Valencia is famous for its paella. Taking a paella cooking class might, therefore, be one of the best things to do in Valencia.
And after a year of living in Valencia, and countless conversations with friends about wanting to do a paella cooking class in Valencia, I finally managed to join one!
What is Paella?
If we’re going to talk about cooking the most delicious, authentic Valencian paella, first we have to find out what paella is!
There is a TON of history in this dish! Paella Valenciana – which is arguably THE original paella – dates back to the early 1800s, and has very specific ingredients. Chicken, rabbit, snail, and three types of beans are the true heart of this dish.
If you are including seafood, chorizo, or a bouquet of chopped up veggies, you’re going to have some angry Valencians, demanding to know why you ruined lunch! Not really, of course – you can get all sorts of different paellas these days around Valencia, but Paella Valenciana is the first, the original, and many say the tastiest.
Paella, at its heart, is a rice dish. It’s much drier than a risotto, and every real paella must have a crust – called the socarrat – on the bottom. The original paellas were cooked over an open wood flame (and some argue the only wood to use was orange tree – another famous Valencian export), but nowadays include a smoky paprika to give a hint of that past flavor.
Paella is a traditional lunch dish, and many Valencian families still eat a paella every Sunday, as they gather with family on the weekends.
A Traditional Valencian Paella – Ingredients & History
The ingredients themselves date back centuries. Rice was brought to Spain by the Moors, and saffron was brought to Spain by Arab traders, and was a favorite flavoring ingredient of the Moors. Interestingly, it appears that cooking the paella was traditionally the man’s task, to be done while women were at church on Sundays.
This little-known dish, in a relatively little-visited part of Spain, remained a beloved local tradition until tourists began arriving in the 1960’s. Driven by an interest in Dali, Picasso, and other Spanish artists, visitors from around the world began discovering Valencia’s beautiful views, oranges, friendly people, and of course, paella. Now, the dish is world famous – and with good reason!
So – you start with the two most important things: rice, which is a traditional staple of Spanish cooking, and a paella pan.
But, you must have the very specific paella rice! Also known as Arroz Bomba, this round rice absorbs the moisture of the paella perfectly and helps you achieve that perfect crust. The other thing you must have is a paella pan! This really isn’t a recipe that works with just any pan – as Valencians will tell you, they just can’t guarantee a good paella if it’s made in a regular pan. In fact, the dish is named after the pan, not the other way around!
Now that you have your Valencian rice and paella pan, what else do you need?
The rest of the paella ingredients are all things that the local people could easily find. Fresh rabbit, chicken, and snails are in abundance here. The beans; garrofo (lima beans), ferraura (green beans), and tavella (white beans), are all local, as is the production of paprika. And then, of course, there is the saffron. The ‘red gold’ is produced in very few places in the world, but the Spanish will tell you that the best, ‘coupé quality’ is produced right here.
Now you have everything you need to cook a top-notch Valencian paella!
[Scroll down to the end of this article to find the Valencian paella recipe.]
A Paella Cooking Class in Valencia
I did some research to find a good paella cooking class in Valencia. That’s how I found the Escuela de Arroces y Paella Valenciana.
Located right in the center of the old city in Valencia, it is a charming area to find yourself in at 10am on a Friday, ready to cook up a fresh paella for lunch. My friend Claire and I both were looking forward to learning something new, and she was delighted to take the reins with cooking while I filmed the process.
We had a nice sized group of 11, with a mix of Dutch, American, and Irish cooking students. Our guide, Maria, a bubbly local, fortified us with some fresh coffee and the group set out for the Mercado Central. A gorgeous example of Art Nouveau, this market is one of the oldest in Europe still operating as a market. There, Maria explained the ingredients we would be getting and off we went to the individual sellers.
Between stalls packed with ice and fish so fresh it was still moving, sniffs of smoky and sweet paprika, and learning about ‘red gold’ – the saffron that would flavor our dishes later on – we bought beans, rabbit, and everything else we would need to make the freshest paella possible.
Returning to the school, there we met Chef Carolina. Although she spoke no English, it was impossible to misunderstand the joyous greetings she gave, nor was it possible to miss how much she was enjoying leading the class. With Maria as our translator, off we went into the kitchen.
I speak some Spanish, so I was able to follow along with the instructions, as well as learn a few new words (las burbujas, for example, means ‘the bubbles’!) and it felt very fun to be having the instructions in the original language of paella. With Maria translating into English, we were sure not to miss anything important.
Cooking Our Valencian Paella
I love a recipe that includes a lot of ‘pinch of this’ and ‘just enough of that’ – I feel like it gives you a great feel for the country that the recipe is from. And the recipe for paella is just like Spain – relaxed, full of feeling and senses, and not too many strict instructions!
You could absolutely feel that this paella recipe is one that is learned at the feet of a grandmother, something that is memorized over a lifetime until you know the recipe in your bones, rather than reading it off some paper. The Valencian paella recipe below is the most direct translation of what we learned in the school – and is as authentic as can be!
As we put in just enough of each ingredient – leaving a finger’s room when adding water, putting in a pinch of salt for each person and one for the paella, there was such a fun vibe in the room. 11 strangers from all over the world coming together to cook such a traditional dish! Over the sizzling of the oil we cheerfully added our rabbit, chicken and escargot, beans and tomatoes, and then finally the most important part – Rice!
Enjoying Our Valencian Paella
As we sat down for our paella lunch, accompanied by some delicious Valencian wine, I thought again about how much I enjoy cooking classes. What better way to feel completely like a local? Not only that, but I have another awesome dish in my arsenal to pull out to impress at my next dinner party.
