A Checklist of the Best Paella and Rice Dishes in Spain
The one dish that every tourist wants to try in Spain is paella. Paella is one of Spain’s national dishes and is favorite among the locals. This dish is as traditional as it gets, and any Spaniard will tell you that nobody does it better than their mother. But did you know there there is a wide variety of paellas out there? Here we give you a checklist of the best paella that you’ll fall in love with at first bite!
What is paella?
Paella is a rice dish that’s originally from Valencia, in eastern Spain. The word “paella” means “pan” in the Catalan and Valencian languages, a nod to the vessel it’s cooked in. The dish that we know today goes back to the 19th century, but rice dishes were made all the way back in the 10th century in Valencia. Rice cultivation rose during the Moorish period in Spain, and by the 1400s it was a part of the everyday diet.
Around the 1800s, people in the Albufera region of Valencia started incorporating meat and vegetables into the rice and cooking it over an open flame. This is considered to be the birth of paella valenciana as we know it today. Over the years, many new varieties of paella have come about, using a plethora of ingredients.
Paella most commonly is made from arroz bomba, a short-grain white rice. All varieties contain some common ingredients like olive oil, saffron (for the classic yellow coloring), water, paprika, tomato, garlic, and salt. Different varieties stem from here, each with their own recipe. Traditionally, paella is cooked in a special pan over an open flame, but it can also be made on the stove top or even in the oven. To get the best paella possible, the flame method is preferred to create the socarrat. This is the crispy, crunchy layer of rice at the bottom of the pan and is a delicacy to Spaniards.
- Paella valenciana: the original. This is the best paella to try if you only have the opportunity to eat one rice dish during your time in Spain. This dish always includes rabbit, chicken, green beans, runner beans, and rosemary. Optional ingredients are artichokes, duck, snails, and butter beans.
- Paella de mariscos/marinera: for the seafood lover. There are no beans, meat, or veggies in this paella, only rice and seafood. Typical ingredients are squid or cuttlefish, mussels, clams, and shrimp. The seafood is cooked in the shell in the rice, unless it is listed as paella del senyoret. In this version, the seafood is removed from the shell before cooking and is a little easier to eat.
- Paella de carne: for the meat lover. This is the paella most people prepare at home, a spinoff of paella valenciana. This usually has chicken in it but no rabbit, and sometimes even pork for flavor. Instead of beans, peas are usually a replacement.
- Paella mixta: for the indecisive. Can’t decide if the best paella for you is meat or seafood? Why not have both! This paella has the best of both worlds: all the seafood of a paella marinera and the chicken of paella valenciana.
- Paella vegetal: for the veggie lovers. This is the best paella if you’re looking for a vegan or vegetarian option, even though it’s tasty enough for all foodies to enjoy. The main ingredients here are artichokes, mushrooms, asparagus, olives, and capers.
- Arroz negro: for the adventurous. If you like seafood paella, chances are that you’ll love arroz negro. This dish gets its color from squid ink, which gives the rice a stronger flavor, too. It has many of the same ingredients of seafood paella, including squid, cuttlefish, and shellfish.
- Paella blanca: the rare find. Paella blanca is paella valenciana without the saffron. This means the rice doesn’t turn yellow and stays white, and all the ingredients inside stand out more.
- Arroz con bogavante: for the gourmet foodie. The key ingredient here is lobster, which gives this paella a unique, rich flavor unlike any other. However, this is usually the most expensive paella, but the price is worth every bite.
- Arroz a banda: seafood paella’s cousin. Also from Valencia, this dish is rice cooked in fish broth with seafood added in. The fish stock gives it a hearty, seafood taste, and it’s often topped off with ali-oli.
- Fideuà: for the pasta lover. Almost exactly the same as seafood paella, but vermicelli noodles are swapped out for the rice. It’s every bit as delicious, but a fun way to change things up!
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