How to cook paella.  Different variations.

Many people know or have heard about Paella.

Although it is an original dish born by the Spanish Mediterranean coast, it has spread all over the world. Today you can find the name of Paella offered in many restaurants of Europe, America and Asia.

Since rice was imported in the Mediterranean by the 1st millennium BC, coming from Asia through the commercial routes, there has been a development of new ways to cook rice – ways that are totally different from the ones Asian cultures used to use.

Eventually, a specific way of cooking it, using a flat, shallow, round recipient, was developed, giving birth to the Paella dish.

Having been born in the same region as where Paella was many centuries ago, I’m really astonished by how many variants and different ingredients there are used across the Continents.

And all of them keep the same name: Paella !!

Let’s talk a little bit about the original variations, so you will be able to compare it to the “versions” of Paella dish that you are offered anywhere in the world. Being able to recognize the names of what you are offered, you will become sort of “expert” in paella cooking.


The original recipe is the Valencian Paella, named after the region where it comes from.

Valencian Paella’s main ingredients (apart from rice, of course) are chicken, rabbit (optional duck), fresh tomato, beans, wide green beans and large white lima beans.

You also can find Sea-fruit Paella, probably the best known outside Spain and the one most served to tourists at the Spanish restaurants.

It substitutes meat by sea fruits, like shrimps, prawns, mussels, cuttlefish and squid, all cooked using fish stock prepared in advance. You keep some vegetables, like tomato and wide green beans.

A variation done as a mix of the previous two is called Paella Mixta (literally, mixed paella). It basically contain a mix of the above two types: meat and sea fruit, using the same vegetables.

I would say this is the least appreciated kind of paella, because mixing meat with sea fruits, you are not able to appreciate the good taste of both of them. Nevertheless, it’s common in the restaurants that offer paella to tourists in Spain.

We have also “Arros a banda” (literally “rice aside”), where the rice is cooked without meat or sea-fruit pieces, but using the fish stock that gives all the flavor. Also fresh tomato and small pieces of shrimps and cuttlefish are used.

If you use the same variation above, but add squid ink, that gives it a totally black color, then you have “Arros negre” (literally, black rice).

A very tasty variation is done ONLY with vegetables, called “Arros de verdures” (literally, rice with vegetables) where you can use fresh tomato, artichoke, green and red fresh pepper, wide green beans, peas and green asparagus. This is a simple but healthy and tasty variation.

If you are not able to identify what you are served with any of the above six names and definitions, probably you are not eating an original paella recipe.

Hope this helps :-)



Maria Brull

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