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What is a paella and how to prepare and cook one?


Paella is a traditional Spanish dish that originated in Valencia. It is a rice-based dish that can be made with different ingredients, such as seafood, meat, vegetables, or a combination of them. Paella is usually cooked in a large shallow pan over an open fire or a gas burner. The rice absorbs the flavours of the broth and the ingredients, creating a delicious and satisfying meal.

Will see how to make one, but, where does the word come from?

Etymology of Paella

The word paella comes from the Catalan language, which is spoken in the Valencian Community, where this dish originated. It means “frying pan” and refers to the wide, shallow pan that is used to cook the rice and other ingredients over an open fire. The word paella is derived from the Old French word paelle, which in turn comes from the Latin word patella, meaning “small pan” or “platter”.

Some people claim that the word paella has a different origin, based on the Arabic language that was spoken by the Moors who ruled Spain for several centuries. They say that the word paella comes from the Arabic word baqaayya, meaning “leftovers”. According to this theory, the dish was created by the servants of the Moorish kings, who would take home the rice, chicken, and vegetables that their employers did not finish at the end of their meals.

However, this claim is not supported by historical evidence or linguistic analysis. The word baqaayya does not appear in any Arabic documents from Spain, and it does not match the phonetic evolution of Catalan words from Arabic. Moreover, the dish of paella was not documented until the 19th century, long after the Moors had left Spain. Therefore, most experts seem to agree that the word paella comes from the Latin word patella, through Old French and Catalan.

man wearing blue and red plaid shiort

Here are some steps to prepare and cook a paella with more details

Choose your ingredients. There are many variations of paella, but some of the most common ones are paella de marisco (seafood paella), paella de carne (meat paella), and paella mixta (mixed paella). You can also customize your paella according to your preferences and the availability of ingredients.

Some of the essential ingredients are rice, broth, saffron, olive oil, onion, garlic, salt, and paprika. Other ingredients can include chicken, rabbit, pork, chorizo, shrimp, mussels, clams, squid, peas, green beans, artichokes, tomatoes, peppers, and lemon wedges. You will need about 4 cups of rice and 8 cups of broth for a large paella that serves 8 to 10 people.

Prepare your ingredients. Wash and chop the vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Peel and devein the shrimp, leaving the tails on for presentation. Scrub and debeard the mussels and clams under cold running water. Discard any that are open or cracked. Cut the meat into bite-sized pieces and season with salt and pepper. You can also marinate the meat or seafood with some lemon juice, garlic, and parsley for extra flavour. Rinse the rice under cold water until the water runs clear. This will remove some of the starch and prevent the rice from sticking together.

Heat the oil in a large paella pan over medium-high heat. A paella pan is a round metal pan with two handles and a slightly concave bottom that allows the heat to distribute evenly. If you don’t have a paella pan, you can use a large skillet or a roasting pan instead. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes. Add the paprika and saffron and stir to coat the onion mixture. Saffron is a spice that gives paella its characteristic yellow colour and aroma. It is expensive but worth it for an authentic paella. You can also use turmeric as a substitute if you don’t have saffron. Add the rice and stir to coat with the oil and spices. Cook for a few minutes until the rice is slightly toasted.

Add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes, or until most of the liquid is absorbed. Do not stir the rice during this time, as this will make it mushy. You can gently shake the pan from time to time to distribute the heat evenly. You can also adjust the heat as needed to make sure the rice is cooking at a steady pace.

cooked food on grilling pan paella
What is a paella and how to prepare and cook one? 3

Arrange the meat or seafood on top of the rice in a single layer. Cover the pan with a lid or aluminium foil and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until the meat or seafood is cooked through and the rice is tender. You can also add some water if the rice looks too dry.

Add the vegetables on top of the meat or seafood and cook for another 5 minutes, or until heated through.

Remove from heat and let it rest for 10 minutes before serving. This will allow the flavours to meld together and create a crusty layer of rice at the bottom of the pan called socarrat.

Garnish with lemon wedges and parsley if desired.

Enjoy your paella with some bread.

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