I love nothing more than wandering around a city, exploring at random and seeing what interesting alleys and hidden shops I can find. But when it comes to understanding a city, I cannot think of any better way to learn than in a cooking class. When I left, happy, full, and with plenty of paella leftovers to share with friends, I definitely felt a little bit Valencian.
Tip: if you are not a big fan of the traditional Valencian paella, the cooking school also offers seafood paella and vegetarian paella cooking classes.
Recipe for a Traditional Valencian Paella (Paella Valenciana)
This Valencian paella recipe is for 4 servings, made in a 42-46 cm (16.5-18 inches) paella pan
- 400g/14oz of Bomba rice (preferably, if not available use short-grain rice)
- 500g/18oz of chicken, cut into 50-60g/2-2.5oz pieces
- 500g/18oz of rabbit, cut into 50-60g/2-2.5oz pieces
- 250g/9oz of precooked snails (optional)
- 200g/7oz of ferradura (batxoqueta or wide green/runner beans)
- 150g/6oz of clean garrofón (local variety of big white lima bean) or tavella (local variety of white beans)
- 2 medium-size ripe tomatoes
- 1 teaspoonful of sweet paprika (preferably smoked paprika)
- About 20 saffron threads, coupé quality preferably
- 120ml/5fl oz of soft flavored virgin olive oil
- A fresh rosemary twig
- 4 or 5 parts of water for one part of rice
- Salt to taste
How to Prepare a Valencian Paella:
1. Cut the meat, without seasoning, into 50-60g/2-2.5oz pieces.
2. Chop the wide beans (ferradura), into bite-sized pieces, peel the lima and white beans (garrofón) and grate the tomatoes. For the tomatoes, you want to grate them into a bowl using a circular motion. The remaining skin should be translucent.
3. Pour the olive oil into the pan and check that the pan is properly leveled, and then heat the oil over a low heat.
4. Once the oil is hot, add the chicken first, given the density of its meat is higher than the rabbit’s. When the chicken is well browned all over move it aside to the outer part of the pan, then add the rabbit and fry it until browned too.
5. It is very important to brown all the meat properly, over a low heat with no hurry; it is part of the secret of a good Paella Valenciana.
6. Once the meat is browned properly, push it all to the outside of the pan. In the middle of the pan, stir-fry the wide beans. Stir-fry carefully, avoiding burning it, and then add the garrofó and the tavella – the lima and white beans.
7. Once they are cooked, move aside the vegetables to the outer part of the pan and pour the grated tomato in the middle, add a pinch of salt and stir-fry.
8. We know that the tomato is ready when it has lost all its water. Then, add a teaspoonful of paprika and stir quickly to combine with the tomato, this way we avoid burning it, which results in a bitter flavor.
9. Having well cooked the former ingredients, we stir everything together and continue frying for a few moments. The meat must be well browned and the vegetables and tomato well stir-fried.
10. Next, pour water into the pan until it almost reaches the top of the pan. The traditional way of measuring this is to leave one finger’s worth of room between the top of the pan and the water.
11. Bring the mixture to the boil, when it starts to boil add the saffron. Then taste and salt to taste, add the fresh rosemary twig, which must be taken out after 10 minutes to avoid an excess of flavor.
12. Add the snails, if you have chosen to use them.
13. Cook over a low heat for 30 to 40 minutes. In the event that before this time the water level decreases until the middle part of a soup spoon (vertically placed in the middle of the pan), or below the rivets of the handles of the pan, add water. It is not a problem to take broth out in the case of an excess or adding water, but always before adding the rice.
14. At this point add the rice, drawing a line along the pan’s diameter (cavalló). Don’t sprinkle the rice.
15. Spread the rice softly and uniformly with a spatula, and space out the meat and vegetables.
16. Once this is done you should avoid stirring the ingredients until the paella is finished. Return the mixture to the boil and cook the rice over a fairly high heat for 5 minutes, afterwards lower to medium heat and, for the final 4 or 5 minutes lower again to a very low heat. Total boiling time of around 18-20 minutes. Never exceed this cooking time, even if the broth hasn’t been absorbed completely, because the rice would be overcooked (“esclatat” as they call it in Valencian). The rice must be dry and the grain whole.
17. If the paella came up short of broth, lower the heat to the minimum and cover the top with aluminum foil to prevent evaporation.
18. If you are brave and want to create a true paella crust – the socarrat (the rice at the bottom of the pan is toasted and stuck to the pan) – then do the following. Once finished cooking, turn up the heat to the maximum for a minute or place the pan directly on the embers if you are cooking in a wood stove.
19. If you want the socarrat to remain loose or if it’s too stuck to the bottom, then just place the pan on a wet tea towel immediately after taking it off the stove.
20. Let the paella sit for around 5 minutes before serving. If the rice is still hard at the end of cooking, cover the top with newspaper or cardboard slightly sprinkled with water and let it rest for some additional minutes.
And, if you want to stick not just to the traditional way of cooking a Valencian paella but also to the traditional way of eating a paella, use a wooden spoon and eat it straight from the pan!
The more paella you cook, the more delicious it will be. Enjoy your traditional Valencian paella!
More articles about Valencia, Spain:
- What to See & Do on a Short Trip to Valencia
- 15 Things to Do in Valencia With Kids
- Best Rooftop Bars in Valencia, Spain
- Authentic Chinese Food in Valencia
- Interview With an Expat About Life in Valencia
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Disclaimer: we were offered a complimentary paella cooking class by Escuela de Arroces y Paella Valenciana. As always though, all opinions are my own and I would never recommend anything I didn’t enjoy.
Special thanks goes to Claire, my cooking buddy and a great writer who helped me write most of this article!