The Original Valencian Paella
Published by Chronicle
Paella valenciana does not have a precise recipe–it was born in the fields and not in a chef’s restaurant kitchen–but there is an accepted ingredients list. This recipe is adapted from the official one used in Sueca’s nearly fifty-year-old annual paella competition, held in the Albufera village of Sueca each year, and approved by town government as well as the Club of Head Chefs of the Community of Valencia. The only additions here are some herbs to make the snails tastier.
Paella valenciana famously uses different types of fresh beans, namely garrofó (lima beans), tavella (a type of long white bean), and ferraúra (a local green bean). Fresh lima beans are shucked from the pod, but the white beans and green beans are not; their pods are cut into short sections. Lima beans can be hard to find fresh, and canned or frozen are acceptable. Dried lima beans need to be soaked and boiled before adding to the paella. Fresh white beans can also be difficult to find (look in Italian and French markets); again, dried ones need to be soaked and boiled before adding. You can also do what Spanish cooks do: use the fresh beans that look best in the market.
Snails: If using live snails, clean the shells well and put in a medium saucepan. Add 1 quartered tomato, 1 quartered onion, 1 teaspoon sweet or bittersweet pimentón, 1 sprig fresh rosemary; and 1 small handful fresh mint. Cover with abundant cold water and slowly bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1 hour. Drain the snails, rinse, and set aside.
If using preserved snails, rinse, put in a medium saucepan, cover with abundant water, and boil for 3 to 4 minutes. Drain, rinse, and set aside.
Saffron Threads Preparation: Saffron is a defining element of paella. It brings its characteristic warm and fresh aroma, and, significantly, tints the rice a delicate golden color. It is the world’s most expensive spice. Cultivation is a delicate process, collecting is difficult, and it takes some 70,000 flowers to yield a pound of saffron. Introduced into Spain around A.D. 900 by Arab traders, it was cultivated in Spain by A.D. 960. (The Spanish word for saffron, azafrán, comes from the Arabic za’faran.) Saffron is largely grown in the central La Mancha region, whose extreme conditions-hot summers, cold winters-are ideal for giving strength to the color and pungency to the aroma. La Mancha is a registered denominación de origen; look for the “D.O. Azafrán de la Mancha” label. Buy only threads and not powder, which may have been adulterated.
To draw out saffron’s full culinary potential, the threads need to be slightly toasted and crumbled before they are added to a rice dish. Toast the threads in a small dry skillet over low heat for a few minutes until they turn a shade darker. Remove them immediately, and then either crumble them in a small piece of paper or pound them in a mortar. If using a mortar, be sure to swirl a bit of water around inside after pounding to get every last bit of saffron dust.
Most restaurants, and many home cooks, use a powdered colorante (usually a mix of cornstarch, salt, and yellow dye) to give their paella the dish’s characteristic golden color. Though eschewed by purists, colorante does not carry a heavy stigma in Spain and its use is not generally looked down upon around most tables. Colorante gives the rice an artificially bright yellow tone. Do not try to make a paella yellower by simply adding more saffron. Too much saffron can give the rice a bitter, almost medicinal flavor. Two pinches of good-quality threads-20 to 30 total-is enough for a paella for 6.
To Grate Tomatoes:. Simply cut the tomato in half crosswise, and run a finger through the seed cavity, scraping most of the seeds out. Then, cupping the tomato in your hand, slowly grate on a box grater. The skin will gradually peel back as the flesh is grated away, leaving only a flattened skin in your palm. (Discard the skin.) This technique doesn’t waste precious pulp. In winter when good, flavorful fresh tomatoes are hard to find, canned whole tomatoes can be used. Strain them, reserving the liquid (to add later to the cooking sofrito), and finely chop.
Total Timeunder 2 hours
One Pot MealYes
OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Formal Dinner Party
Recipe Coursemain course
Dietary Considerationmain course
Taste and Texturemeaty, savory, spiced
- 1 pound chicken thighs or legs, cut into 8 to 10 pieces
- ½ rabbit (about 1 pound), cut into 6 to 8 pieces
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ½ pound shucked fresh lima beans
- ½ pound fresh small white beans in their pods, ends trimmed, and cut into 2-inch-long sections
- ½ pound green beans, ends trimmed, and cut in half
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 ripe medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped or coarsely grated (see Notes)
- 36 live or preserved snails, cooked (see Notes), or 1 sprig fresh rosemary
- 1 teaspoon sweet pimenton
- 8 cups water
- 2 pinches saffron threads (about 20 total), lightly toasted and ground (see Notes)
- 3 cups short or medium grain rice
Season the chicken and rabbit generously with salt.
In a 16-to 18-inch paella pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the chicken and rabbit and cook, stirring frequently, until browned, about 5 minutes.
Add all the beans and cook until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the garlic, tomatoes, and 2 pinches of salt and cook, stirring from time to time, until the tomato has darkened to a deeper shade of red, 10 to 15 minutes.
Stir in the snails (if using), sprinkle in the pimentón, and add the water. Bring to a simmer, and continue simmering for 10 minutes, or until the meat and beans are tender.
Add the saffron and (if you are not using snails) the rosemary. Taste for salt and adjust the seasoning as needed. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Sprinkle in the rice. With a wooden spoon, probe the pan to make sure the rice is evenly distributed. Do not stir again.
Cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes over high heat, then reduce it to low and cook for an additional 8 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al punto, with just a bite to it.
Remove the paella from the heat, cover with paper towels, and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
2006 Jeff Koehler