so I never forgot how to cook it. This is important stuff! When I was scratching my head last night wondering what to write about I remembered those pics and thought I would share with you this recipe, but before I get into it, here are a few interesting facts about the origins of what is probably Spain's most famous dish.
Paella is actually not a national dish. It originates from the Albufera region in Valencia. The Albufera is a freshwater lagoon right next to the sea, with a surface of over 52,000 acres and surrounded by rice fields. Because of the high rice production in the area, you will find hundreds of rice dishes in the region, although paella is probably the best known of all. Contrary to public belief, the original one does not contain seafood, chorizo or peas. Of course there are lots of different variations, one of which is with seafood, but if you want to have the true, genuine, one and only Valencian paella, this is what you will need (I have tried to stay true to the recipe, but for ingredients that are harder to find I have included some alternatives).
- Half a chicken, chopped in smaller pieces. I usually get thighs, wings and legs, as the bones will always give it more flavour.
- 250g of rabbit meat. This is a bit of a sensitive one in the UK and to be honest, wild rabbit can be a bit tough, so you can replace with pork ribs.
- 100g of runner beans, chopped
- Half a cup of "garrofo". If you can find this Spanish flat dry beans in a deli, I would recommend it, but you can replace with butter beans for a similar taste. If you use either of them dry, soak them overnight.
- 1 ripe large tomato, grated
- 1 green pepper (or red, if you don't have green at hand. It doesn't matter too much)
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 1 tsp of pimenton dulce (or paprika)
- 400g paella rice (or 500g if the people you are cooking for have a big appetite)
- A pinch of saffron
- A few sprigs of fresh rosemary
- (Serves 4)
1. Heat 4-5 tbsp of olive oil in the paella pan
2. Brown the meat for a few minutes, cooking it in the centre of the pan
3. Push the meat to the edges of the pan and cook the tomato, pepper and garlic for 5 minutes with the paprika. Keep stirring.
4. Add water (preferably hot) up to the edge of the pan.
5. Add the runner beans and garrofo (or butter beans)
6. When the water starts to boil, add a pinch of saffron and leave it simmering until the broth halves (approximately 20 minutes)
7. Add the rice. This is the crucial point and one where there is little instruction I can give you other than keep checking. If the water is evaporating too quickly, lower the heat, or if the rice is cooking fast, turn it up a notch. It will normally take 10-15 minutes to cook.
8. Finally, add a few sprigs of rosemary to infuse it with flavour for the last 5 minutes. When you take it off the heat, we normally cover it in foil for a further 5 minutes to allow it to rest.
The following photos were only snaps that we took years ago and the quality isn't great, but hopefully they will help you see it all step by step
Paella is quite an involved dish, but that is partly the beauty of it. You have to keep tasting the broth to see if it has enough salt, too much, check how fast the rice is cooking... This is why my dad used to have us all at hand helping.
If you make it, I'd love to see the photos! Either tag me on Instagram (inma.andres) or on Twitter (@sunshineandglow).
Have a great Sunday!