Food Around The World: Spain – La Paella

by Lara
seafood paella

La paella is probably the most known Spanish dish, often called the queen of all the tables (La reina da todas las mesas). In Barcelona, I took my first cooking class to learn how to prepare this famous dish, and it was probably the best spent $3o there.

What are your first three association on the mention of Spain? Mine would be sangria, paella, and Javier Bardem. Not necessarily in that order, depends if I’m thirsty, hungry or, well…you know. 😊

If you would ask me what’s my favorite thing about traveling, I would probably answer – eating. Trying different food and local dishes is my travel hobby, and the souvenirs I bring home are usually spices and recipes which I collect either from my friends or from the cooking classes.

My favorite cuisine has always been Italian, and I could probably live on all the variations of pasta and risotto. When I traveled to Spain, I said I am not coming back without learning how to make a proper „paella.“ It is not risotto, but close enough, at least that’s what I thought.

In Barcelona, I took a cooking class my hostel recommended. It can be confusing searching online for the right course or any sightseeing tour because they all look very similar although prices quite vary. I will save you some time and trouble and help you find the best Barcelona Sightseeing Tours.

The cooking class one I took was $30 for 4-hour class which included:

  1. the visit to famous Barcelona’s market La Boqueria where we bought all the ingredients,
  2. preparation of paella and instructions,
  3. tapas and
  4. lots of sangria.

It was my first time taking a cooking class so I didn’t know what to expect. I just figured if I am going to eat paella I could as well learn how to do it. Group of about 10 people has met in front of La Boqueria, Barcelona’s most famous food market where our chef for the day was waiting for us.

„Paella“- where the name comes from?

The second thing our chef told us was:

There is no right recipe for paella. La paella is a dish that everyone prepares in their way and it depends on the area, the cook but mostly on the ingredients found in your fridge.

The only permanent ingredient of paella is rice while everything else depends on your taste and imagination.  Tomatoes, onions, snails,  beans… rabbit, duck or chicken… chorizo…seafood if you are making seafood paella, and a touch of saffron for a unique color and flavor.

Our group opted for a seafood paella, so the main ingredients we searched for in the market were shrimps, mussels, and cuttlefish. After buying all the needed ingredients, we headed towards the cooking school where everyone together, guided and instructed by our chef, were about to prepare our first paella!

Students of the cooking class were from all over the world, all different age and background which made this experience even better.  Love for Sangria was the one thing we all had in common which made us friends very quickly. We gathered around the big kitchen table and listened to the chef’s instructions. Someone had to cut the onion, others paprika, someone else was cleaning the cuttlefish, but everyone had their task.

The best way to prepare paella, as we were told, is to cook it for many people. Paella is the type of a dish where preparation is important as eating itself;  the Spaniards bond over la paella in the same way Americans do over a grill in their garden.

Traditional pan for preparing la paella is a large, round flat pan with two handles. If you don’t have something like that use a similar pan or wok. La paella has to be cooked on the fire (ideally over a wood fire for that smokey taste) but the gas ring will work just fine.

After two and half hours it was the time to try our creation! First on the menu were of course- tapas. Everyone ate fast because we were too excited to try our Internationally made paella!

All I can say is- this „fridge-cleaning“ dish is an absolute heaven for taste buds!

And finally, I will give you the recipe for the seafood paella we made. Also, know that you don’t have to follow all the ingredients strictly and you are free to add or remove anything you wish. Well, except for the rice. It would be good that you keep the rice in. Usually, I prepare paella for 4-5 people, so the amounts I am writing are based on five portions.

WHAT DO YOU NEED:

  • rice – people often get into huge discussions over what exact type of rice should be used for la paella, but let’s not complicate- you will have perfectly fine paella if you take shorter/medium grain rice. And of course, if you don’t mess up something else. 😊

How much rice? I could never get this right before! I would always put way too much rice than necessary, but  our chef gave us one brilliant advice. He said you should put for each person that much rice that fits into your palm. If you have a really small palm, give it a little extra.

  •  500 g of shrimps
  • 300 g of mussels
  •  500 g of cuttlefish
  •  VEGETABLES: 1 green and 1 red paprika, jalapeno (how much depends on how spicy you want it to be), 1 broccoli, green beans, 4 cloves of garlic, 1 red onion, parsley
  • 500 g of grated tomatoes
  •  olive oil
  • salt
  • 1 tablespoon of saffron
  • white wine

HOW TO DO IT:

  1. Clean and wash the mussels. Use a separate pot to cook the mussels. Cover the bottom of the pot with olive oil and add 1 clove of chopped garlic, a bit of persley and 1 dcl of white wine. Add water and cook until the mussels don’t open. Take the mussels out of the water which you will use as a broth.
  2. Broccoli also cook separately in a different pot.
  3. Clean the cuttlefish.
  4. Cut all the vegetables.
  5. Heat the olive oil in the pan for paella.
  6. Add onion and saute.
  7. Add chopped cuttlefish and sauté until cuttlefish becomes soft(ish).
  8. Add shrimps and saute.
  9. Add garlic and jalapeno and saute.
  10. Add green beans and paprika.
  11. Add grated tomatoes and saute.
  12. Now you finally add the rice and mix it with everything.
  13. Add the broth you have from mussels. Don’t stir it anymore!
  14. Add spices- salt and saffron.
  15. Wait until the rice is almost cooked.
  16. 5 min before the end add mussels and broccoli.

EXTRA TIPS:

It is super important that after you mix rice and add the broth, you don’t stir it anymore because this is the main difference between paella and risotto. While risotto should constantly be stirred to get that creaminess, la paella you don’t touch, so it gets a crispy bottom. If you are afraid the bottom will stick to the pen, you can shake the pan now and then but stop it towards the end of cooking.  You want your paella to have a crispy layer on the bottom and to be soft inside.

This was the version of seafood paella I learned in my cooking class in Barcelona. Sometimes I also like to add chicken and make a mixed paella. As my chef said, whatever you have in the fridge, works! Here is one of my first home made paellas.

my paella

That’s it! I hope you will make a delicious paella and have fun with your friends and family while preparing it because that’s what is all about.

Let me know how was it and if you liked the recipe. If you are already making la paella, share with us your recipe and tips!

About the cooking class

It was my first time taking a group cooking class, and I loved every minute of this experience. I think it is important that your chef is fun but also an informative person who can teach you something but who will not make the class boring. Our chef and the whole group were fantastic, and after the class was over, we continued to enjoy the Barcelona’s nightlife. If you want to try paella in Spain, I highly recommend you to take the cooking class to understand the whole process, culture, and history around this famous Spanish dish.

If you want to take the same class I did, you can find it here.

And in the end, a few fun facts about La paella!

Δ Did you know that the biggest paella in the world was made in Madrid in October 2001? The pan was 21m long 26cm deep, and it could feed 110.000 people! To prepare this giant paella, 6000kg of rice, 12.000kg of chicken and rabbit, 5000kg of vegetables and 1000 L of olive oil were used. Crazy, right?

Δ Did you know that National Paella Day is on March 27th?

Δ Did you know that typical way of eating la paella is directly from the pan which is placed in the middle of the table?

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[…] For the inspiration check out this post about my Erasmus experience or the one about famous Spanish dish La paella. […]

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