There’s nothing more Spanish than paella, the peasant dish from the country’s Valencia region. Originally made with humble ingredients like rice, tomatoes and beans, paella Valenciana typically includes rabbit, chicken, vegetables and beans, often flavoured with saffron and rosemary.
But in the same way that the Italian pizza evolved from flat breads baked on battle shields, to the status-protected, cheese and tomato Neapolitan pizza, the original paella recipe has been varied and adapted from region to region in Spain and now there’s passionate competition over which region makes the best paella.
Rice work at Restaurant Mayfair
There are even international paella competitions. World Paella Day in Valencia brings together chefs from many countries to show off their skills and creativity, and to compete for the prestigious World Paella Day Cup. Competing chefs are selected by the public and judged by a jury of professionals. The principal requirements are that the rice must be dry, loose, whole and tasty.
The rice most commonly recommended for paella is Arroz Bomba, native to the Valencia region, which absorbs liquid while remaining firm and separate. Other short grain varieties like Calasparra can be used, but one might argue that a paella made with Arborio rice is actually a baked risotto. And if you’ve ever been served a paella made with long grain rice, you will know that it really doesn’t work: long grain rice simply isn’t absorbent enough, and somebody should have a quiet word with the chef.
In coastal districts, seafood and shellfish have worked their way into the paella marinera but paella Valenciana remains the classic version – both are on the menu at El Pirata in Mayfair’s Down Street. In fact, both have been on the menu for 30 years at this hidden London gem.