It's a little cheeky of me to call this a vault classic as I've only successfully made this dish three times but given that everyone and their dog has heard of it, I may as well give it the vault classic treatment. I got inspired to whip this dish up a few months ago when a recipe was published in the Good Weekend (provided by David Herbert if I remember correctly) and I was so happy with the outcome that I vowed to make it again...and again. The third time things were different because I also had in that time acquired a paella pan (because I was in such dire need of yet another kitchen knicknack). Paella originates from Valencia (hence the name) and the few hard and fast rules about it are that it should always have these three key ingredients: rice (who knew?), saffron and olive oil. Furthermore, as the name implies you need to cook this all up in one pan (believe me!). There are a few other lesser known caveats that might be worthwhile considering when preparing this meal, as I will explain further on.
[strikethoughs refer to my omissions; brackets my own inclusions]
- this dish would work so much better on a gas stovetop. My special paella pan wasn't evenly distributing heat to the outer edges of the pan and so the centre cooked well while the outer edges were on the crunchy side of things. Electric stove tops tend to heat up quickly but don't reduce the heat as effectively when you're hoping for simmering.
- Please refrain from using ordinary short grain rice. I did so this time around and found it didn't take on the flavours as well as it did when I used arborio. Serves me right!
- Though saffron is expensive, use a decent number (6 - 8) of strands to flavour the dish as this element really does make the dish and grinding it up with a mortar & pestle ensures you get the most colour and flavour out of it
- Bay leaves also add a good flavour but don't go overboard like I did, otherwise you'll end up with pockets of intense bitter bay leaf flavour within the rice.
- Don't let the rice get overcooked. Nothing ruins the enjoyment of such a flavourful dish as much as soggy rice does. If the stock hasn't been completely absorbed but the rice is cooked then that's still fine to serve.
- Finally, don't let this seemingly endless list of ingredients dictate whether you are equipped to make this, the last remaining hard and fast rule about paellas is that you add whatever you feel like - provided you always have the holy trinity of rice, saffron & olive oil in the mix. Seafood seems to be a popular inclusion, though you can have a chicken only version, some recipes also have snails or rabbits, and looky here you can even make a vegan version!