It is a Pan, it is a Dish: it’s Paella!

paella vizcaya

Paella is a Catalan word which derives from the Old French word paelle for pan which in turn comes from the Latin word patella for pan as well.  Valencians use the word paella for all pans including the specialized shallow pan used for cooking paellas. However, in most of Spain and throughout Latin America, the term paellera is more commonly used for this pan, though both terms are correct, as stated by the “Real Academia de la Lengua Espanola”, the body responsible for regulating the Spanish language.

In 1840, a Valencian newspaper referred to “Paella” as the food as well as the pan, and since that day the word had the two distinct meanings: the actual rice dish, and the pan it is cooked in. La paella is traditionally and preferably made of iron, but now often made of stainless steel. The base of the paella is flat and should be of a good thickness. The pan is circular and shallow, and has round handles on opposite sides.

During the centuries following the establishment of rice in Spain, the peasants of Valencia in the Mediterranean coast of Spain would use the paella pan to cook rice with easily available ingredients from the countryside: tomatoes, onions and snails. On special occasions rabbit or duck might be included, and the better-off could afford chicken. Little by little this ‘Valencian rice’ became more widely known. By the end of the nineteenth century ‘paella valenciana’ had established itself.

Nowadays whole families will troop off to a restaurant to eat paella, or make it at home with all those present lending a hand with the preparation. The whole thing becomes a mixture of party, ceremony and debate, or rather, considering the volume at which it is maintained; argument between the master paella cooks who are present and who are all convinced they know best how to make it.

However, there is nothing more agreeable than a paella picnic, when everyone crams themselves into cars, the boots laden with food and drink, to bump their way down to a favorite beach or up into the mountains. There, wood is gathered for the fire and olives and sausage are nibbled, while discussion rages over the rice, glistening yellow and bubbling in the warm air. It is the most sociable of occasions.

With the arrival of the Spaniards to Ybor City, Paella made its way to Tampa and it has been a culinary staple of this city since. Like I said, the original Paella Valenciana is typically made of rabbit, snails and vegetables, green beans and a type of lima bean call ”garrofon”  in Valencia. Here in the States I think the most popular version is the Paella Marinera which is the seafood Paella. However regardless whether it is sea food, meat , or just vegetable paella, the way of cooking is the same and the basic ingredients are also the same.

The making of paella begins with a sofrito, which consists of garlic, onion, tomatoes and bell peppers cooked in olive oil, and is used as the base for many dishes. We then add our meat, seafood, or both if you want to create a mixed paella.  When making a seafood paella, I will wait until close to the end of the cooking process to add shrimp, scallops or other seafood because it cooks quickly. The rice used in Valencia is Bomba rice or Calasparra (from Murcia), if you can’t find it use Arborio which is very similar. Saffron and Pimenton (Spanish paprika) is use to give the distinctive yellow color. Add a cup of rice per person and double the amount of stock. Let it cook for about 20 minutes and garnish with pimentos and green peas. Paella is very versatile and you can use any meats, seafood or vegetables that you like and create your own paella.

Thank you very much Chef Felix