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Paella: the art of mastering rice

Spanish Paella, something more than food for tourists

Paella or super-yellow rice with things, sangría jar and the sea view. If you have visited Spain, you probably took part of the cliché. All of us did, at some point. And it´s nice but it´s even better when you find a real one, with all the flavor of this ancient tradition, with real first-quality ingredients (and why not, with real wine instead of sangría). Making paella equals to the art of mastering the rice with few things. Do you want to know more about this?

The history of the real paella valenciana

Moors, those guys who lived in Spain for several centuries, introduced rice into the Albufera, a natural lagoon close to Valencia city. They started growing rice so local people soon incorporated it to their diet. Once they fell in love with it, the love affair would last forever, no matters than Moors were quicked out from Spain in 1492. Actually, seems like the word "paella" would come from the Arabic term for leftovers.

It was only in 1840 when a Spanish newspaper used for the first time the term "paella". That was the official moment when this ancient tradition of the country men became a recognized culinary act. It was made only with local ingredients from the country: rice, rabbit, chicken, duck, sometimes snails. But never seafood. It was usually cooked on Sunday by men, while women were in the church. Rice was prepared in open fire made with dried vines and orange tree branches, which gave a natural smoked flavor. Paella was a local meal but also a local eating habit: the ritual of men cooking, the fact of all eating directly from the pan, the family gathering... Paella was already at that moment something more than a food. The tradition had been established.

There is a breaking point in the way of preparing it around the 60's. Those are the golden years of the tourist boom in Spain. When all the tourists blooming in the beaches, paella became popular. It needed to be cooked quicker and indoors, and most important, it needed to have ingredients that foreign people liked. Spicy pork, fish, shrimp... were soon incorporated to the paella ingredients. It was the rising of paella like symbol of Spain abroad and the ideas related to our country for the foreign visitor: summer, vacation, good times, fun. Paella became our national ambassador.

The paella pan

Paella is a Catalan word that comes from the Old French "paelle", which meant pan. In fact, in Valencia people still call the paella pan, la paellera, just like the food.

Nowadays paella pan is a round pan with flat bottom. There are three types of pan: carbon steel, stainless steel and enameled steel. The three of them can work with gas stove or firewood. Carbon steel and stainless are the most durable options while enameled is the easiest to clean. If you are planning to get a "paellera", we recommend you to read our post about how to choose a perfect paella pan in only 4 steps.

Paella ingredients

First step to get a good paella is preparing a nice "sofrito": this means frying some vegetables before stirring the rice into them. Once you stir the rice, you need to add the stock and that's it... You leave it cooking. Seems simple but it's not. You will need time to master your art. And of course, you will need to add passion and patience. Or... Find a friend like Paco, who is from Valencia, who makes this amazing real Valencia-style paella.

Inspired by this video? We hope so! But have this in mind, whatever will be the ingredients of your choice, you can't forget three. Rice, saffron and paprika are mandatory.

Saffron is a delicate and probably, one of the most expensives spices all over the world. It comes from La Mancha region and you have to warm it up before adding it. Learn more about how to get the most from a pinch of saffron.

Paprika is an orange-red colored spice.  It is made from a variety of ground and dried chile peppers, so there are different types of paprika: sweet, mild and smoky. This last one is perfect, because it recreates the smoked notes of the open fire of the real, original paellas.

Of course, we also need to mention the rice. The best are Bomba and Calasparra. These are two types of rice that absorb really well the flavors and the stock, without loosing shape.

And there is another peculiar ingredient that can be finally found in the States, las "ñoras". These are round-shape dried peppers with an intense, bright red color. They give a sweet and intense aroma.


Some people get confused with paella and fideua, another delicious dish, always present in the menus all along the Mediterranean coast. They have some things in common but... Fideua always involves fish.

You will need the same tools that in a paella preparation, but you will need to change rice for noodles. If you already have your pan and ring burner, you should give it a try. Check out this fideua recipe to get started.

The moral

Paella tastes better in a lazy day, with good company. Always start to eat it from the outside borders of the pan to the center. And keep your eyes wide open for the "socarrat": some parts of the rice that stick in the bottom of the pan and for many people, are the best of it.












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