To celebrate this fantastic weather, last weekend we decided to make paella from scratch at the shop.
This traditional Valencian recipe has been at the centre of several controversies in the last few years; with some purists arguing real paella is nowhere to be found in the British Isles and with some others willing to throw pretty much any amount of ingredients into a rice pan and call the result a paella. Let’s be clear on this, though - while paella is definitely a dish that accepts some variations, there is no such a thing as a paella that involves chorizo. Now that we got it out of the way, let’s get into the details of this wonderful Mediterranean dish.
Call it a rice with things if you’d like, Spaniards say, just not a paella.
To up the stakes, we decided to make two different types of paella for everyone to try. Due to the success both recipes had, we’ve decided to share them both with you.
One of the paellas is the most traditional recipe for paella you can find, what Valencians call Paella de la Albufera, and it involves duck, rabbit, chicken and occasionally, escargot. The second one will be Arroz a Banda, a sailor’s dish involving fish and seafood.
For the first one, we got our meats from local butcher Hennesy’s, who prepared each cut beautifully for us. The fish and seafood for the second one came from the Fish Stall just opposite our shop - the quality of their fish is rightfully legendary. All our veggies came from Tierra Verde, a lovely shop on Webb’s road where we spend most of our lunch breaks while on shift - give their beautiful Er Boqueron beer a try, too! Their brewery is in Valencia and it’s made with real sea water. It’s crisp, refreshing and a natural match for both these dishes!
PAELLA DE LA ALBUFERA
For this traditional paella from the Sueca region, we’ll be using the following ingredients (all measured for 4 people):
Duck, 1 breast
Rabbit, about 150g
Chicken, about 250g
3-4 Tomatoes, peeled and grated
Artichokes when in season, otherwise wide runner beans and Judion beans - about two handfuls in total
Garlic, 4 cloves - minced.
Ñora peppers or ñora paste, 3 spoonfuls
Calasparra Rice, around 80-100g per person
Small bunch of rosemary, optional
We start by heating the pan up and adding a drizzle of olive oil in the middle over a low fire and a generous pinch of salt all over the pan. When hot, we add the chicken, rabbit and duck, all cut into chunks. We will constantly move the meats around, while looking to create a crispy golden crust.
It should take at least 15-20 minutes to cook the meat before we’re ready to add any other ingredients - the longer it takes, the creamier and more flavoursome the final product will be. Any sticky bits you see at the bottom of the pan over this process will add a lot of flavour to the rice, so keep a look out for them!
When ready, move all the meats towards the pan’s side, where it’s cooler, and we’ll add the artichokes or beans to the centre. The artichoke will add a very attractive colour to the rice, however seasonality is critical with this product and the beans will be an excellent alternative. Sautée for a bit, until golden, and move to the sides.
Next, add the minced garlic and, just before it begins to brown, add the grated tomatoes.
Let the tomato fry for a bit and once it begins to catch a darker tone, make a little hole in the pan’s centre and add half the saffron. Let it sautée for a few seconds and, right away, add the ñora or the ñora paste, then mix with the tomato, veggies and meats. - This sofrito will be the base for the stock we’re going to prepare right away.
Now we will add cold water (bottled or filtered is best, but tab water will do), up to the handles in our pan. In Valencia it’s traditional to make the stock in the same pan where you’ll make the paella, and all the ingredients we’ve been carefully cooking will now amalgamate into a fantastic broth - time to put the fire to full power.
While the stock is cooking, it’s important to keep the water level at the pan’s handles, so add more water as the stock begins to evaporate. Now is the time to add the rest of the saffron to infuse with our stock.
Once the stock has been boiling for about 8-10 minutes, it should be ready ready - you’ll know when it acquires a dark brown tone. Taste it for flavour - it should be ever so slightly over salted, as the rice will soak some of the saltiness away. Now is time to add the rice - 2.5 parts stock for 1 part of rice is the golden ratio for paella. This can be measured by adding the rice in two thin lines across the diameter of the pan, drawing a cross, just up to the water level. At this point, gently shake the rice around so that it’s evenly spread across the whole pan. It’s important not to touch the rice beyond this point, as we want the starch to remain inside each grain - we aren’t making risotto, after all.
After 5-7 minutes on high heat, a few rice grains should begin to appear just below the surface - now lower your heat to minimum and let it simmer for a further 8-10 minutes over low fire (never go beyond the feared 18 minutes cooking time if you don’t want to end up with soggy, overcooked rice). If you’re into your escargot, this is the time to toss them into the pan. At this time, you can add a small bunch of rosemary leaves for the last 5 minutes if you’d like - this will enhance the paella’s natural aromas but it’s by no means necessary. Be mindful not to leave it for too long though, as you can easily overpower the more delicate notes on the dish.
