The word paella is derived from the Old French word for pan, is in reference to the specialized shallow pan used for cooking the dish. Although Paella is essentially a traditional dish from Eastern Spain called Valencia, many variants came to rise as it became popular.
To set it apart, the rice dish usually consisting of white rice, green vegetables, meat (rabbit, chicken, duck), land snails, beans and seasoning is called Paella Valenciana, owing to the regions rich soil, which grew vegetables and had vast areas of rice fields, and coastal location. These ingredients do more than make-up this wonderful dish. They tell a story – a story of the region, the season, the harvest and of the person cooking it. During the 18th century, fishermen and peasants cooked water vole meat, eels, butter beans with rice in the open air by the lake. These were the main ingredients of the early paella.
As the living standards rose, sociological revolution caused changes in paella’s ingredients as well, which included rabbit, chicken or duck and sometimes snails. On the Mediterranean coast, Valencians used seafood instead of meat. These became the most widely used and were marked as the traditional ingredients, with some substitutions depending on the season – with artichoke replacing runner beans during the winter. Paella was made to put everything that was available into the pan of rice, whether it was the meat of animals from the countryside or the fresh catch from the sea.
Modern Paella is a result of the dish crossing borders and acquiring regional influences. Recipes went from being simple to include a complex array of seafood, meat – sausages, chorizo, vegetables and seasonings. This to the Valencians is not “paella”. Other versions are considered inferior and bizarre. Since they invented paella, they should know better, so when making paella, cook as the Valencians cook.
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Now that you have cooked an authentic Paella Valenciana, serve it ala Valenciana too – garnish with fresh rosemary, serve on a paellera and share with people close to your home and to your heart.