Traditional Valencian Paella recipe for demanding gourmets
We have kept the recipe intact, but have annotated it in red, to either explain or make it more applicable for cooking in the UK !
Although there are several ways to cook a good Paella we are going to try and stick as much as possible to the traditional preparation, as it is prepared in the huerta de Valencia (Valencia’s countryside).
Traditionally the Valencian Paella is cooked in a polished steel paella pan, in the open-air and with orange tree firewood (Valencia is the cradle of orange cultivation in Spain). Apart from giving the paella a specific aroma, orange tree firewood makes a constant fire and up to an extent is manageable, given the difficulty of cooking with firewood.
Being in the UK, we can forgive you for not using orange tree wood, but cooking over an open fire is great fun. You still can get great results from your paella gas burner.
- PAELLA FOR 4 PEOPLE (use a 38cm to 46cm paella pan)
The first thing we have to do is to level the paella pan so that the rice is evenly distributed and boils equally. To do so, we only have to pour the cold oil and check that it stays in the centre of the paella pan. Once it is well centred we light up the fire and wait for the oil to be very hot to start frying the meat. We will extend all the oil with a spatula on the bottom of the pan to prevent it from burning, or we will surround the oil with salt with the same purpose (in this case we must not salt the meat too much).
Once the oil is really hot, add the chicken and the rabbit which we would have previously salted (if the trick described above was not used) and we will brown it slowly by turning it around. The larger pieces are generally left in the centre of the pan, removing the smaller ones to the sides to prevent them from burning. Repeat once more, as it is important for all the meat to be well browned at a low heat and slowly, so that everything is well fried. There lies part of the secret of a good Paella.
When the meat is brown we must move it all to the edges which is where we will have less fire intensity, and it is time to fry the flat green beans. Like the meat, the vegetables must be well fried yet not burnt, so constantly turning it around. When cooked, it is time to add the fresh pureed tomato proceeding in the same way: we move the vegetables towards the edges and fry the tomato well making sure it does not burn. When the tomato has released all the water, it is well fried.
Once all the previous ingredients are well fried, we must stir uniformly and leave it all to fry together for a moment. The meat must be well brown, and the vegetables and tomato well fried. Now we add the paprika and stir quickly, making sure it does not burn. It is very important to have a bit of water ready, and add it immediately to prevent the paprika from burning, as it would give the Paella a bad flavour.
It is time to add the water to our Paella; we will add water until completely cover the pan ( ie to the top of the pan) Now add the saffron threads (or food colour) and the ‘garrofón’. Now we must revive the fire as much as possible until it boils.
When the stock is at boiling point, we will taste for salt and add a little if necessary. We will leave it to boil for 45 minutes more.
Now we must be prepared to add the rice, but before we must consider the amount of stock, we recommend there should be approximately double the amount of water than rice. The water measure –whenever the size of the pan is ideal for the portions required – is that in which the water level is above the internal rivets of the pan’s handles. Like the amount of oil or rice, the water measure is indicative, and experience is going to be our best ally.
(This is the hardest part knowing when broth has reduced to the right amount to add the rice. A trick is to put the correct amount of liquid in for the amount of rice you are using. Then note the level on the pan, top it to the top as described and then boil down to the original level - works every time !!)
Once the water has been added, it is time to taste the salt contents again, adding more if necessary. It is important to highlight that the salt contents must be tried just before adding the rice, and it must be quite noticeable. (ie quite salty)
Then we must revive the fire and add the rice spreading it evenly around the pan. Cook it for 5 minutes at high heat, then another 5 minutes at medium heat and 8-10 minutes the lowest heat. In total, the rice must be cooked for approximately 18 to 20 minutes, although this time differs depending on the hardness of the water of each place. The rice must be dry and the grain whole.
As a general rule, we will never add water once we have added the rice to the paella. If you see the rice is still not done and the paella is running short of broth, turn the heat down and cover with silver foil or a lid so that it evaporates less water. Never add water, if anything add boiling broth previously set aside in order not to cut the rice’s boiling process.
In Valencia it is also very typical to leave the rice on the base of the paella pan, toasted and crispy, this rice is called “Socarrat”. We can obtain the famous ‘socarrat’ by placing the pan directly on the ember immediately after the Paella is finished (or turn up the paella burner for less than a minute)
In Valencia, it is customary to leave the paella to rest for a few minutes before serving it. This rest is usually very good for the rice. As well as indispensable if it were a bit hard as it helps for the rice to finish cooking and to absorb the remaining broth. If it is still very hard, you can cover the paella with a thick paper and sprinkle with a bit of water, and then leave it to settle for a few more minutes.
And if we want to be really faithful to the tradition, we will eat the paella directly from the pan and if possible with a wooden spoon.
TIPS AND ADVICE FROM THE EXPERTS
• In some areas of Valencia, they also add some other ingredients such as snails (the ones known in Valencia as ‘vaquetas’) or some artichokes cut into four or five pieces if they are in season. It is convenient to soak the artichokes in water with lemon first, so they do not make the rice go black.
• The final result is going to depend very much on the hardness of the water. In Valencia it is usually very high, so it is not strange to see the people who participate in the paella-making contest taking their own water bottles, as they already know the cooking time.
• Always use short grain rice, as the other varieties do not take in the flavour and aroma of the broth, the Paella must always be tasty.
• If we add the chicken’s liver, it must be removed before, as when fried it cooks very fast. We must then add it again when the vegetables and tomato are fried. Some people prefer to eat it as an aperitif once it is fried. (or take it out altogether before serving)
• Some people add a branch of rosemary for two or three minutes to give it a different touch. The rosemary must be preferably fresh, as dry rosemary can not be completely removed, it would give too much flavour (hiding the flavour of the rest of ingredients), and it is also annoying to keep removing the little leafs when eating it.