One of the best things about travel is experiencing local dishes. When we lived in Valencia, Spain—the home of paella, we not only ate it, we learned to cook it. Thanks to expert guidance, it was not only edible, but rather tasty.
Early on in our 2019 stay in Valencia we took a food tour with a local named Mimoza. Food tours are one of our favorite ways to get to know new homes on the road, the culture, and local happenings. Oh, we also get to taste food. We got all those in our few hours on a sunny Valencia October afternoon, along with striking up a friendship.
It turns out that Mimoza and her friend, Gemma, do private cooking lessons to teach people how to cook paella. Gemma is a native Valencian who grew up on this tasty rice dish. Several weeks after our arrival we gathered on a local rooftop patio where Mimoza’s boyfriend, Oli, had cold beer ready and Gemma was ready to turn us into paella chefs—well, maybe assistant chefs.
When I think of paella, I think of a rice and vegetable dish with shrimp, mussels, and other seafood. But traditional paella valenciana doesn’t use seafood, it features chicken, rabbit, and duck. Seafood paella is known as paella de marisco.
Moors began to cultivate rice around the 10th century, and the state of Valencia is one of the biggest producers in the world of this staple. Paella means “frying pan” in Valencian, the regional language. In 1840 a local newspaper first used the word paella to refer to the popular rice casserole. Today, it is synonymous with this world renown dish.
Even though Gemma speaks little English and our Spanish is rudimentary, the language of cooking is universal. She guided us through the steps of preparing the vegetables, spices and meat. As we added ingredients to the cast iron pan on the open burner, it was transformed into Paella Valenciana. It not only smelled fabulous—it was culinary art.
During the lesson we talked with Oli and Mimoza about the town, living there, and the local rugby scene. And we were entertained by their adorable one year old son.
When we finished we poured more wine and put the dish in the middle of a low table. Paella is traditionally served family style—eaten right out of the pan, although that might have changed in the current environment. The five of us gathered around the table and dug in.
If you visit Valencia—one of our favorite cities, you can contact Mimoza for tours or cooking lessons. She can be reached at +34 632 283 163 or [email protected]
Following is a traditional Paella Valenciana recipe. You can buy specialty pans for paella. But if you can also just use a wide and large pan. The one we used for the following recipe was roughly 16 inches across.
- 1 pound Chicken
- 1 pound Rabbit (can substitute another pound of chicken.
- 3 tablespoons Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 ripe tomato (large)
- ½ pound of green beans
- ½ pound—about 2 cups of garrofón (lima bean)
- 2 cups Valencia rice. If you can’t find Valencia rice, any short or medium grain rice.
- 6 cups stock/water
- Garlic (4 cloves, peeled)
- Sprig of fresh rosemary
- Saffron (generous pinch—about ¼ teaspoon
- 1 teaspoon Paprika
- 2 teaspoons Salt
Prep: 15 min
Cook: 1 hr 30 mins
Yield: 6 servings
- Heat the paella pan, add the oil and when it gets hot, add the meat (chicken and rabbit, cut into small pieces) And garlic, salt to taste.
- Sauté it over low heat until the meat is seared and golden.
- The next step is to move the browned meat to the sides of the pan and add the tomato (grated) and vegetables (lima and green beans), maintaining the same heat.
- Once everything is well cooked, add the water almost to top of pan, Season with paprika and a sprig of rosemary and heat to boiling. Cook for about 50 minutes.
- When the entire pan begins to boil, add the rice (half as much rice as water), saffron and remove the rosemary. At this moment the fire needs to be at its maximum.
- When the rice has cooked for about 10 minutes, decrease the heat gradually for at least another ten minutes.
Once the paella is done and all the liquid has evaporated, let it stand for a few more minutes covered with aluminum-foil, and then it’s ready.
The tastiest part of the paella are the crunchy bits, stuck to the pan. Serve it family style: handout spoons and everyone gets a “slice”.