Don’t hesitate to shake or tilt the pan around a little bit (without moving the rice with any tools) to help distribute the water evenly across the entire surface. Should you want to make the finishing touch of socarraet, or a slightly toasted (not burnt, never burnt) layer of rice on the bottom of the pan which is highly sought after in Valencia, during the last few seconds of cooking you can rise the fire to maximum.
After a total of 16-18 minutes, your paella is ready. Let it rest for a couple of minutes to allow all the flavours to set and the final remaining juices to be absorbed into the rice.
Your paella should have the rice as the protagonist, spread in a very thin layer across the pan, with the meats and veggies randomly placed all over it - it’s supposed to be a rustic dish, after all.
ARROZ A BANDA
Arroz a Banda, while not exactly a paella (the only dish we should really call paella is the one described above), it certainly is a very traditional dish in Valencia and it is prepared in a paella pan. This dish is more common in Denia, a small beach town in the region of Alicante. It is usually prepared with fresh fish from which we can create a stock. To speed up this recipe, we’ll be using ready made fish stock, in which we will have boiled some prawn and fish heads and spines, along with a couple of small crabs or mantis shrimp for a few minutes to add a bit of a kick. Do feel free to prepare a homemade fish stock though, as this will improve this dish’s quality significantly. Arroz a banda is traditionally made preparing the fish first, then the rice in the same pan and presented in different platters, but we’re going for the more modern presentation of the dish, with the fish scattered above the rice.
You can use almost any fish as the main ingredient for this dish, but our local fishmonger had the most beautiful monkfish fresh that morning and we couldn’t resist. I love it with red mullet or halibut, so if you can’t source any monkfish try it with those instead.
For this excellent dish, we will need the following ingredients (all measured for 4 people):
Monkfish, two tails, cut into bite size pieces
3 small cuttlefish (around 10 cm in length each), diced
King prawns (peeled), around 250g
4 Tiger Prawns or 4 langoustines, whole
3-4 Tomatoes, peeled and grated
Fresh parsley (1 big bunch, chopped)
Garlic, 5 cloves - minced.
6 Ñora peppers or ñora paste, 4 spoonfuls - we used El Sol ñora paste
Olive oil, infused with more minced garlic & parsley - we used Brindisa Arbequina oil as it withstands high temperatures very well
Calasparra Rice, around 80-100g per person
Fish and seafood stock, 1.5 litres - we use Jurgen Largen fish stock
Saffron, 0.25g - we used Brindisa
Salt, to taste - we used Maldon sea salt
We will start by preparing our salmorreta, a paste made of fried garlic, tomato, ñora peppers, parsley and a pinch of salt. We will fry all the ingredients together in extra virgin olive oil and blitz into a paste with the help of a blender. This paste can be stored in the fridge for around 4 weeks and can be used for a variety of rice dishes and stews. I like to preserve mine in sanitised jars but you can freeze it if you’d like to do so. It’s incredibly versatile and a staple in every Spaniard’s cupboard.
Now we will add a bit of our infused olive oil into a pan and setting the fire to medium. Once hot, we’ll add the monkfish and scatter a pinch of salt above it. We just want to sear it, and these bite-sized pieces won’t take long at all, so keep a close eye on it. Once ready, we’ll do the same with the tiger prawns or langoustines and when they’re red and ready to go, we’ll do the same with the peeled prawns. Reserve all the fish and seafood for later.
Now start frying the cuttlefish over medium heat - be careful, it might get a bit jumpy - cuttlefish adds a wonderful aftertaste to any seafood dish. We will add a little bit of our infused oil with a bit of chopped garlic and parsley.
Once the cuttlefish begins to get a brown shade, add the salmorreta (about 4-5 spoonfuls), and mix together for a minute or so. Then add half the saffron and let it sautée for a few seconds.
Next we’ll add the rice, which we’ll mix with the rest of the ingredients and sautée for a minute or two - this is very traditional in the Alicante province, and results in a rice with bit more of a bite. We will add the fish stock right away and bring up to a boil over high heat - again, the golden ratio for paella is 2.5 parts of stock for each part of rice. add the rest of the saffron now. Keep the fire on high for around 5-7 minutes and then set it to low-medium for the rest of the cooking process (around 8 minutes or until 16 minutes in total).
While on low fire, add the fish and the seafood in a decorative manner. Any remaining juices from the fish can be added to the rice - it will add a lot of flavour to the dish.
If you wish, during the last 30 seconds of cooking, you can increase the fire to maximum to get the socarraet finish to your rice - that light crisp texture will be a lovely contrast to the soft, creamy monkfish.
And there you go, that’s two very easy, perfectly traditional paella recipes you can make at home in little to no time. Take a photo when you make them and let us know what you think!