Paella is a saffron and olive oil based rice casserole. Paella is pronounced “pah-ay-jah”, NOT “pah-ella”.
There are different versions to make paella, according to culture and regional ingredients. My paella has strong influences from Cuban cuisine, in which is distinguished with the following dense protein combination:
- 2 type of seafood (shrimp and lobster)
The paella has certain inspirations from Valencia, Spain. But, an actual Valencia paella does not have any seafood or pork in it.
All paella made today, have origins from the Moorish Mediterranean coastal region of Spain. The Moors brought with them a variety of new foods, including rice. The word “arroz” derives from the Arabic word “arruzz”.
During their 780 years rule of Spain known as the Islamic Golden Ages (711 to 1492 AD), the Moors establish the custom of eating rice during their occupancy and often made casserole with rice, fish and available spices, especially saffron. Pork has never been part of their dietary laws or culture to eat. Their casserole of rice, seafood and spice dish was not known as a paella.
300 years later, during the 19th century in Valencia, Spain, the Moors’ rice and seafood casserole (recognized today as seafood paella), was modified using local ingredients and cooked in a large shallow pan into the dish that is known presently as a Valencia paella. The Valencia paella did not contain any seafood. The actual ingredients for a Valencia paella are:
- chicken (or duck)
Again, a true Valencia paella although has the same spices (especially saffron), it did not have any seafood or pork added.
The large and shallow pan to cook the paella is identified as a paellera, and dates back a few centuries beforehand.
Paella derives from the Latin word “patella” (meaning pan). The 14th century Romance dialect known as Old French, modernize the word to “paelle” (also meaning pan). During the 18th century, Valencian use the word “paella” for all pans, including the specialized shallow pan for cooking the paella. However, in Spain and throughout Latin America, the term pallera is common for a very large round and shallow pan.
To distinguish its difference, there are 3 known paella and its dense protein:
- Valencia (Spaniard) – chicken, rabbit and snail; eel is sometimes added
- Seafood (Moors) – shrimps, fish and lobster; scallops and mussels are generally added
- Mixed (Cuban) – chicken, Spanish sausage (chorizo) and shrimps; lobster and mussels are customarily added
Every now and then, I buy 4 lobster tails. For the video, I opted to using canned lobster. It taste very fresh and just as good. It also saves time steaming, cracking shells and cutting into pieces.
Personally, I do not eat mussel. I do add it to my recipe, since my husband and guests enjoy eating it with this dish. My preference is buying pre-cooked frozen mussels marinated in butter garlic sauce.
A few reasons I like frozen pre-cooked mussels compared to purchasing fresh mussels are:
- no need to remove the beards
- no need to deal with dead mussels, since it is pre-selected and pre-cooked
Adding Puerto Rican sofrito and olives are optional. You can omit it.
I love adding Budweiser beer to my paella. Other times, I add wine.
If adding beer, the ratio is 1 regular can of beer to 2 cup of chicken broth.
If adding wine, it is 1/3 cup to 3 cup of chicken broth.
I also replace the chicken broth with shrimp stock. I boil the shrimp shells with 4 cups water, filtered it through a strainer to remove the shells, and add the shrimp stock as my broth. Whether shrimp or chicken broth, both taste just as good.
In regards to the rice. I like using Goya paella rice mix. The seasonings are pre-mixed into the rice and taste delicious. It saves me time with no need to sort out which spices to add or measure.
Bomba (also known as calasparra) is a pearly round short grain rice from Calasparra, adjacent to the town of Valencia. It is the authentic type of rice to make a paella. One of the properties to why it is the best is due to the ability to absorb liquids and flavors very well, while its texture stays relatively separate (not sticky) during cooking.
Valencia rice (sometimes called paella rice) is short grain pearl rice from the town of Valencia, Spain. Bomba (calasparra) and Valencia rice only difference is based on the region it comes from. From my personal experience, bomba rice is a slightly better than Valencia rice in regards to the texture and how it absorbs more flavor, once it’s cooked. Basically, they are cultivated the same way. Overall, they are both high quality short grain pearl rice with great taste and consistency to make authentic paella.
If using short grain rice, the ratio is 1 1/2 cup of rice to 10 strands of saffron. Due to saffron being very expensive, I prefer to buy the Goya prepackaged paella rice mix that has all the seasoning in it with annatto infused oil. The prepackaged paella mix also saves time calculating how much other seasonings I need to add to the rice cooking process.
I have difficulties finding bomba rice in my area. The best replacement is Sello Rojo pearl rice. It absorb the flavors of other ingredients, especially the stock (liquids), and doesn’t become starchy or sticky. Pearl rice is my preferred choice, especially when I choose not buy the Goya paella mix.
Arborio is an Italian short grain rice. Due to its glutinous starch, if stirred too much during cooking, it tends to become creamy-like in consistency. Hence, it must not be stirred too much and why arborio rice is best for rice pudding, but not really for paella.
Basmati is a Persian/Indian long grain rice. This type of rice is aged to decrease its moisture content that allows it to have a fine texture. Due to this, basmati rice is unable to absorb the flavors and liquid for making into a paella.
You can use medium grain rice, if no other options are available. It is not my preferred choice to cook for a paella. But, it is an accessible alternative.
After the paella is fully cooked, I always garnish the dish with:
- sliced fresh lemon (slice on side to rim, then twist opposite sides for a decorative look)
- sliced roasted red peppers
- sweet green peas