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National Spanish Paella Day

Paella, pronounced pi-AY-yuh, is a Spanish dish of saffron-flavored rice combined with a variety of meats and shellfish, i.e. chicken, pork, chorizo, rabbit, snails, prawns and mussels. Other ingredients are garlic, onions, sweet peppers, peas, artichoke hearts and tomatoes can also be added. It is named after the special wide, shallow, two-handled pan called a “paellera’ in which it is traditionally cooked over an open fire or gas burner.  The same pan is used to serve the paella.  Paella was developed in the Spanish coastal town of Valencia in the 1800’s by farm labourers. They cooked a mix of rice, snails and vegetables in large pans, over an open fire, to eat communally at lunch-time.  The best paella’s are made from Spanish rice’s such as Valentia or Bomba, but Arborio rice can also be used to get a similar effect.  Try this recipe for Seafood Paella by Carolié de Koster from the Art Of Cooking recipe book (p. 445).  Scroll down for useful information on the spices saffron, turmeric and paprika used in paella.

Paella cooked over an open fire
Paella cooked over an open fire

Saffron, the spice used to flavour and colour paella, is the world’s most expensive spice. Each purple flower provides only three stigmas, which must be carefully hand-picked and then dried — an extremely labor-intensive process. It takes over 14,000 of these tiny stigmas for each ounce of saffron. This pungent, aromatic spice is primarily used to flavor and tint food. Fortunately, a little saffron goes a long way. Saffron is sold in both powdered form and in threads (the whole stigmas).  The threads should be crushed just before using. Store saffron airtight in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months.  One ml saffron may be substituted with 2,5 ml turmeric.

Turmeric has a warm, bitter taste and is frequently used to flavor or color curry powders, mustards, butters, and cheeses.  Turmeric comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant which is part of the ginger family.  It has a tough brown skin and a deep orange flesh.  The powder is obtained from the dried root.  The root of turmeric is also used widely to make medicine.  Turmeric is used mainly in Indian and South-East Asian cooking. In Indian curries, biryani’s and other rice dishes. A basic ingredient of curry powder; and often used in pickles, relishes, salads and rice, such as yellow rice which is served with Bobotie (see my December 2012 Festive Recipes for my recipe).

Turmeric
Turmeric

Paprika is a spice made from the dried fruits of bell peppers or chili peppers or mixtures thereof.  It is used as a seasoning and garnish for a variety of savoury dishes from many different cuisines.  It is usually associated with the cuisine of Hungary, Spain and Portugal.  The flavor of paprika can range from mild to pungent and hot, the color from bright orange-red to deep blood-red. Most commercial paprika comes from Spain, South America, California and Hungary, with the Hungarian variety considered by many to be superior.  Most supermarkets carry mild paprikas, but look out for smoked paprika and use a little less than the recipe asks for. Paprika can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months.

Paprika
Paprika

 

Seafood Paella
Seafood Paella