I’m sure there are many theories about the origins of Paella but I recently watched a TV show that explained Paella’s humble beginnings in the Valencia region in Eastern Spain. Originally a farmers’ food, it was cooked by the field workers over a wood fire for their lunchtime meal. It was made from rice, plus whatever was at hand in and around the rice fields and countryside: tomatoes, onions, snails, beans, and for special occasions, rabbit, duck or chicken plus a touch of saffron for extra special flavour and colour. Paella was traditionally eaten straight from the pan with each person using his own wooden spoon. I guess seafood was added in once the recipe made its way to the coast.
Given it’s humble origins, Paella is not a fancy recipe passed down from the high and mighty, so it’s not important to stick to the recipe exactly, but I have to thank my sister-in-law, Riina (Riins) for this one which I pretty much follow word for word as it’s just so damn good. After Riins and my bro spent some time in Spain, the best souvenir she brought back was this recipe from one of the locals. I’ve cooked this same recipe probably 10 times, and to the original ‘local’ recipe, I simply add chorizo at the beginning, and parsley at the end.
The paella ‘socarrat’ for me, is one of the most important keys for flavour and the whole paella experience. The socarrat is the crusty crispy bottom of the paella that becomes toasted and caramelised on the bottom of the pan when it is cooking. There’s a fine line between crispy and burnt – the best way I’ve found to ensure you get the perfect crispy base and reach the pinnacle of paella greatness is to just keep carefully checking the rice at the base of the pan every now and then (with minimal disturbance). If there’s no evidence of a crispy base, keep it on the flame. It’s not ready.
Paella just feels summery, so ideally if you have a portable (camping) gas burner / BBQ I think this is best cooked and eaten outside.
Serves 4 as a (hearty) main, or 8 as an entree
- 8 raw king prawns (skin & heads on)
- 1 chorizo, finely sliced
- 1 skinned squid, ink removed / cuttlefish tube sliced into rings
- 300g clams/vongole /mussles
- 1 onion, diced
- 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 400g short grain rice (uncooked)
- 1.1L fish stock
- pinch saffron threads
- 1 tin of whole tomatoes
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
- half a bunch of parsley, chopped
- In a saucepan, warm up the fish stock and add the saffron threads
- Heat oil in a large frypan or paella pan.
- Fry whole prawns and chorizo in oil until the prawns have just changed colour, then remove the prawns and set aside until later (leaving the chorizo and flavoured oil in the pan).
- Add the onion and garlic and fry constantly stirring for a couple of minutes, then add the tomatoes.
- Add the tomatoes and cook until the tomato start to turn a darker red.
- When the tomatoes start to break apart, add the squid and clams/mussels/vongole.
- As soon as the clams/mussels/vongole start to open, add in the (uncooked) rice and stir until it’s combined with the other ingredients (it’s fine – I think it’s preferable!, for the rice to start to fill up the open shells).
- Add the warmed fish stock and bring to the boil.
- Make sure the rice is spread evenly in the pan.
- Turn down the heat to medium and DO NOT TOUCH the paella now for at least 15 minutes.
- The amount you need to cook it will depend on the heat of your stovetop / BBQ. You’ll notice that the rice absorbs up all the stock, and a quick taste will confirm if the rice is cooked.
- Towards the end of the cooking arrange the prawns and lemon on top, and scatter with parsley, carefully checking the rice at the bottom of the pan for the “socarrat”.
- Place pan on the middle of the table along with some empty bowls for the shells/prawn heads, insert serving spoon and tell your friends to ‘dig in’.