It’s Thursday and it’s time for some food, in Barcelona that means one thing, It’s Paella time! We walk into a small neighbourhood restaurant and place our order. While we wait, we enjoy a glass of cold red wine, great on a hot summer day. Somehow, going out for a paella always gets me excited. And when the big dish arrives, the food fest can start. The salty, flavourful rice has a perfect texture and is full of surprises. We ordered a mixed paella so there is chicken and shellfish and some delicious prawns. There is more than enough so after we have finished everything, all we can do is sit around satisfied and have some more wine.
Paella is Spain’s most famous dish. A dish that you can now find all around the world. It was first made in the region of Valencia, most likely in the nineteenth century but possibly even earlier. The main ingredient is rice, a product that was first introduced in Spain by the Moorish people who came to settle here in the eighth century. Over time, rice was produced in several regions in Spain and it was used more and more as a staple in the kitchen. It was often eaten with fish and vegetables. Eventually, people started using a certain type of pan to cook the rice. This shallow type of pan was called a “paella”. When steel-making techniques improved and became more affordable, more people could buy and use paella pans and so the rice dish became very popular all through Spain.
There are many different styles of paella. The traditional Valencian version is usually cooked with chicken and rabbit, different types of beans and artichokes. The beautiful flavours and colours come from the use of saffron and smoked paprika. Right on the coast it was more usual to use fish and seafood and there are also versions that have a mix of both meat and seafood. So unlike many people might think, not every paella has shellfish and prawns. There is a version for everyone.
Cooking or going out to eat a paella is a real social thing. Something you do with family or friends. In Valencia and many other regions in Spain, the typical day to eat a paella is Sunday. But in Barcelona, Thursday is actually the day of choice. You will find the dish on the menu of most restaurants and bars, both for lunch and dinner. Often going out for lunch is a bit cheaper than dinner. Just be aware, some bars serve paella that comes from the freezer and has been heated up in the microwave! A proper paella still has to be cooked when you order it, which will take around 20 minutes.
And if you really love it, you can learn how to prepare it yourself. There are some great recipe books you can buy that will explain the exact methods used to create the perfect paella so you can create your very own. We call our book the “Paella Bible” and have made some great paellas after lots of trial and error, learning about the different techniques and practising a whole lot. It’s well worth the effort once you get it right!