Just for those interested in what is normally referred to as Valencian paella, the list of ingredients below is genuine and I will explain why I can sustain that. I am not going to defend that this is the only authentic paella recipe, not even that there is such a thing as an authentic or original recipe. I am offering you the ingredients and quantities per person used by a local Valencian, rice farmer himself, who has had to cook paella for big parties for decades since he was very young and happens to be a neighbour of mine.
|Grams per person|
|On-the-bone rabbit meat chunks||100|
|On-the-bone chicken chunks||100|
|Flat green beans||62|
|Butter beans (garrofo)||38|
You will also need salt, saffron and a stem of fresh rosemary. Some cooks add small, local white beans known as tavella and a few use also snails. In spite of tradition, today more than half restaurant cooks locally do not use snails. Not everybody enjoys or agrees with eating rabbit meat and therefore it is quite often replaced with more chicken. When available, Valencians use a variety of green bean with reddish streaks known as ferraura. But this one, even locally is not as easy to find as the ordinary flat green bean –known as bajoqueta [bachokehtah] and therefore in most cases the latter is more commonly used. The local butter bean or garrofo is in fact original from Peru and it was introduced in Europe by Columbus and his men. Different varieties are grown in the region and all of them provide a distinct personality to paella.
I obtained this list of ingredients from a neighbour in his 70’s named Vicente, the archetypical male name in Valencia and the city’s patron Saint. He explained that he was only a boy when he was assigned the task of cooking lunch for the whole group he was working with, out in the country. Every so often, during the summer, we all get together and cook paella for well over one hundred neighbours. Vicente is regularly asked to take care of one of the four big paellas. Every paella or pan that we use will feed around thirty people. Tall order, but we all trust Vicente and the other neighbours who play cooks.
There are many resources and descriptions on the Internet about the actual, detailed cooking process. Very briefly, the traditional method consists of stir frying the meat until really brown, adding the vegetables to the stir, tomato being last and then boiling the whole lot with the spices and salt for a good period of time to produce a substantial stock where the rice is finally cooked.
Paella for Valencians is a lot more than a traditional dish. It is felt as a cultural ensign and serves as a central pivot for socialising with family and friends. Tradition dictates that it be cooked outdoors on a bonfire and once finished, it is surrounded by the group and eaten off the pan using wooden spoons. Some restaurants, especially in the country, offer the option of placing the dish in the middle of the table for the party to eat off it instead of being served on individual plates.
It is customary that your waiter –or waiters if the paella is big- show the finished result to the party for them to nod for acceptance, gratitude and recognition of the cook, before it is served, be it whole or plated. In situations like ours where it would not be appropriate to make fire on the floor, butane cylinders and purpose built, ring stoves do the job except for the smoky hint that you get from wood fire.
Paella is so adorned with ceremony, habits and plenty of myths. Valencians for instance insist on the unnegotiable need to use round rice only, no other variety and are obsessed with its cooking perfection: cooked rice has to be al dente, tender but firm and as loose as possible; too hard is unthinkable but too soft, sticky, overcooked rice is in Valencia a synonym of disaster, a cook’s worst sin. Other requirements include that the colour of the resulting rice has to be somewhat yellow, never pale and that the entire paella is neither salty nor too sweet.
The authenticity of paella recipes has almost become an international discussion which at times is interesting and even funny. Paella originated among peasants in the vegetable growing farmland surrounding the city of Valencia. This is often cited as a main reason to sustain that there is no original, unique recipe. Peasants adapted it to the season’s available ingredients, their own taste and ability. Over time a non-written general consensus has been reached to name paella or Valencian paella what we have described or with a few little variations accepted by the orthodox, like for example adding chunks of artichoke. But it is very important to bear in mind that this consensus exists only in the city of Valencia and an area around it that doesn’t even go beyond 30 to 60 miles. The moment you reach other provinces in the Valencian Community like Alicante to the South or Castellon, what they understand as paella becomes substantially different. The difference becomes even bigger in further areas in Spain and more so in other countries.
Unlike people from other parts of Spain, Valencians have never been mass emigrants and when they have left their homeland they have never stood out as competent conveyors of their cuisine culture or ambassadors of Valencian paella. It is somewhat funny when you see fellow Valencians take offense because our ensign dish is everywhere openly reinterpreted, sometimes in very creative manners and disrespectful heretics take the name of paella in vain, so they feel. If you need some entertaining reading, take a look at the comments left beneath Jamie Oliver’s various paella recipes.