The gastronomy of the Valencian Community is characterised by being very rich and extensive, as well as by using local, fresh and natural products in its preparations. However, today we are going to discover the origins of paella, the representative dish par excellence of Valencian cuisine.
Both nationally and internationally, paella is appreciated and recognised, being prepared, with varying degrees of success, in places as diverse as Holland and Japan. However, its origins are inextricably linked to Spain. More specifically, in the province of Valencia.
But how did paella become the icon it is today? Let’s take a look at it now.
What is the origin of paella?
The region of Valencia has always been known for being the land of rice. In 1238, King James I ordered to remove the rice crops from the city because he considered that they generated unhealthy hygienic conditions for the citizens.
As a result, the rice fields were moved to the Ruzafa neighbourhood on the outskirts of Valencia. With the passage of time, they ended up staying in the Albufera area in an ecological environment that is perfect for cultivation as it is an enormous expanse of fresh water.
Rice was commonly used by the inhabitants of the rural areas of Valencia, as it was an easy food to prepare. To do so, they combined it with other ingredients that they had nearby, mainly fresh vegetables from the garden or game meat, such as hare or partridge. They also used saffron and olive oil to enhance the flavour and aroma of their dishes.
What is the original recipe for paella?
One of the first recipes made with rice was in the Llibre de Sent Sovi, a medieval recipe book written in Catalan in which a recipe with rice, flour and almond milk appears.
Subsequently, in the Llibre de Coch, other important recipes were presented, such as: baked rice in a casserole or rice with meat broth. This recipe book was written by Robert de Noia in 1520, cook to King Ferdinand I of Naples, and includes the original recipe for paella.
Another work of great importance in relation to the origin of paella is: Agricultura General de Gabriel Alonso de Herrera, from the 16th century. In this book there is an appendix explaining how to prepare Valencian paella using a special technique.
Why is paella called what it is called?
So far we have seen the origin of paella, but it is worth asking where it gets its name from. In recipe books of yesteryear it was called “arroz a la valenciana” (Valencian rice).
Although there are many theories about the origin of the word paella, the most widely accepted is the one that refers to the container in which the recipe is cooked.
The paella is a kind of shallow round pan, made of aluminium or stainless steel and usually with two handles. The design of the paella is designed to allow all the ingredients to be cooked evenly and to achieve the typical texture of rice with this recipe.
In conclusion, paella means frying pan in Valencian, as well as the dish that is cooked in it.
A journey through history, from its origins to the present day.
Centuries after its origin, Valencian paella is still the typical dish of the Valencian Community. It has crossed borders and has become the favourite dish for many people around the world.
However, from the original paella there have been variations of the recipe that have also been very successful, such as: fish paella, meat paella, mixed paella, vegetable paella, there are many ingredients that can be used in all these modalities.