One of the most delicious dishes served throughout Andalucia is undoubtedly paella. ´La Paella´ is actually the pan in which the rice dish is cooked, originally always made of iron, and more recently of stainless steel, and shallow with handles on either side. The word itself is Valencian, and has its roots in the Latin ´patella´ which is a flat basket resembling the modern paella pan.
Rice was first introduced to Spain by the Moors, and fast became an economical and important ingredient for many dishes. The peasants and land workers of Valencia would add easily available ingredients to the rice including tomatoes, onions and snails, and cook the paella over an open wood fire. Rabbit or duck was added on special occasions, and chicken was included by the more well off Valencians. Seafood was not originally used in paella dishes, as it was difficult to get hold of in the fields of Valencia, and snails were the cheapest meat option available at the time.
By the end of the 19th century, ´Paella Valenciana´ was well known throughout Spain, and other regions began to add their own twists to the original recipes, with the addition of fish, seafood and pork.
The amazing popularity of this dish has grown over the years, and proves most popular with tourists and residents alike. Visitors flock to the beach bars throughout Andalucia to try this delicious rice dish, and there is no better place to enjoy it than in one of Marbella´s many ´chiringuitos´ which pride themselves on the freshest seafood and paella on the Costa del Sol.
Often cooked in large quantities, paella still tastes as good the day after cooking, and can be enjoyed cold on picnics or heated up when required. The cooking of the perfect paella can be quite a laborious task, and all Spanish households have an expert on the art of paella making, although opinions on the best ingredients to use often differ from region to region.
How to Cook Paella
Cooking paella is quite a personal task and there are no hard and fast rules where ingredients are concerned. However, when using chicken or pork, the meat and then the vegetables are stir fried in olive oil; then water is added and brought to the boil, and left boiling for half an hour or so. But this is not the only method used in the preparation. Many chefs add the water, allow it to come to the boil and at that moment add the rice. Otherwise the water may evaporate leaving not enough liquid in which to cook the rice.) After checking the obtained broth flavour and adding salt if required, the rice is added. Real paella rice is never stir-fried in oil, as pilaf. Once the rice is nearly done, the paella is removed from the heat and left to absorb the remaining water. Traditional paella has a crispy, caramelized, toasted bottom (called socarrat in Valencian) that is considered a delicacy. To achieve a socarrat, you only need to turn up the heat to high and listen to the bottom of the rice toast. Once the aroma of toasted rice comes from the pan, the heat is removed once again. The paella is ready to be served after having cooled for several minutes.
For a seafood paella, the fish needs to be cooked for a much shorter time than the meat, as it is easy to overcook white fish and squid.
There are several different varieties of paella available in Andalucia´s many superb restaurants, and in addition to the main meat or fish ingredients, peppers, tomatoes, onions and green beans are often added.
Paella Valenciana is the original paella made with chicken, pork and/or rabbit.
Paella Marisco is made with prawns, mussels, squid and often white fish.
Paella Mixta is made with fish and meat.
Paella Vegetal or Vegetariana is the most recently introduced version of this famous dish, and made only with vegetables.
Paella Negra is an interesting version, and contains seafood cooked in squid ink, which turns the rice black.
Paella Fideus is made with fine pasta instead of rice.
The perfect accompaniment for paella is a jug of cool, fruity sangria. The real origins of this drink have been lost in the mists of time, but it is undoubtedly one of Andalucia´s most popular refreshments – particularly in the summer months.
From its humble roots in Spain, sangria has become a cool party drink around the globe, and first became popular in the 1800´s when fruit punch was served at most aristocratic parties.
Every restaurant has its own sangria recipe, but the drink typically includes red wine, brandy and fruit, with plenty of ice in the jug – although this is open to experimentation and personal taste always comes into it. Fruit juice or casera is often added to dilute the mix, and liqueurs such as 43 or cointreau also complement this popular drink. A white wine version is also popular and known as sangria blanco, and a sparkling version can be made with cava.