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The Paella Problem

Just as Italian restaurants in America used to drown their pastas in an excess of sauce, Spanish restaurants in this country tend to overload their paellas with shellfish, vegetables, chicken and such.

In the region of Valencia, where it was born, paella, in common with Italy’s risotto, is a rice dish with a bit of something else for flavoring--not some sort of show-off seafood dish served on an almost accidental bed of rice. The original paella Valenciana involved no seafood at all; it was an inland dish, made with chicken, rabbit, beans and, sometimes, snails.

The rice used for paella should be--must be--short-grained, preferably the variety grown around Valencia or on the Costa Brava. You can’t make risotto with long-grained rice, and you can’t make a proper paella with it, either.

Juan Rodriguez at From Spain and Eduardo Apitz at Tasca both put too many superfluous ingredients in their paella.

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Rodriguez, in addition, makes his with long-grained rice. The only short-grained kinds he can find here, he says--even Italian risotto rice--make the paella too mushy. For his part, Apitz uses a mixture of about 70% short-grained pearl rice and 30% long-grained rice. He agrees that short-grained rice alone turns mushy. Maybe so, but Valencian rice is now sold in the U.S.--and if that’s the only kind that works, then any local Spanish restaurant that wants to be taken seriously should get ahold of some.


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