Pae YAY lla - The dish that is Everything Valencia

Posted on Saturday, July 05, 2014

If you plan on visiting the Valencian region on your next tour of Spain, you have to partake in the regional delicacy—paella! Paella is a quintessential Spanish cuisine, inspiring social events and family gatherings. This incredible dish is known around the world, but had its birthplace on the east coast of Spain.

HISTORY

Although unmistakably linked to Valencia, the actual name ‘paella’ has been disputed over the years.  It is most likely from old Valencian word (with Latin roots) patella, meaning pan. This is in reference to the actual cooking pan this special dish is prepared in. Other less likely theories about the word suggest it comes from the Arabic word bagiyah, which means leftovers. The most romantic  theory is that of a lover’s dish, prepared for a woman by her lover, and stemming from the term para ella, meaning ‘for her’.

When Spanish farmers improved the old Roman irrigations systems in eastern Spain, the production of rice became more abundant. Residents of the region began incorporating rice in many seafood and meat dishes, thus establishing the custom of rice eating in Spanish cultures. In Valencia in the 18th century, paelleras were used over an open fire to cook rice near the Albufera lake. Small amphibious lakeside mammals called water voles were often the main ingredients in the original paella. Other lakeside ingredients were often added, such as butter beans and snails. As economic standards improved in Valencia, so did the ingredients of this local dish. Vole was replaced with chicken, rabbit, and even duck meat. Lots of beans were added along with fresh vegetables and spices.

Many other variations on the dish have evolved—including the most universally recognized seafood mixed paella. Shellfish replace many of the land proteins, and spicy sausage is also added. True Valencian paella, however, remains the same recipe and is eaten out of the large cooking pan—everyone get his own wooden spoon.

WHERE TO ENJOY

There are tons of restaurants in this region toting the ‘best’ paella in town. I’ve narrowed down the top three restaurants to get the best traditional Valencian paella.

Bodega de la Sarieta—family owned and operated since 1982, this restaurant has a very welcoming atmosphere. Although high quality, the aura is a bit more relaxed and family friendly.

Canela—in the heart of la Carrer de Quart, this exciting location has an upscale feel with modern décor. This spot the perfect romantic dinner date.

La Matandeta—the beautiful, open-air construction of this location has housed celebrities Mario Batali and Gwyneth Paltrow. The Albufera region grows arroz bomba, arroz senia and arroz bahia in the fields surrounding the restaurant.

Depending on your ideal atmosphere, one of these great restaurants will easily make your paella experience one to remember!

TAKE HOME THE LEFTOVERS

Once you fall in love with Valencian paella, you’ll want to eat it over and over again! This recipe only takes a couple of hours and is a great dish to make when family and friends come over.

(You will need a large, shallow pan)

Ingredients:

2 cups olive oil

1 red bell pepper, chopped

¾ chicken, cut

½ rabbit, cut

½ tsp sweet paprika

1 ½ lbs green beans, cut

1 ½ lbs butter beans

½ tomato, chopped

4 ½ cups water

2 cups snails, cleaned

1 ¼ lbs rice

1 pinch saffron

2 sprigs rosemary

  1. Heat ¼ to ½ cup of oil in pan. Add red pepper and fry until they soften. Remove and reserve for garnish.
  2. Fry the chicken and rabbit at medium heat until golden, adding more oil. Add paprika, and push the meat to the edges of the pan.
  3. Add beans and tomatoes in the center, mixing well.
  4. Pour in ½ the water and simmer for 30 minutes, until most water has evaporated.
  5. Add snails and cook for 5 to 10 min.
  6. Add rice, distributing it evenly over the pan and stir in the rest of the water. Cook for 20 minutes. Season with salt, ground pepper, and saffron. Once seasons are evenly distributed, do not stir anymore.
  7. Increase heat to medium-high heat for a couple minutes, until the bottom layer of rice browns.
  8. Garnish with red pepper and rosemary, let it rest for 5 minutes before serving.
  9. DIG IN!

This traditional dish will impress your guests and be a great conversation starter! ENJOY!

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