What would a trip to Valencia be without paella? This has become such an iconic dish in the region. Its incredible popularity with tourists has simultaneously driven the price up and the quality down. We decided not to take our chances. Since Norman has prepared paella many times and quite enjoys doing so, we took advantage of the huge array of very inexpensive fresh fish easily found at the local supermarket and shopped for the ingredients instead.
The recipe Norman uses was given to me by one of my Spanish professors in college so it is certifiably authentic, but he modifies it somewhat making it even more robust in flavor and variety. This particular iteration including sea bass, mussels, clams, and shrimp turned out to be one of the best paellas he has ever made. Valencia claims to have produced the original paella recipe which is made with chicken, rabbit, and sometimes duck. This seems a bit ironic since Valencia sits right on the coast with an abundance of seafood which is what we prefer in our paella.
As you may know, the key ingredient in paella is saffron which gives it its characteristic golden color and distinctive flavor. Saffron comes from a particular crocus flower that has bright red stigmata and styles in the center referred to as threads which are collected and dried.
Saffron has long been the world’s most expensive spice by weight. It’s important to get the real deal as there are many imitations and products of lesser quality. Saffron is produced in India and Iran, but the very best comes from the La Mancha region in Spain which we were excited to find for half the price of our usual source, Trader Joe’s. We’re hoping to purchase a larger amount to take home.
Paella is rice-based dish and can be made with many types. Norman has used regular short grain rice and Arborio rice (the kind used to make risotto) with much success. However, the traditional rice used in paella is a special short grain rice primarily cultivated in eastern Spain called Bomba. It’s rather difficult to find in the US, pretty expensive, and not always fresh. Of course, we had no trouble finding it here for about a third of the price. We’ll have to try to fit some of that in our suitcase too.
Paella is one of those dishes that tastes even better the second day as the seasonings and flavors have time to meld. We divided the leftover rice into two bowls and put them in the fridge. Then Norman steamed some extra clams and mussels along with more green beans, peas, and red peppers serving up “mini” individual paellas the following day.