This week we celebrated Las Fallas in the beautiful city of Valencia. It is a party of noise, colour and above all, fire. It seems that this Spanish community has a special love for burned stuff, like that delicious socarrat that remains at the bottom of a true Valencian paella. As Valencians know, the best part is this toasted part of the rice that is formed in the center of the paella when it is made properly. I remember my own relatives, Valencian by birth, fighting to scrap the rice from the bottom every Sunday.
If you are reading this WabiHost post, it is because you want to know what a true Valencian paella consists of. Well, in this first paragraph I have already given you several clues. But let’s clarify things so you do not fall into a tourist trap when you visit Spain.
What’s in a name?
Yes, common mistake even among Spaniards is to call the “pan” “paellera”. Actually, paella is the name of the “pan” where it is cooked and consequently, the dish.
My grandmother told me this, as she is Valencian by birth and a real perfectionist. She had learnt her mother’s recipe and made it countless times. I recently found out that her family had a popular restaurant in the city decades ago. So it’s fair to say that she knew pretty much about paellas.
This ingredient is king in Valencia. So much so that this Spanish community has its own denomination of origin rice. As you can imagine, it is the ideal one to prepare this dish. If you want to try to make it at home, we recommend using a round variety of rice. Basmati will not do.
If you’re looking for paella in Spain but you are not a rice savvy, keep reading because we will give you other tips.
The other ingredients
“I do not eat paella because I do not like seafood.” I often hear this, but did you know that the true Valencian paella does not have to have seafood? That’s right. In the old days, the paella was a rice dish cooked with whatever they had at hand. Those who lived in the countryside, like my grandmother, could not afford seafood. This was because before the invention of the refrigerator, it was difficult to get fresh fish and seafood far from the coast. The paella can traditionally have chicken, rabbit, duck, snails, just vegetables …
Of course there are mixed ones but this is not a condition for it to be authentic. However, putting chorizo or peppers would not be approved by a purist. My grandmother adds flat beans, artichokes, peas, white beans and onions. Simple and delicious
Oh! And very importantly, saffron. Spain is one of the world’s leading producers of saffron and I should say that it is of excellent quality. Please do not use food colourants as substitutes. I’ve seen it a lot in several places and it’s appalling. A good quality seal is to find some saffron strands on the plate, so look carefully.
- The paella should not be overfilled. It is important that the rice makes a thin layer on the paella without reaching the screws of the handles. This is vital so that it cooks evenly.
- Paella is a time-consuming dish. Often when going out to eat it at a restaurant, you must book early. A real paella ought to be made to order and take its time to cook and rest. In many places they have lists and serve it reheated. So you know, patience is a virtue that pays with quality. Fast food has only one advantage and that is to be fast.
- Socarrat is that thin layer of lightly toasted rice that forms in the center of the paella where the fire was stronger. This has a particular flavour and texture and it is widely considered to be the best part of the dish. If not present, you know it has probably not been the best.
Where to eat a real Valencian paella
If you are in Valencia we recommend you to take a walk through L’Albufera. It is a very popular area for its restaurants, in particular El Palmar. In fact, the population of this small town is multiplied by a hundred at weekends so we recommend you book early.
On my recent trip I chose Mateu Restaurant and I did not regret it.
Choose a couple of delicious traditional starters such as Esgarrat, Allipebre or Llisa adobá. Wait and you will taste the best that Valencia has to offer.
Once you finish the paella we suggest you to take a boat trip around the lagoon and see the rice fields. Wear sunglasses and something warm if it’s windy.
If you can’t go to Valencia when you visit Spain, contact us at WabiHost and we’ll take you away from those disappointing tourist traps.