No Spanish cook has the same recipe for paella as another. Paella is basically a rice dish, named after the large, round, shallow pan in which it is cooked. In inland Spain it is made with vegetables and rabbit or chicken. Along the coast it is more likely to be prepared with fish or shellfish, or a combination of both. It is truly a movable feast. Aficionados will tell you it must be cooked over a vine wood fire in the open air. This isn’t strictly necessary but there are a couple of basic rules you must follow. The use of best-quality Spanish short grain rice is essential, as are first-quality olive oil and real saffron stamens. After that it’s pretty much down to you what you put in it. There are some exquisite rice dishes simply cooked with squid ink and broad beans (this is not strictly a paella, although it is cooked in a paella, and is normally called arroz con that is to say, rice with ...). Restaurants that offer arroz instead of paella tend to be quite serious and authentic because, it must be said, paella has become a bit of a catch-all dish - rather like the classic quiche Lorraine, which became bastardized by wine bars in the Seventies when it was thought that anything cooked in a pastry case with cream was a quiche - not so!
I cook paella quite frequently in my garden, in a simple tin paella, 50cm/20 inches in diameter, over a huge portable gas ring. You can buy a tin like this from any hardware store in Spain for a couple of quid. The appropriately sized gas ring is also available for next to nothing and you can take it home with you after your next holiday!
A 50cm/20 inch paella dish will cook enough for about 10 people, and you will need the following ingredients:
First heat some olive oil in your pan and fry the chicken or rabbit until it is crisp on the outside. Then add the garlic and onions and stir around with the meat until they are soft. Then add the rice and stir it around until each grain is coated with oil. Season with salt and pepper. Next stir in the tomatoes and red peppers. Add the bay leaves, thyme and saffron and then pour in enough stock or water to cover the rice. Put some kind of makeshift lid on top - a sheet of aluminium or a clean dustbin lid will do - and cook gently until all the liquid has been absorbed. At this point the rice will not be quite cooked. Add the mussels and/or clams, the frozen peas and the prawns. Replace the lid. The natural juices from these ingredients will provide the extra liquid needed to finish cooking the rice. The dish is ready when the clams and mussels have opened. A well-cooked paella should have a crunchy crust on its bottom. The choice bits are the scrapings off the bottom of the pan.
© 2000 Keith Floyd estate. All rights reserved.