A delicious rice treat

Explore the origins of paella with Preeti Verma Lal

Valencian paella

Stepping into a 100-year-old rice mill in Valencia (Spain), Lord Shiva was not even a thought. But it was his name that first echoed in the city’s Rice Museum. “Lord Shiva fell in love with Retua Dumila, the fairest of maidens. She asked Shiva for food she would never get tired of. Shiva sent his messengers around the universe but no one found the food. Sadly, Retua Dumila died. Nearly 40 days after her death, an unknown plant miraculously appeared from her grave. Lord Shiva knew that this is the sacred plant that Retua Dumila wanted. It was rice…”

The museum’s 11-minute documentary on rice that began with Lord Shiva took me by surprise. I, honestly, didn’t know this story that is part of Valencian rice lore. Inside the museum, I did learn how rice is sorted, de-husked, whitened for longer shelf life. 

According to Amaya Raez of Valencia Tourism, Muslims of Al-Andalus brought rice cultivation to the vicinity of Valencian Albufera Natural Park in the 10th century. The Spanish name for rice, arroz, derives from the Persian orz, to which the Arabs prefixed the particle al. Al-orz subsequently evolved into ar-orz and ar-ruz, which was first mentioned in Castilian Spanish in 1251. 

During the 11th century, the rice plantations were expanded and irrigation systems improved to turn Valencia into the nation’s rice bowl. Today, three varieties of rice (bomba, senia and bahia) are grown over an extension of 16,000 hectares. It was by Albufera Lake that the locals invented a stew based on rice and local produce, which gave rise to paella, the most famous of all rice dishes. 

Paella derives its name from the ‘pan’ used for cooking it. The original paella recipe includes chicken, rabbit, green beans, lima beans, tomato, rice (with a València denomination of origin), olive oil, water, saffron, garlic and salt. Other paella versions are: arroz a banda (characteristic of the province of Alicante made mostly with coastal fish); arroz con costra (typical in the area of Vinalopó and La Vega Baja in Alicante, it has meat and sausages); cullera i mosca paella (made with meat and snails accompanied by artichokes, green beans, tomatoes and red peppers). 

This is not all. Aside from the traditional Valencian paella, there are over 40 other rice dishes including arroz al horno (rice baked in the oven), arroz negro (rice cooked with squid in its own ink) and arròs amb fesols i naps, (a brothy rice made with beans and turnips). 

So important is paella to Valencia, the region of its birth, and to Spain that stakeholders have formed Wikipaella, a non-profit organisation to encourage knowledge and acknowledgment of authentic paellas. On its official website, Wikipaella even offers precise percentages of each ingredient in a paella. For example, paella Valenciana should have 7% meatballs, 16% artichoke, 45% garlic, 8% pork ribs while arroz a banda can only include 9% mussel, 5% crayfish, 30% squid. 

In Valencia’s swank El Coso Restaurant, I learnt that paella is eaten straight out of a pan with a wooden spoon. It wasn’t March 27, National Paella Day, but the paella was so scrumptious that it made my day. 

Recipe: Paella

Ingredients:

(Note: You can substitute chicken/rabbit with eat/vegetable of your choice) 

Paella
Explore the origins of paella with Preeti Verma Lal

1 cup of extra virgin olive oil.

1 chicken cut into pieces.

1 rabbit cut into pieces.

300 grams of fresh green beans

1 medium tomato

1 tablespoon of sweet paprika

Saffron

6 cups of water

200 grams of lima beans

Salt to taste

3 cups of Bomba rice

A bunch of rosemary

Method: 

Heat oil over low flame in the paella pan (wide and shallow receptacle). Sauté the chicken and rabbit for around 5 minutes. Add vegetables, beans, artichokes and grated tomato to the pan. Fry for several minutes and add the paprika and fry over a low flame for one minute after adding the water. Next, add the saffron, lima beans and salt to taste. Turn up the heat and boil for approximately 15 minutes. Spread the rice evenly across the pan and let it boil for 15 minutes. During the last 7-8 minutes, add the rosemary. Leave it to cook for around 5 minutes before removing it from the pan.

The paella is cooked when the liquid has evaporated but the mixture is not completely dry.

In order to achieve the famous socarrat (the crispy caramelised bottom), leave it to cook a little longer over a low flame.

Recipe courtesy: Amaya Raez, Valencia Tourism (www.visitvalencia.com)

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A delicious rice treat

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