So you think you know all about Paella?

Peter Morrell finds out that there is a lot more to this ubiquitous Spanish dish than meets the mouth.

I recently went along to the Alquimia (Alchemy in English) restaurant in Putney. It’s in a beautiful location with its large windows giving views across the Thames. The object of the visit was to learn all about Paella and sample a wide range of them with matched wines by Gonzalez Byass. It was a fascinating and informative experience, here’s what I found out

The Origins of Paella

Paella originated on the east coast of Spain, at Comunidad Valenciana (a region which includes Castellón, Valencia and Alicante) It is a rice dish originally created by peasants. They used to cook rice on iron casseroles adding vegetables, rabbit, chicken, snails, pork ribs, depending on the specific part of the Valencian region which is close to Albufera, a coastal area filled with rice fields.

The “Valencian Paella”, believed to be the original recipe, consists of white rice, green beans (bajoqueta and tavella), meat (chicken and rabbit), white beans (garrofón), snails, olive oil, seasoning such as salt, saffron, sweet paprika (pimentón dulce) and rosemary.

Another very common but seasonal ingredient is artichoke. Seafood paella replaces meat with seafood and omits beans and green vegetables. Mixed paella is a free-style combination of land animals, seafood, vegetables, and sometimes beans.

All the rest of traditional Spanish rices dishes are called “Arroces” (singular Arroz) Spanish for Rice. The dish is widely regarded as Spain’s national as well as a regional Valencian dish; Valencians regard paella as one of their identifying symbols and it has had a few ingredients added over the years, such seafood, and a meat and seafood variant that created Paella Mixta.

Types of Spanish Rice

The kind of rice used for Paella is from the Japonica grain variety (premium pearly round rice). In Spain you will find a great variety of rice, mainly produced in Comunidad Valenciana, Murcia, Cataluña, Extremadura, Andalucía and Ebro valley. The two rices used for the dishes we sampled were Bomba and Grano Grueso, considered the best in Spain as they absorb large amounts of stock.

What is consider Paella in Spain?

Spaniards consider Paella are the following variations: Valencian Paella (Spanish: paella valenciana), Mixed Paella (Spanish: paella mixta), Seafood Paella (Spanish: paella de marisco), and also Vegetarian/vegan paella (Spanish: paella de verduras)

But despite the different ingredients that can change slightly from one region to another, none of them, which came as a surprise, have got Chorizo or pepper in them!! Adding any of these two to Paella is a “No, No” in Spain. You can find traditional Spanish Rices from Valladolid, Albacete or Murcia for example that can contain Chorizo, Black pudding or game meat but then, these would be called ARROZ not PAELLA (even if it could be cooked on a Paella pan at home)

Some traditional Spanish rice dishes (known as Arroz) are:
Arroz Negro, Arroz con bogavante, Arroz con Conejo or Arroz con Costra.

The Dishes I tasted were:

Arroz del Senyoret
Shelled shrimps and fish off the bone rice matched with Albariño Fillaboa wine

Paella mixta
Seafood & Chicken Paella matched with Beronia Rueda wine

Arroz negro
Squid, prawns and squid ink black rice matched with Tio Pepe sherry

Arroz con bogavante
Lobster and Seafood rice matched with Beronia Viura wine

Arroz con costra
Chicken, sausages, black pudding and egg crust matched with Beronia Crianza wine

Arroz con conejo
Rabbit rice with vegetables and aromatic herbs matched with Beronia Tinto Reserva wine

Arroz meloso con Venado
Venison rice matched with Beronia Gran Reserva wine

Arroz con Leche
Cinnamon Rice pudding matched with Matusalem Sherry

The food and wine pairings were all excellent, the most notable wines were the Beronia Viura 2014, a white Rioja with tropical notes, citrus and flinty dry freshness and the Beronia Gran Reserva 2006, which showed its elegance and depth after nine years of maturation.

Our food was cooked by the two Head Chefs at Alquimia, Jose Segura and Sergio Ferrari. I was intrigued about how they created such intense flavours in the dishes. I chatted with Jose after the meal and he explained that the stocks; meat, seafood and vegetable, take five hours to cook. This extracts the very essence of the constituents which is then soaked up by the rice. The finishing touches like the seafood and meat are all made with well sourced ingredients, I was particularly impressed with the lobster and the venison.

It has been a very informative and tasty event which had told the story of Paella and Arroz and showcased the delicious food of Alquimia and the quality of Gonzalez Byass wines and sherries

Useful Links

Alquimia Restaurant 30 Brewhouse Ln, London SW15 2JX
020 8785 0508

González Byass Wines