I’ve been trying to perfect my paella recently, so I was very pleased to be asked along to Pinchito Tapas* in London, WC1 for a paella masterclass.
I learnt there isn’t really one, true paella recipe from which all others deviate, and many people from Valencia, where it originated, have different opinions on what paella should be, and how it should be cooked.
Valencian paella, generally, is cooked with meat (chicken, rabbit, pork ribs, snails), tomatoes (peeled and grated), paprika, rosemary, saffron, garlic and various types of bean or sometimes artichoke. Seafood paella dispenses with the meat, and usually the beans and rosemary, and replaces it with seafood of various types. Mixed paella is the most widely eaten in Spain outside Valencia, and also abroad, and is made with chicken and various types of seafood.
Onions produce too much liquid. A whole head of garlic (peeled and chopped) was used for a paella to serve six. The saffron was folded up in a piece of foil and toasted, briefly, over an open flame before being added, as this way it releases more flavour.
2) Fry the meat first
Fry your meat of choice, followed by the seafood, then the vegetables. You’re trying to get all of the flavour from all of the ingredients into the rice. In Valencia, people eat paella straight from the pan, all eating the triangle in front of them, and discarding the meat and fish in a pile at the centre of the pan – the rice is the treat, and these bits are only eaten at the end if you are still hungry.
3) Stir thoroughly
When the veg, meat and fish are cooked (this is called a sofrita), the paprika should go in and be mixed through, quickly, to avoid burning, which gives it a bitter flavour. Then add the rice, followed by the stock. From that point forward, it shouldn’t be stirred at all, because the grains of rice should stay separate. To stop it from sticking, you can shake the pan.
4) Leave it
Towards the end of the cooking, stop shaking it, because you do want it to stick then, in order to have a thin, crispy layer of toasted rice on the bottom, known as soccarat (the most delicious bit of all). Take it off the heat before the rice is totally cooked through, and cover the pan in tinfoil, leaving it to cook under its own steam for 5-10 minutes.
5) No lemon
Finally, don’t serve it with lemon wedges – if you do, people will immediately squeeze the lemon onto the paella without tasting it – in Valencia, apparently, lemon is only used to adjust the flavour if the paella hasn’t turned out right (and alioli should only be served with arroz negro).
*Pinchito Tapas are now permanently closed.
Do you have any paella rules? Share them with us below…