Paella is perhaps one of the most controversial of foods, almost every Spaniard has the perfect, original and absolutely authentic recipe. Yet every one is different! the subject can spark heated debates in homes across Spain. Should a paella contain seafood? rabbit? chicken? there are plenty of recipes around containing these ingredients, I've even seen a recipe that contained snails!After a bit of research it seems that there is no original recipe, Paella started out as a labourers dish originating in the province of Valencia in southern Spain, this is where the rice was grown, a special short grain variety called Calasparra or Bomba which is similar to the Italian Arborio risotto rice.
As the labourers were poor it would have contained whatever was to hand, usually cheaper meats such as rabbit or snails from the fields, as well as a selection of vegetables. It is cooked in a similar way to Risotto although the stock is added all at once rather than gradually. One thing the Spanish do agree on is that it should never be stirred as this prevents a crust forming on the bottom of the pan. This is called a socarrat and is considered a delicacy.
Paella is in fact the name of the large round pan in which the meal is cooked, the meal is named after the pan in much the same way as a casserole is actually named after the pot In which it is cooked.
This meal was ideal for labourers working in the fields as large amounts could be cooked over an open fire and be shared, eaten from the same pan with spoons.
It is unlikely that the first paellas would bear much resemblance to those eaten today as the ingredients would have been to expensive. A typical paella now would usually contain a mixture of seafood, some kind of meat often chicken, and the essential ingredient of Spanish Saffron, this is what makes it really special as it is the most expensive spice in the world.
Last year we had a continental market come to town, there were stalls from all over Europe selling specialities from their different countries, such as German sausages, French crépes and delicious waffles with chocolate I think from Austria. One of the stalls was selling kitchen equipment and they had Paella pans, needless to say I bought one! I've used it a couple of times and last night I gave it another try. My version of paella included mixed seafood (mussels, squid and prawns), pork and some Chorizo sausage. I also added tomatoes onions, lots of garlic, red bell peppers and a pinch of saffron.Contrary to what you may have thought Paella is extremely easy first I fried the sausage and meat, then added the vegetables, then the rice and saffron and finally chicken stock and a splash of white wine. A Paella pan is not essential and there are plenty of recipes around, this is one of my favourite meals and I urge you to try it. One of the good things about it is you can make it extravagant with lots of expensive ingredients for a special occasion, or like the original labourers, make it with whatever you have...