The culinary dish paella finds its origins in the Valencia region of the Iberian peninsula known today as Espania or Spain. Round rice, the principal ingredient of paella, was introduced to “Spain” in the eighth century CE by the Moors after their invasion and conquest of Iberia. 

The Arabs and Moors, it is said, brought the rice west on what appears to have been a long-winded journey. Rice of course had been cultivated extensively throughout the Middle East by the Nabateans, a trading people who were the middlemen for all goods traded from Asia and the Far East. They had developed, over centuries, caravan cities/towns along a trade route that stretched from Oman on the Indian Ocean to Ashkelon on the Mediterranean sea. The round rice used for paella in Spain is Japanese rice varieties used also for the making of sushi.

I am a little perplexed as to why it took so long for rice to arrive in Spain when it was a staple of the Nabateans both BC and for centuries before the Arabs set off conquering the Middle East, North Africa and Southern Europe.

An example of a “paella grande”
Barcelona circa. 2000.
Photo credit The BFD.

The dish paella gets its name from the large pan that it is cooked in, called a ‘Paella’. Paella started off like most foods as a popular ‘peasant food’. As at one time most people fell into the general category of peasants, it was eaten widely. Simply, the dish is round rice cooked with whatever is available. On the coast, sea foods were the additional ingredients; in the small inland pueblos, that scrawny chicken scratching in the dirt ended up in the paella if he wasn’t quick enough. Most paella are traditionally flavoured with saffron and more recently with hot or sweet paprika.

This is another of those very simple can’t fail dishes – all peasant fare usually is.

Chicken Paella (feeds two)

Ingredients:

  • Round rice x 1 cup
  • Medium sized onion diced fine
  • Garlic x 3 cloves
  • Zest of one lemon
  • Saffron x 3-4 strands
  • Chilli pepper seeded and scraped to allow the degree of ‘hot’ that you like
  • Red sweet pepper cut in strips
  • Frozen peas x 100 gram
  • Pargit/deboned chicken thighs x 2
  • Parsley, small bunch, stalks separated from leaves.
  • Chicken stock or water x 500 ml
  • Tomato puree x 1 tablespoon
  • Salt & pepper.
  • Olive oil

Method:

Put a shluk of olive oil in a pot on medium heat, add the onion, stir until it clarifies, add garlic, lemon zest, saffron strands, chilli pepper, parsley stalks, cubed pargit. Stir for around 5 minutes, add red pepper and stir for another 5 minutes, then add rice and stir for a minute, add hot water or chicken stock, add pinch of salt and pepper, bring to a boil, then reduce and let simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring regularly.

Put lid on and cook for another 5 minutes, add salt and pepper if required, add chopped parsley leaves, stir, then serve. “Voila” as a francophone Spaniard would undoubtedly say.

Buen provecho! As the Spaniard blessed.

Chicken Paella. Photo credit The BFD.

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The BFD Food Column: Chicken Paella
Daniel Goldwater

Daniel Goldwater

Ex-New Zealander, lover of the buzz that emanates from Jerusalem, Israel and the wider Med. region. Self-trained chef and entrepreneur, trained Pastry chef and former Personal chef to the Ambassador of...