It’s like the Mustang vs. Camaro wars of 1970. Paella faces the same battle. It all depends on who you ask as to which is the right way to prepare it, and I REALLY want to learn how to make one. Don’t you? Before I call my buddy Ruben at Ruben’s Grocery Store to steal his recipe, I’m going to share my research about the history of Paella. Where dishes come from interest me, so guess what, you’re about to learn something. (The fun part is some of my story is made up, like the dates, because dates bore me. The rest, however, excites me!)
There are three big stories surrounding who created Paella. WIKI says Paella came from the Moores, the French and the Spaniards. I’m buying into the Spaniard’s story… Probably because Mexico’s story wasn’t on WIKI and the Spaniard’s version of it was the easiest for me to understand.
Somewhere back in the 1500s is where the first Paella was traced back. Spanish royalty would have these lavish parties and there were tons of leftovers. The poor people (the people doing the serving) would get to keep these leftovers. They’d split up all the food and take it home to their families. But it was different back then. Villages all shared in these mini feasts and it took huge cooking pans to prepare. They’d add rice and veggies, toss in seasoning and slow cook the Paella until it was ready to be shared by the village. There are 3,000 stories of the origin of the word Paella and here’s the one to memorize: Paella comes from the Spanish word “por ella,” meaning “for her,” and is said to come from the fact that the first Paella was made by a man for his fiancé. Another persuasive story is the word changed a little and was part of some Latin word for BIG OLD PAN… And as Forrest Gump would say, “That’s about all I know about Paella.”
Now pack up, kids! We’re taking a field trip to Ruben’s. I want to make a Paella and he’s the guy with all the answers. Marc: Hey Ruben! What exactly do we need to know before diving in headfirst into making a Paella? Ruben: Well, first you need to know that there are two basic schools of thought on Paella. The first is that Paella should always be authentic and should not be changed from the Spanish versions that are cooked in Valencia, Spain. The second school of thought says Paella should be fun and you should be able to do anything you want with it. To the first school of thought I say: BOOOOOOORING! I am loyal to the second school of thought wholeheartedly. Paella should always be fun to both cook and enjoy. Remember there are just five basic ingredients that all Paellas should have (see chart on middle column.)
In the 20 years I have been selling Paella ingredients I have NEVER come across two people who have ever agreed on what ingredients they use in their Paella. NEVER! I may be a foodie by trade but I’m a mathematician by education and that small statistic is enough to prove to me that there is no right or wrong recipe
Marc: Actually, I love dishes that I can tweak here and there. How can it get
Ruben: Oh it DOES get better!! It is super easy to make. You know how you love to make pizzas, Marc? Think of Paella as Pizza. Once you get the basics down, like the dough and sauce for pizza, the world of possibilities is endless. Well, the same goes for Paella. Once you get the basics of making the stock and the ratios of stock-to-rice, you can make as many different Paellas as your mind can imagine. First you want to start with the right ingredients:
The best rice to use is a short-to-medium grain rice. Each rice has its own unique taste and textures; medium-grain rice is used in Paella because it can absorb a lot more liquid than other kinds of rice, and therefore it will have a much better flavor. The stock should be flavorful and can be made with either chicken, seafood, vegetables or a combination of all three. I start my stock early in the morning and I let it simmer all day long. But there are many shortcuts to consider, as you could start with store-bought stock as well and then enhance it to your liking.
Fresh proteins are best and these usually consist of chicken, rabbit, pork, Spanish chorizo, or seafood. Ultimately, the protein you choose can really be anything that suits your fancy. Typical vegetables to consider would be fresh tomatoes, green beans, peas, artichokes, peppers, asparagus, and legumes. They can also be frozen! Again, these are all mere suggestions. And your spices should include things like onions, garlic, herbs, paprika, and of course, the ever present azafrán or saffron.
What is saffron or azafrán? Saffron is a wonderfully fragrant spice to use in cooking. It is the stigma of the crocus flower, those little strands that come out of the middle. There is NO measuring of any of these ingredients with the exception of the rice and the stock which is 1 cup rice to 3 cups stock. Everything else is to your fancy, just like salt-and-pepper. There are many videos on YouTube on how to cook Paella, but basically the way it goes is as follows:
Brown your proteins, one at a time, in olive oil in your Paella. Add your garlic and onions and cook those until they are translucent and almost caramelized. Now, introduce your vegetables and brown those until they are at least halfway cooked. At this point add your stock and spices and cook until it all becomes somewhat of a soup. Lastly, add rice and stir until completely mixed. Now just simmer until the rice is cooked “al dente,” which means tender, but not mushy. If the stock runs out before the rice is cooked, simply add a little more water. Once the rice is cooked I like to turn up the flame for about five minutes to get a crust on the bottom, also known as socarrat, & that’s it!
At Ruben’s you will find every single item you’ll need to make your Paella. From the Paella pan, to the burner, to the rice, spices, and all of the ingredients. And for those that can’t even boil an egg, Ruben’s has Paella kits that allow you to cheat and start your Paella with pre-made broth and spiced rice! All you do is add fresh vegetables and seafood, or any other protein, to make it your own. For additional help simply visit Ruben’s and he will personally walk you through the whole process.