Dish Spotlight: Paella

This flavorful rice dish is native to the eastern coast of Spain in the Valencia region. This Mediterranean area is full of life and cultural flavor, just like the food. Paella is very flavorful and even a point of pride for many Valencians. It is said that the decision to include bell peppers in paella was once brought before Spain’s Parliament. The dish has come a long way from its origins – a lunchtime mixture of leftovers enjoyed by laborers. Today, restaurants across the world offer paella on their menus and the dish has become iconic in many cultures.

There are two widely regarded versions of the dish. The main difference between them is the proteins used. Valencian paella includes rabbit, chicken and sometimes snails, while seafood paella typically has fish, shrimp, clams and mussels. The ingredients vary with the chef and recipe, but both variations are equally delicious in their own right. Because the dish has so many ingredients, it is easy to mix and match flavors that appeal to your tastes and your region.

The base of every paella dish is begins with rice (either bomba or short-grain is best), olive oil, saffron, spices and vegetables like black olives, green beans or tomatoes. You can leave the paella at the base level and add artichokes and beans for a vegetarian version, or add other proteins to create a heartier dish.

The dish is traditionally made in a flat, round pan over an open fire. Unlike risotto, paella is barely stirred during the cooking process. This allows for a slight layer of browned rice to form, known as socarrat. The word “paella” actually refers to the pan in which the dish is cooked. Paella is made following a rather strict procedure and paella connoisseurs are picky on what is “true paella.” The dish is meant to be served family style and enjoyed with those you love. If you cannot dine on paella in the Valencia region, don’t despair. You can find authentic paella all across the U.S. –you just won’t be able to have the same beautiful views.


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