Legends about its origin
There is an old story of how the Moorish kings’ servants created rice dishes by mixing the leftovers from royal banquets in large pots to take home. In the Arab countries, it is often wrongly believed that the word paella originates from the Arabic word baqiyah, meaning leftovers. The story about the word ‘paella’ deriving from ‘para ella’ (for her) is obviously wrong too, even though it is said that most paellas are made by men cooking once a week for their wives. The origin of the name paella in the valencian and catalan word for frying pan is beyond any possible doubt.
Paella is generally cooked in a paella pan, which is a large, shallow, flat pan. First the meat, and then the vegetables are stir fried in olive oil; subsequently water is added and brought to a boil, and left boiling for half an hour or so. (This, however, is not the sole method utilized in the preparation. Many chefs add the water, allow it to come to the boil and at that moment add the rice.
Otherwise the water may evaporate leaving not enough liquid in which to cook the rice.) Later, after checking the obtained broth flavour and adding salt if required, the rice is added. Real paella rice is never stir-fried in oil, as pilaf. Once the rice is nearly done, the paella is removed from the heat and left to absorb the remaining water. Traditional paella has a crispy, caramelized, toasted bottom (called socarrat in Valencian) that is considered a delicacy. To achieve a socarrat, one needs only to turn up the heat to high and listen to the bottom of the rice toast. Once the aroma of toasted rice comes from the pan, the heat is removed once again. The paella is ready to be served after having cooled for several minutes.
Brian had paella on his Mormon Mission to Spain weekly. It was his favorite dish and while were were there on a belated honeymoon in 1999, we were served many paella dishes by some of his favorite families. His childhood friend Joe Davis moved back to Medford recently and Joe married a wonderful girl from Spain. Her name is Monica and I absolutely adore her and their little girl Sarah. Although Sarah is just barely two she gets along great playing with my girls. Well, Monica and Joe treated us to a wonderful home cooked Spanish Paella dish. I felt a little guilty letting her cook for us as she is 8 months pregnant. But she was adamant that we come and that she cook us “real food.” We loved it! I can still taste the shrimp and mussells right now!