LEARNING THE SECRETS OF REAL PAELLA IN VALENCIA

Rabbit, chicken and snails paella

‘That’s not real paella.’ I’ve heard this so many times! But what does this actually mean? What is ‘real’ paella?

We all think we know what it is, right? But do we? Having grown up in Spain, I always thought I knew, but how wrong I was!

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Paella is one of Spain’s national dishes, or so we are led to believe. The actual fact is that it comes exclusively from Valencia, in the Mediterranean coast. But it has become so popular that it has been adopted across Spain, and also the world, as the typical Spanish dish par excellence.

There is so much pride surrounding Valencian paella that local people campaigned for months to get a paella emoji. And guess what…? They got it! (Yes, go and check your phone… it’s there!)

So what is real paella?

After repeatedly hearing about the outrage that Valencians feel about us, non-locals, calling certain yellow rice dishes paella, I just had to find out what the real thing actually looks like.

I decided to join the Escuela de Arroces y Paella Valenciana on one of their workshops, specifically the Valencian Paella workshop.

Narrow street in Valencia old town
The Escuela de Arroces y Paella Valencian street

I had the option to attend either the morning workshop starting at 10am or the evening one at 6pm. I chose the morning one because it included a little bonus that I was very interested in – a shopping trip to the Mercado Central (Central Market) to purchase the fresh ingredients that I would be using. As the market closes early afternoon, the evening session does not include this.

A trip to the market

When I arrived at the school, I met Pierrette, who gathered all of us, the ‘students’, and took us to the market.

The Mercado Central is said to be one of the most beautiful market stalls in Europe, and as soon as you walk inside you can see why. It is housed in a Modernist iron building from the 1920s, inspired by the 1889 Universal Exhibition in Paris. It is referred to as a ‘Cathedral for the senses’, due to the rich smells, colours and flavours you can find within it, but also because of its intricate dome. It sells mostly Spanish produce, and one curiosity about it is that all the stalls are family owned and passed on to the next generation. However, if someone does not have anyone to pass their stall to, they will pass it on to their neighbour stall, which is why they are all different sizes.

Fruit and vegetable stalls in Valencia Central Market
Mercado Central, a ‘Cathedral for the senses’

Book This Paella Cooking Class Here 

Learning about the ingredients

Our first stop in the market was the vegetable stall, where we purchased four different kinds of beans, all of which go into the paella. We bought broad green beans called bajoqueta, garrofó (lima beans), long white beans called tavella and long red beans called rojet. We also bought tomatoes of the pear variety, as they are fleshier and not as watery as other types.

Once we had the vegetables, we went to the spice stall to purchase saffron and smoked paprika. The best varieties of these spices come from the Spanish region of Extremadura, on the border with Portugal, and they are what give paella its yellow colour and its slightly smoky flavour.

We then went to purchase the meat – chicken and rabbit, always on the bone for more flavour. Nothing else. Well, some people may add artichokes in winter, which is the artichoke season, and snails. But that’s pretty much it when it comes to fresh ingredients for paella. No chorizo, no seafood, no peppers… that is it.

Lady buying chickens from the market butcher in Valencia Central Market
Buying chicken and rabbit

Of course, you also have rice as the main ingredient, but we didn’t buy this at the market, as we already had some back at the school.


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The making of a Valencian Paella

Once we returned to the Escuela, we put our aprons and chef hats on (which we got to keep) and our teacher, Jaime, explained that paella is both the name of the dish and the pan that is used to cook the dish in. Also that paella must always be cooked in a paella, as any other type of pan doesn’t produce the same result.

So after we’re clear on what all the ingredients and tools are, we add some oil to the paella and once hot, we add the chicken first and the rabbit a few minutes later, and cook until they are sealed and golden all around.

While the meat cooks, we prepare the beans. We snap with our hands the bajoqueta and the rojet beans in medium pieces. Snapping is preferred as it breaks the fibre and it helps the cooking process. For the garrofó and the tavella beans, we only eat the inside, so we peel them and discard the pods. We also grate the tomatoes and discard the skins and any excess water.

Once the meat is completely sealed, we push it towards the edge of the paella and add the bajoqueta and rojet beans and turn them continuously for a few minutes until they are caramelised. We then push them towards the edge of the paella with the chicken. We repeat this process with the garrofó and tavella beans. We then add the grated tomatoes and cook them while stirring. When the liquid has reduced, we take the meat and the beans, mix it well with the tomato and make a mound in the middle of the paella.

This is when we add the smoked paprika and mix well. Ideally paella would be cooked on the a wood fire, but as this is not always practical, smoked paprika is used to get that wood fire flavour.

We then add enough water so it’s about 1 cm from the rim of the paella, and add a good pinch of saffron, which we have previously turned into power. Add a few pinches of salt, and a long sprig of rosemary that will infuse for 10 mins, and let it simmer.

 

Book This Paella Cooking Class Here

 

Then came my favourite part of the day. While the paella simmered, we all had a chance to catch our breath and enjoy a nice chat with a lovely glass of wine, an aperitivo. We were working hard after all, and it was welcome and very well deserved.

After a nice break, we were called back to the kitchen to add the rice. The best type of rice for paella is bomba rice, a round-grained variety grown in the Albufera area, outside Valencia city. But other round rice varieties can be used too.

Adding the rice to the paella in the kitchen
Adding the rice to the paella – but not too much

Almost ready!

After only a few minutes, the paella seems ready… but there is still one more thing to do. We need to make the socarrat, the toasted bit of rice at the bottom of the paella – in my opinion (and a lot of people’s) the best part of it. At this point everyone in the class is starting to get super excited about enjoying the fruits of our labour. And it was really worth the wait. We all got to eat our own paella, and to try everyone else’s. It was really interesting to see that even though we all followed the same instructions, every paella tasted slightly different.

