“The Spanish have this wonderful custom called ‘sobremesa’. It is about spending time after a meal, in conversation, digesting, relaxing, enjoying each other's company. The tradition of sobremesa is why after a meal in Spain, you
won't get a check until you ask for it. It would be thought rude to rush your meal, or to discourage postprandial chats.” - Starre Vartan.
Many non-Spaniards view paella as Spain’s national dish, but most Spaniards
consider it to be a regional Valencian dish. Valencians, in turn, proudly regard paella as one of their identifying symbols. The origins of this world-famous dish are to be found in the Moorish (Muslim) occupation of most of Spain during the Middle Ages. The
Moors introduced rice cultivation to Spain around the 10th century CE. Consequently, Valencians often made casseroles of rice, fish, and spices for family gatherings and religious feasts, thus establishing the custom of eating rice in Spain. This
led to rice becoming a staple by the 15th century.
On special occasions, 18th century Valencian peasants used large two-handled pans called calderos or paellas to cook rice in the open air where they worked their orchards
near the Albufera lagoon. Water rat meat was one of the main ingredients of early paellas, along with eels and butter beans. As living standards rose in late-19th Century Spain, outings in the countryside and al fresco dining became universally
popular. This led to more expensive ingredients being introduced, like rabbit, chicken, duck and sometimes snails. This dish became so popular that in 1840, a local Spanish newspaper first used the word paella to refer to the recipe rather
than the pan.
Since its evolution during the Belle Epoque era three main types of paella have become established: the original Valencian paella (paella valenciana), seafood paella (paella de mariscos), and mixed paella (paella
mixta). Valencian paella typically consists of white rice, green beans (bajoqueta and tavella), chicken and/or rabbit, white broad beans (garrofón), and snails, and is seasoned with saffron and rosemay. Most
paella chefs use a variety of short grain rice called bomba, due to it being robust and harder to overcook. Valencians insist that only these ingredients should go into making modern Valencian paella.
So possessive are Valencians about
their signature dish that not even the loveable Naked Chef is allowed to mess with it. Last year he tweeted a link to a Valencian paella recipe of his, adding, “‘my version combines chicken thighs and chorizo.” This provoked the anger of
many Spanish twitterati, who claimed his recipe was nothing like paella. Most argued that, while there are countless recipes for paella, the use of chorizo is strictly forbidden in the dish’s Valencian version. According to one commentator, it is OK
to include meat, snails, vegetables and beans, but the starring role of chorizo in Oliver’s version meant it should be consigned to the category of Arroz con Cosas (“rice with whatever”).
Here is my take on this venerable
dish; I hope it pleases my Spanish friends!
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 40 – 45 minutes
Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Viognier or Colombard
600g Chicken thighs,
225g Short grain rice
125g Tinned white navy or kidney beans
75g Frozen peas
24 Tinned snails, drained
4 Tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped
1 Red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1 Large onion, finely
3 Garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 Tsp. paprika
1 Tsp. ground turmeric
4 Tbsp. olive oil
600ml Chicken stock
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
- Heat the oil over medium-high heat
in a large non-stick saucepan and brown the chicken on both sides.
- Add the onion and garlic, and stir in the turmeric and paprika. Cook for another 2 minutes.
- Add the rice and stock. Bring to the boil and season to taste, then cover and continue
to cook on a medium heat for 15 minutes.
- Add the beans, peas, snails, tomatoes and bell pepper and cook until the chicken is tender and the rice has absorbed the stock.
“The Italians and Spanish see food as part
of a larger, more essential and pleasurable part of daily life. Not as a ritual like filling up a car, but as something that gives pleasure, like sex or music, or a good nap in the afternoon.” – Anthony Bourdain.