Spanish Tapas

Paella - the traditional Spanish all-in-one taste experience

You can make your paella with just about anything that takes your fancy - within reason!

Paella is one of Spain's most well-known dishes.

Although it's not strictly a form of tapas, paella is so traditional and Spanish (and delicious!) that it would be selfish of me not to include it here.

This dish originated in the region of Valencia as a simple, rustic meal cooked outside over a wood fire. These local countrymen used whatever ingredients they could find and ate it straight from the pan.

As with all things Spanish, this is the way to enjoy it the most. However, nowadays it can be found in many restaurants as a feature dish with much more elaboration in its preparation and presentation.

Paellas are made from any variety or combination of ingredients. These could include chorizo, pork, chicken, rabbit, vegetables, langoustines, lobster, prawns and mussels. To a paella purist, though, it should be made with seafood - and lots of it!

Essentially it is a rice dish cooked in a large shallow pan. These come in a huge variety of sizes to suit all occasions.

It is traditional for festivals and fiestas to make a huge paella for everyone who turns up for the celebrations. Some of these pans can be up to two metres (6ft) in diameter. That's a serious paella!

Just like the old Spanish countrymen, you can use whatever ingredients, herbs and spices you have to hand. The one thing you must always use, of course, is saffron. It is this which gives the rice its beautiful golden colour.

Over the years, paella has remained basically the same although, like tapas, there are hundreds of different recipes and regional variations.

The following recipe and photographs are for an easily-made seafood version and are reproduced by kind permission of Orce Serrano Hams.

You will need: (serves 8)

  • half kilo (1lb) mussels
  • half kilo (1lb) cockles or clams
  • half kilo (1lb) squid
  • half kilo (1 lb) swordfish (or tuna)
  • half kilo (1lb) fresh prawns
  • three ripe tomatoes
  • one onion
  • one red pepper
  • one green pepper
  • handful of fresh parsley
  • four cloves garlic
  • four strands saffron
  • 1 kilo (2 lb) paella rice (short grain)
  • 3-4 pints fish or chicken stock
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper

How to cook.

1. Prepare the vegetables. The peppers, onion garlic and tomatoes should be diced into very small pieces.

paella ingredients

2. Prepare the seafood. Clean the mussels and cockles. Remove the bone from the squid and slice into rings. Cut the swordfish into bitesized chunks.

3. In a large paella pan, heat the olive oil and then add the onion, garlic, peppers and tomatoes.

4. Cook on a moderate heat until the vegetables begin to soften but do not allow them to brown.

5. Add the squid and swordfish to the pan and cook for a few minutes, then reduce the heat.

paella - cook the seafood

6. Meanwhile, steam the cockles and mussels until they are just beginning to open. Remove them from the heat and set aside.

7. Add the rice to the pan, turn up the heat and stir the rice well allowing it to mix with the fish and become coated with the oil. Let the rice cook for 3-4 minutes.

8. Slowly add the fish stock to the rice, stirring gently. Cook on a high heat for five minutes then reduce the heat.

9. In a mortar, bash the saffron strands with a little salt and the parsley, add a spoonful of water and mix well.

10. Add the saffron and parsley to the paella pan and mix well so it is evenly distributed.

paella - add herbs

11. Allow to cook for 10 minutes stirring only occasionally.

12. Go back to the mussels and open the shells discarding the half without the mussel in.

13. Add the prawns and cockles to the dish and cook for a further 5 minutes.

paella - add prawns

14. When the rice has soaked up the stock, turn off the heat and add the mussels.

paella - add mussels

15. Cover the dish with foil and allow the paella to rest for a few minutes.

paella - cover with foil

16. Remove the foil, decorate with slices of lime or lemon and serve.

paella - ready to serve

17. Enjoy!

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