In the kitchen showing the final cooked paella
The final result!

After a tasting session from the chefs, we received our compliments and further advice, and we were presented with certificates that now qualify us to make Valencian paella for friends and family, and a wooden spoon to take home.

Half eaten paella
Delicious Valencian paella!

Practical information: You can book this workshop yourself and learn to cook the real Valencian paella with Escuela de Arroces y Paella Valenciana. If you do go ahead and book this workshop, say hello to Jaime from me!

Book This Paella Cooking Class Here

So tell me: Have you ever done a cooking workshop while travelling?
What was it like? Let me know in the comments!


Some of my favourite Spanish cookbooks


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Secrets of Real Paella - Cooking Class in Valencia

Secrets of Real Paella - Cooking Class in Valencia

Secrets of Real Paella - Cooking Class in Valencia

Secrets of Real Paella - Cooking Class in Valencia

Secrets of Real Paella - Cooking Class in Valencia

Secrets of Real Paella - Cooking Class in Valencia

Disclosure: A big thank you to Escuela de Arroces y Paella Valenciana, who hosted me on this experience. As always, all views are my own.

 

 

22 thoughts on “LEARNING THE SECRETS OF REAL PAELLA IN VALENCIA

  1. Jessica says:

    I love how detailed this is. I have been to Valencia and tasted the paella there , it is amazing. Now I can try to make it myself! And didn’t you just love the market. so cool and fresh.

    • Teresa says:

      Thanks Jessica! I’m glad you will be able to follow the recipe! I love paella too, especially the real thing from Valencia. And the market is the best I’ve ever been to. Fabulous!

  2. Faith Coates says:

    Fascinating stuff, I have always read about Valencia being the true home of paella and haven’t had a chance to visit the area yet, but will be back in Spain again next year to housesit and going to make this an absolute priority. I love articles on these types of dishes with cooking lessons incredibly informative and interesting. The market looks like a place I could haunt forever.

    • Teresa says:

      Thanks Fatith! That’s fantastic! Valencia is an amazing city! And a food lover’s paradise! The market is my favourite place and I always visit (numerous) times every time I go back 🙂

  3. Anthony says:

    I have been eating “not” Paella my entire life. I love rabbit and beans, therefore, I am extra happy to hear what a real Paella is…

    We did an amazing market tour and cooking class in Mexico City. A local resident took us around the town gathering ingredients and talking about the culture. We went back to her house/apartment and she spent 4 hours teaching us many dishes. They ranged from traditional Aztec food to modern Spanish/Asian fusion. It was one of the best days in all of our travel adventures. You can read all about it on our blog if you’re interested.

    Thanks for posting this it was very interesting and fuels our burning desire to visit Spain and the Mediterranean coast.

    Keep traveling and posting… A big world full of adventure is waiting for you!

    • Teresa says:

      Thank you Anthony! I love cooking experiences. They give you a real insight of the local culture and way of life don’t they? Your Mexico City experience sounds fabulous! Will check your post out. I’m really glad you enjoyed my post too ??

  4. Debbie says:

    OMG, Paella in Spain is definitely one of the most amazing food! That is so cool that you were able to really figure our the “real ingredients” from the locals and to see it get made is wonderful! It’s always the best to get the most freshest ingredients and to learn from the best!

    • Teresa says:

      I so agree! There’s a lot of misconception about what paella entails and local knowledge is always the way to find out the real thing 🙂

  5. Nick says:

    This made me so hungry! I love culinary tours that take you to the fresh markets, and I’ve always been interested in Valencia for some reason.

    I wonder if you encountered any vegetarian paella? Or would such a thing be sacrilege to Valencians?

    • Teresa says:

      Hehe. If you ask a local they’d probably think it’s sacrilege, but the cooking school had the option to do a vegetarian version so I’m sure it is easy to find everywhere 🙂

  6. christina says:

    That is a very cool and interesting class. I like that you are able to go to the market and pick out the ingredients. I think I have only had Paella once and I couldn’t tell you if they did it right. I guess I’ll need to go to Valencia to try it.

    • Teresa says:

      It was really interesting to learn about the different kinds of ingredients and how to identify the best quality one at the market 🙂

  7. Kellyn says:

    This look so yum! Definitely different than the paella I had in Mallorca, which was yummy too. This is my way to explore, you learn so much about the people and the culture through food.

  8. Lydia Smith says:

    Looks like an interesting activity. I remember taking an informal shopping and cooking class using Thailand dishes when I visited and I mist say, it was the best part of my trip. I’m yet to visit Spain but I’m so sire Paella would be the first dish I’d have. Looks so yummy

    • Teresa says:

      Cooking classes are so much fun aren’t they? A different way of immersing yourself in a different culture. I hope you get to try the paella cooking experience. It was my favourite so far 🙂

  9. Isabel says:

    You have no idea the surprise I got when I read this! When I saw “Real paella” on the title I thought “oh boy here we go again” but what a welcome surprise! My family and I are all from a small little town near Valencia and I’ve grown up eating Paella my entire life. The only thing that my dad does different to that recipe is he puts in a couple of cloves of garlic which he mixes up with the tomato to give that extra yummy flavour, but other than that it was pretty much the same recipe! Thanks for showing the world how good paella can be without having to add this that and everything in between ☺️

    • Teresa Gomez says:

      Thank you so much for your comment! I really appreciate it, especially from someone who originally comes from Valencia. It means a lot that you approve 😀

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