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Answering this question, I made an ass of myself claiming that

  1. Onions are not used in a real Paella.
  2. Tomatoes neither.
  3. Paprika / Pimentón neither as this will overpower the saffron flavor.

I've seen loads of recipes with all of these ingredients in some way or other (and I posted a recipe with all of these ingredients :-( ).

As I understand it, onions are not used because the will 'pass' the rice. I have no idea whether this is true or not, but I've never eaten a paella with onions. Not that I usually eat paella.

The tomatoes and pimentón will impart too much flavor so it will overpower the saffron taste (by far the most expensive spice on earth). Food coloring can be used to make the paella 'saffron' yellow.

The question is, what defines a real paella? One definition of paella is the 'pan' or 'skillet' itself, meaning that whatever rice dish you make in it can be called paella, but I'd rather have a more 'traditional' view as to what ingredients can or cannot/should or shouldn't be used.

  • Onions (yes or no)
  • Tomato (yes or no)
  • Paprika (no :-)
  • Saffron (yes)
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1  
What does it mean to "pass" rice (other than handing it to someone)? –  baka Sep 15 '11 at 11:46
    
@baka, when it goes past its proper point of cooking, it becomes mushy. –  BaffledCook Sep 15 '11 at 14:19
2  
What do you mean by a "real" paella? One that you'd likely find in Valencia today? One that you would have found in Valencia ~200 years ago? Paella-like rice casseroles (of Moorish origin) have existed in Spain for over 600 years, well before before the tomato was introduced from the Americas. Would they count? –  ESultanik Sep 15 '11 at 14:51
    
no true scotsman –  baka Sep 15 '11 at 16:15
    
@ESultanik, I did say I was making an ass of myself... –  BaffledCook Sep 22 '11 at 17:51

4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Penelope Casas' The Foods and Wines of Spain explains that

Paella is a word that has come worldwide to mean a Spanish rice dish with a variety of seafood and usually some chicken. However, the word originally referred only to the pan in which the food was cooked--the paella or paellera, from the Latin word for pan, patella. Paellas actually come in endless varieties, depending on the chef and on regional specialties.

She emphasizes the technique more than traditional ingredients (which she notes that no two Spaniards will agree on), but includes recipes for a number of different rice dishes from many regions, all prepared in basically the same manner.

Interestingly, her Paella a la Valenciana (Tradicional) actually doesn't call for saffron (it does call for paprika). The meats are snails and rabbit, and she does call for an onion, but it's only used to steep for a while in the broth, and later discarded. She includes a single tomato which is cooked down with green peppers and garlic. Most of her other paella recipes include onion in this step, but it is notably absent from this recipe. She also calls for lima beans and "wide, flat string beans", and serve the dish with scallions on the side.

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Traditionally paella is a poor man's food, so what went in depended on what you had. If the only meat you had was snails, you made your paella with snails. So you'll find some people today insisting that to be truly authentic, paella valenciana should have snails.

The "anything goes" mentality still persists to some extent: it's not easy to find two Valencians who agree 100% on the recipe. And in addition to valenciana you have paella de mariscos, de verduras, and mixta (and should arròs negre count?) On that basis the defining aspects would be the type of rice and the technique: a flat pan and a long cooking time to extract flavour from the ingredients before the rice goes in.

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2  
Pretty much exactly like trying to define what goes on a 'real' pizza. –  Benjol Sep 20 '11 at 20:10

The classic Valencia Paella does NOT have onion, though many modern versions do have, especially in the seafood varieties

Classic paella does have a lonely tomato (diced or crushed, mainly for colour), paprika, saffron, green beans, chicken and rabbit, red wine, and a long siesta. Also common to have some Lima beans (garrofon), broad beans, and Artichokes

Proportions for 4 serves is:

  • 400 g rice
  • 400 g meat
  • 4 tsp olive oil
  • 200 g green beans
  • 100 g lima beans
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • safron (pinch)
  • 1 tomato
  • 2.5 times volume of rice as stock or water
  • bottle of red wine

Modern Paella can pretty much have anything, lamb, asparagus, potato etc.

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red wine? the only red wine in my paellas comes in a porró at the side –  PA. Jul 8 '13 at 7:18
    
@PA. Exactly, red wine is for the cook to consume while waiting to Paella to cook –  TFD Jul 8 '13 at 11:35
    
that reminds me of the famous Irish Whiskey Turkey recipe –  PA. Jul 8 '13 at 20:48

9 times out of 10 in Valencia it's snails, chicken and rabbit. This is with a white bean, something like a butter bean and sliced green beans. The meat, garlic and paprika are cooked with water to form a broth. Cook till broth reduces slightly, add rice (bomba is best)pinch of saffron and veg, stir once, no more. When rice is nearly done, remove from heat. Some chefs take off a small amount of the broth at this point, to assure the slightly dry consistency, which can be used to adjust before service, this seems a bit of a cheat to me. Cover with a towel and rest, allowing rice to finish.

The addition of a tomato seems hotly contested in Valencia. I'd go on whim.

Something that seems wrong is chicken stock

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90% seems a bit high for inclusion of snails. I think that at most 50% of the restaurants where I've eaten paella in Valencia included them, and I've never seen them in the supermarkets or in the kits for contests or community paella cooking events. –  Peter Taylor Mar 31 at 8:58

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