It is one of the most popular and famous dishes worldwide, while it is hardly impossible for someone to define its ingredients. There are so many variations and chefs, with many of them claiming that their recipe is the most delicious or the most authentic.
However, the origin of the plate is quite humble. If we get a better understanding of its history, it will help us explain the majority of the variations.
Valencia, in the eastern Spain, is the indisputable homeland of paella.It is one of the biggest natural ports in the Mediterranean and its area, is one of the most important in the production of rice in Spain, since Mauritanians import it in the land, more than 1200 years ago.
At first paella was the meal of farmers and workers, which they cooked for lunch in firewood. It was made with rice and other ingredients that they had at their disposal in the countryside: tomatoes, onions and escargots with a little bit of green beans in order to add taste and flavor. In specific occassions, they add rabbit or duck, or even chicken and saffron for extra colour and taste.
Paella was traditionally eaten directly from the cooking vessel, while each person cooked it having its own wooden spoon.
Gradually, while the rice of Valencia was becoming available for more people, the recipes of paella were widespread and variations started to come up. Taking into consideration that Valencia was a seaside place, seafood was starting to be added in the dish.
Right now, the name paella describes more than 200 typical dishes with rice in the region of Valencia and we must add in them more dishes from the other regions of Spain and of the world. Nowadays, the <<real>> paella doesn’t include seafood but pieces of chicken, rabbit and escargots accompanied by white and green beans.
The word ”paella” , literally refers to the cooking vessel and not to the dish. The word ”patella” in the old dialect of the region, which has a latin origin, means pan. However, there are more theories about the origin of the dish, which are beautiful but less believable. The most romantic of them claims that the dish was prepared for the first time by someone for his beloved fiancee and the word is one limitation of “para ella” (which means “for her” in Spanish) . Just as happens in all the legends, so in this one, there is a little bit of truth in it. Although in Spain the duty of cooking is traditionally undertaken by women, the preparation of paella is a duty of men! In addition, some people claim that the word comes from the arabic “Baqiyah”, which means “leftover” and again it emphasizes on the humility and the arabic origin of the dish.
In Spain paella is still unique. Families are gathered in homes and restaurants in order to eat it, but they also cook it on weekends, on celebrations and on the picnics. There are numerous competitions throughout the country and in many celebrations an enormous paella is in the epicenter.
Bomba rice is believed to originate from an indian variation , which reached the Iberia from the Middle East. It is well-known for his property not to stuck, due to the amylose that it contains. It has short, almost round bean, white-pearl colour and an equable shape.
It is cultivated in the region of Valencia from the Middle Ages, while since 1929 the variation has been genetically recorded and it is protected. The production of Bomba rice is limited and its cultivation rather hard, while for many years it seemed to have stopped.
The variations of bomba and calaspara are cultivated near the city of Calaspara in Spain in the Mourcia mountains that border Valencia. It is cultivated along the river of Segura, where cold water is flowing from the mountain. Cold water delays its development and grows about one quarter later that the other variations and its beans are drier than the others.
One important property of this variety of rice, is that it can absorb up to three times its volume without <<blow>>. As a result, it needs more water in cooking in comparison to other varieties.
Another important charachteristic is its capabilty to absorb easily the flavors and the scents and even if it is overcooked, it remains <<al dente>>, fluffy and entire, increasing its volume in diameter and not in length. This is why it is considered , from the professionals, one of the best variations and it is called by the chefs the <<king of rice>>. It is mainly a gourmet rice, one of the most expensive and it lies in the shelves of the best delicatessen.
It is mostly recommended for the paella, while it is used for creamy and succulent dishes of rice.