Paella is a Spanish rice dish that includes different combinations of vegetables and meats, characteristically seasoned with saffron, but also has other spices depending on the recipe and area in Spain it comes from.
What does it Mean?
The dish Paella is said to to be a perfect union between 2 cultures from Spain , the Romans, for the pan and the Arab, that brought rice.
There is an old story of how the Moorish kings’ servants created rice dishes by mixing the left-overs from royal banquets in large pots to take home. It is said by some that that word paella originates from the Arab word “baqiyah” meaning left-overs.The term Paella actually refers to the pan that it is cooked in. All the way back to the ancient Sanskrit language the term Pa means …to drink, and the Roman culture from the latin made words like Patera, Patina , Patella which could mean a container to drink, or perform other culinary functions.
It would seem a natural dish, since rice is grown in Spain, and all meats, and seafood in some regions are plentiful, that this dish would be a natural. Since there are many workers in the fields, cooking it over an open fire also would be the most practical. Spain is not known for forests and lots of timber, so the small available twigs and branches from pruning that are green gave a quick hot fire instead of a slow burning one from logs.
So the size of the pan grew instead of the depth, so you could get a hot fire a maximum evaporation.
Most experts agree that the dish was developed in the Spanish city of Valencia.
The Paella Pan
Cooking Paella over Fire
The Paella traditionally is cooked over an open fire. The Mediterranean is known for developing the art of frying, because of the lack of good slow burning firewood. The available branches were of high acid content that made a very hot fire.
Two types of rice of Spain is small rounded medium size grains that absorb the flavors and stock well, but keep their shape. This is different than the rice for Risotto that breaks up a bit and develops a creamy texture.
The Meats and Vegetables
Depending on the region in Spain , the meats and vegetables added to the Paella vary. Paella can have several or no meats in it, here are a few of the traditional ones. Rabbit, or chicken, snails, Spanish smoked sausage like Chorizo. Snails are common. Seafood can be shrimp, mussels, clams, lobster and crab.
onions and garlic are a must, and very often you will see fresh peas or beans as a garnish.
Artichoke quarters and red bell peppers are often used.
Saffron is seen on every Paella recipe that I have looked at. It gives not only a nice background flavor that is earthy, but a nice color.
Garlic is a must and often you see Spanish paprika, many chefs recommend the smoked paprika.
The Style It is Eaten In…..Paella is served family style traditionally in Spain on a round table with the pan in the center. Usually eaten right out of the pan and not on plates. This way you don’t over mix the congealed structure of the rice too much by agitation. Each guest starts at the perimeter of the Paella and works toward the center. Lemon wedges to accent the flavor.