It is the barbecue of Kansas City, the cheese steak of Philly, but this is no American chili cook-off; it is World Paella Day in Valencia, Spain and if there are two things Spaniards do best, it’s terrace life and paella.
Paella — known to be the national meal of Spain, had a very humble start. It origins are rooted in farming culture on lake Albufera in the 15th century where farmers and workers alike, would use any ingredients that were growing around them to include in the saffron-rice blend brewing over the campfire, whether it be onions, tomatoes, shellfish, or beans. Instead of individual servings, each farmer would have his or her own wooden spoon to eat straight out of the paella pan, thus creating a history of community associated with the dish. Since its growing popularity over centuries of new variations and twists, everyone will claim their paella is the best.
As the sun rises over La Plaza del Ayuntamiento, chefs from around the city of Valencia prepare for a historic cook-off to see who can best interpret this traditional dish while adding their own creative touch. Some paellas included “arroz negro” that is rice stained with squid ink and others with octopus (or pulpo) and marisco (shellfish). The traditional way of preparing a paella is using rabbit and chicken in a bed of saffron rice and vegetables including Spanish green beans and “Garrofón” or butter beans locally grown in Valencia.
Over 13 countries around the world participated in the celebration and contributed to this year’s motto ‘Compartimos la Paella con el Mundo’ or “We Share the Paella with the World” through masterclasses in London with chef Quique Dacosta as well as showcases in Paris, New York, and Zurich. But what better place to celebrate the special day than in the city where the dish originated?
I started my day in the Mercado Central, the largest market with fresh produce in Europe, to see what the vendors had available for all the household paellas that would be made around the city. After seeing all fresh fish, I couldn’t wait any longer for my chance at a world-class paella, so I booked it over to Ayuntamiento and watched in awe as chefs prepared mosaic masterpieces of rices, spices, and meats, one after another.
The dish is unique in the sense that a paella is easy to prepare, yet practically impossible to master. This being said, it is a comfort food most households around the world can pull out for any dinner party, despite the absence of a paella pan. In order to prepare an authentic Paella Valenciana, you must begin a search for some key ingredients that can make or break a quality paella. To end this article I will share a recipe for a paella that I consider to be authentic after preparing many myself here in Valencia as well as with my Spanish family living in New Orleans.
For a traditional Paella Valenciana recipe, check out my food blog: https://www.hatzfeldcreative.com/the-international-table/2018/9/5/spain-paella
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