Spain 2016: Valencia—Let’s talk Paella!

If you want to taste an authentic paella, you must try paella Valenciana. However, I’m partial to the seafood paella, especially when I find myself near the coast. On our drive from Barcelona to Madrid, we stopped in Valencia for a wonderful taste of the quiet seaside town, complete with delicious paella and a walk along the palm tree lined beach.

Let’s talk paella!

Traditional paella Valenciana does not have seafood. Instead, it includes a serious helping of meats like rabbit, chicken, and vaquetes snails (you may also add duck). One shall not mix seafood with meat in a paella if aiming for a traditional dish. The other acceptable ingredients are: green beans, butter beans and artichokes.

The true star of the dish is the local rice. A good paella is homemade and delivers a beautiful golden rice dish flavored with saffron and paprika. The other key to a good paella is the layer of caramelized rice at the bottom of the pan. No, it’s not a mistake! Paella rice is simmered slowly and is not to be stirred, the result being a lovely, crunchy and flavorful bottom layer called socarrat.

Paella is more of an activity rather than a dish: it’s traditional food cooked in the country on a Sunday, to be shared with the family. The only true paella is paella Valenciana, cooked outdoors and served for lunch. Anything else is called arroz con… (rice with… ).

In Valencia, we visited Gaston restaurant and weren’t disappointed. It was great to share a wonderful meal with my family (my husband, and mom and dad)—another beautiful memory to file away. As the photos can attest, we enjoyed every bite of it, socarrat included!

After our meal, we strolled along the nearby beach, before hopping back in the car and driving to Madrid.

Can you make paella at home?

I have tried making it more than once and although I cannot dream to match the Spanish mastery, I can attest that it’s worth it. I purchased a medium-large paella pan, but since I didn’t have the special burner, I just used my pitiful glass top range. You gotta do what you gotta do…. I tried both the paella Valenciana (sans snails) and the seafood one, adding fresh veggies.

I recommend you read through The New Spanish Table by Anya von Bremzen. You can find tips for choosing your paella pan and for preparing paella.

Paella Recipes

I encourage you to check out these recipes and find out more about each type of paella:

Spanish Sabores: Paella Valenciana

Saveur: Paella Valenciana

Spanish Sabores: Seafood Paella

Before flying out to the beautiful island of Majorca (or Mallorca, how the locals call it), we spent one night in Madrid. As per our usual, we found an AirBnB (Pilar’s place close to the airport, in Barajas area). Coincidently, we had chosen the same place to spend the night on our previous trip eight years before. The host’s son helped us settle in and he was surprised when I addressed him in Spanish. The house was cute and cozy, and the back yard/patio was a relaxing place to chill in the evening and sip on a glass of wine.

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