Paella Valenciana (Rabbit and Snail Paella)
Paella comes from the countryside around Valencia, where it began as a humble dish for workers in the orchards and vegetable fields. They simmered what ingredients they could find tomatoes, beans, rabbit, snails in a wide pan over the cuttings of orange trees before adding rice to absorb the flavors and make a filling midday meal. From there, paella drifted into villages and then cities and eventually became Spain’s national dish. Only later did the Marisco version emerge on the Valencian coast which is what many people know paella as, a beautiful artistic looking dish with various seafoods on top.
Paella is a rice dish. Not a dish of rabbit or seafood along with some rice. Rice is the foundation, and everything is done to flavor the grains. Short or medium grain rice soaks up the most liquid and flavor. The best options are varieties from Valencia’s rice fields like bahía, senia, and bomba. An ideal paella has a thin layer of toasted, slightly caramelized rice on the bottom of the pan—the socarrat.
Along the way, it became a tourist-trap staple. It’s an unfortunate truth: many restaurants serve parboiled rice with coloring additives in place of saffron. If eating out do your reasearch and make sure the arroceria serves traditional authentic paella. Or, ideally make your own. Paella is at its best cooked at home, made with traditional techniques and served the moment it’s ready to an appreciative crowd. Nothing in Spanish cooking compares to carrying a massive pan of golden-brown rice out to the table, or the pleasures of digging into one. “Paella is really just an excuse to gather people.”
It is a rainy Sunday here in Torrevieja so lets make Paella! First important detail, the size of your pan. I have a smaller pan, 32cm or 12 inches. Most of the recipes I found on-line are for pans 16-18 inches so you will need to adjust if your pan is smaller or larger. I am writing this recipe for my pan. You need to make sure the rice / water / pan ratio is correct. Too much rice and the paella will not turn out, it should be thin enough to cook perfectly while developing that all important socarrat. It should never go above the rim of the pan.
Here are your ingredients portioned for a 12 inch pan.
1/3 cup olive oil, 2 chicken thighs, 2 tomatoes grated, 2 teaspoons paprika, 4 garlic cloves, 20 safron threads, rabbit, caracoles (snails), Romano beans (flat beans), fava beans, salt, 200 grams rice, 600 grams water.
Steps 1: Put your paella pan on medium-high heat and toast the saffron threads for 1-2 minutes. Remove and place in a small amount of warm water and set aside. Add the olive oil. Then sprinkle all of the salt in a circle towards the edge of the pan. This will keep the oil from splattering too much. Now add the chicken and rabbit. Brown the meat on all sides over the next 20 minutes turn it every 3-5 minutes, allowing it to brown and caramelize a bit. All of the bits that stick to the pan here will come off when you add the tomato and water in the future and they’ll really bring a deep flavor to the cooking liquid.
Step 2: Once the meat is well browned (about 20 minutes of cooking) push it to the sides of the pan. The olive oil should pool in the center. Add the green beans, cut into one inch pieces. Sauté the beans for about three minutes.
Step 3: Now push the beans aside and add the garlic. Sauté for about 30 seconds (until fragrant) and add the fava beans.
Steps 4: Next, add the paprika and gently sauté for about one minute. Finally, add the crushed tomatoes and start to mix everything together. The tomato should start to deglaze the pan (loosen all of the stuck bits below). This is good, so feel free to help with a good scrape (I’d recommend a wooden spoon).
Steps 5: As you start to mix in the tomato, you can also add the saffron (which you should soak in warm water for at least 10 minutes prior to adding). Next, you add the water. We know the rice is a 3:1 ratio. Here is the big debate, water or stock? Essentially what we are doing here is making a stock, yet as a stock purist I would usually make my stocks over a few hours or even a few days so If you want to add a stock cube here, do so. Or better yet if you have home made stock in the freezer add that. Add the snails and bring to a boil.
note 1 – I did not add additional stock cubes here and the flavor was perfect. note 2 – I pre-cooked the snails in boiling water for 20 minutes before starting the paella.
Steps 6: Add the rice. Right after you add the rice you can stir just a bit to make sure the rice is all covered by broth and more or less evenly distributed. After this quick stir (only if needed) you will not stir again no matter how tempted you are! This is key to making sure the rice cooks properly and doesn’t release tons of starch.
Step 7: Now you wait for the rice to cook! But of course, it’s not quite that simple. Here you want to cook the rice on medium-high for the first 10 minutes (a rapid simmer). Then turn the heat down to medium-low, and cook for another 8-10 minutes. The exact cook time depends on the variety of rice (for reference, Bomba rice takes 20 minutes in total).
Step 8: To achieve the coveted socarrat (the crispy, caramelized bottom) turn the heat up at the very end of the cooking process. You’ll start to hear a rain-like sound — let it go for about 30 seconds, but make sure to stop and turn off the heat if you smell burning! This is a tricky part of the paella process that takes some practice, but I find that once the popcorn/rain noise starts I let it go for about 30 seconds and get a decent amount of socarrat on the bottom. Before digging in, let the rice rest. Take it off the heat and cover it with a dishtowel. Let it rest for five minutes. Now it’s time to eat! The best way to eat paella is family-style — directly out of the pan using a wooden spoon. If you prefer to use plates, just make sure to scrape the bottom of the pan and give everyone some socarrat!