2013-International Year of the Paella…Ten Commandments and some Etiquette!

2013 Year of Valencian Paella.

2013 has been designated International Year of the Paella, a dish which began it´s life in Valencia where it is still cooked with much love and care , but similarly some real atrocities are perpetrated and called Paella which are not…..some even sold within a few metres of the Town Hall in Valencia City!

The leading light behind this initiative is Paco Alonso, journalist, t.v. presenter, full-time wit, comedian, some time DJ and above all a man with a huge knowledge of Valencian Gastronomy and the people who produce it! His blog, in Spanish can be read at www.pacoalanaranja.es/ . Paco is also leader of the Platform for Gastronomic Information a Facebook group dedicated to gastronomy which has a very active membership  in Valencia province and ambassadors all around the world.

Paco has written the definitive work on paella…`La Paella Valenciana, del ADN al I+D+i.´

In an attempt to aid with the diffusion of knowledge and completely behind the initiative to promote Valencian Paella here is my humble explanation of the ten commandments for producing the perfect example and some important rules of etiquette to be observed when invited to eat one…..especially for those who are visitors to Valencia or aspire to cooking this dish in foreign parts!

The Ten Commandments.

Valencian DO Rice.

Valencian DO Rice.

1. Valencian Paella can only be cooked with rice from Valencia. Risotto, Basmati, wild rice and pudding rice are not only unacceptable they have entirely the wrong properties. Valencian rice is available in the UK from several outlets, is not expensive even when it comes in a small sack. It should me demarcated DOP Arroz de Valencia and if it says Albufera or Sueca on it as well….even better!

2. Do not call a rice dish Paella when it is not. Simply put all paellas are rice dishes but very few rice dishes are Paellas!

3. Paella should be eaten on a Sunday or Christian day  of obligation. It is always preferable to eat paella in a large group because it is a dish of celebration provoking friendship…..or as the Spanish put it so well….amistad!

4. Always preserve your traditional family recipe with it´s secret ways passing this information on to your children and Grandchildren to preserve it for posterity. Wherever there are 20 Valencians gathered there will be at least 21 variant  views on the correct manner to cook it!

5. Do not fry the rice, this dish is not Chinese, Thai or from any Asian tradition!

Preparing the Vegetables.

Preparing the Vegetables.

6. Do not add non-permitted vegetables to paella. The holy trinity is Runner beans, Lima beans and a locally grown variety….known here as ferradura, garrofo y tabella. At certain times of the year one or other may be out of season. If you cannot find dried versions which you soak overnight, it is permitted to add artichokes, properly prepared, as an alternative. Peas, red peppers, onions etc are the devils spawn and never to be added. Wild rosemary is permitted and briefly added during the point of bringing the water to the boil.

7. Always return any utensils you have to borrow from your neighbours clean and without signs of oxidation. This includes gas rings, gas bottles and the paella pan.

8. It is very bad manners to make impertinent comments to or about the cook or attempt to discredit him or her whilst at work. Just because you think you can cook a paella better is no excuse! It is however good manners to keep the cook supplied with cold beer, wine and a supply of the tapas everyone is enjoying. His ( or hers) is a grand labour!

Beer to Refresh the Cook.

Beer to Refresh the Cook.

9. Always defend paella cooked over orange wood. They are the best, the wood is easy to control, burns slowly but with an even heat and lasts a long time. As long slow even cooking produces the best paellas this is important. As is the water! Water from Valencia is high in calcium which adds to the way the rice cooks. Valencian water is called `H dios O´and is considered miraculous.

10. Do not covet your neighbours `socarrat´. This is the slightly burn´t bit on the bottom of the paella where the rice has been in contact with the caremelisation produced by cooking the meat. It is considered the best bit. ( More on this in the Etiquette section.)

Paellas were traditionally eaten from the paella pan which sat on a low table. The diners sat around it each with their spoon and ate the portion directly in front of them. Today you are more likely to be served a portion directly on a plate. The pointed wooden spoons which were traditionally used have been banned by the Health Department and are now gifted as souvenirs in better restaurants!

The Etiquette Associated with Eating Paella.

Imagine the paella is like a box of cheese portions. Your portion is in front of you and not to either side! Today you help yourself to your portion with a metal spoon!

Your guests should be mixed up, men amongst women, children amongst the elderly. This ensures a fairer distribution……. remember this is not àlmuerzo popular at your neighbours where the men all sit together and the hostess does all the cooking and waiting!

The Finished Item!

The Finished Item!

There are those who display a preference for soaking their portion in lemon juice, freshly squeezed. Ask both your neighbours permission before performing this heinous act.

If the paella is good it is good etiquette to praise the cook every couple of mouthfuls!

The ingredients will be spread evenly throughout the paella. If you do not like a particular ingredient it is permitted to remove it to the centre of the pan to be shared by the other diners.

This brings me to the vexed question of the rabbit’s head. Often placed in front of the English guest it is normal to be told you are the guest of honour and this is the most important part of the dish……….my friends….your hosts are `aving a laarf´ and teasing you. The only merit the head has is to add flavour and the enjoyment on the hosts face when you see it. Be warned!

Do not compensate by stealing anything from your neighbours portion or plate. The first offence will be marked with a gruff warning. Similarly do not rotate the pan to give you access to other bits you may fancy. Subsequently you might well end up washing the paella pan and oiling after the meal. ( The worst bit!)

Occasion for Celebration!

Occasion for Celebration!

When your spoon hits the bottom here you will encounter the `socarrat´. Not always easy to remove without committing several offences such as rotating the pan or shaking ingredients onto your space it is  sometimes more polite to forego this delicacy and wait for pudding!

The meal is over when the last guest leaves the table or when the paella pan is empty – the indisputable sign the paella was good!

A Quick guide to what is not a Paella.

Some of the worst abuses have been committed by famous T.V. chefs. Jamie Oliver, Rick Stein and even the `saintly´ Delia are all guilty.

Paella does not have onion, red pepper, chorizo, peas, whole artichokes, shrimps, prawns or anything else other than the permitted ingredients and variations here in Valencia. Thus in the Ribera Baixa around Sueca it is permitted to add `pilotes´ ( small pork balls flavoured with cinnamon) and similarly at Xmas the paella in the Maestrat may also contain a similar variation. It is important to respect local tradition in Valencia  but you should be aware Paella Sandwiches such as those sold in Tesco, Pizza Hut´s Paella Pizza as found in Poland, frozen pre-prepared paella and the monstrosities produced in Mexico and the Canary Islands are correctly called `arrocidades´ for that is what they are.

Now go and enjoy the real deal!

Something to Drink With it!

Something to Drink With it!

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