The most famous Spanish dish of all was invented in Valencia, more specifically in Albufera, just south of the city. Far from the pile of fluffy, bright yellow rice most of us have tried, it should be a shallow golden brown layer, with the socarrat or slightly toasted rice waiting to be scraped from the bottom of the pan (the pan is also called a paella in Valencian.) No self-respecting Valencian restaurant serves the dish with a mix of chicken and seafood – it’s either chicken and rabbit (paella Valenciana), or seafood (paella marisco), and both varieties use different seasonings and cooking methods. Ask any Valencian how the perfect paella is made, and you’ll soon realise how seriously the dish is taken here.
This is a dramatic-looking dish in which the rice is coloured black with cuttlefish or squid ink. It contains cuttlefish or squid, and sometimes other seafood too, as well as garlic, paprika and seafood stock. Called arroz negro in Spanish and arròs negre in Catalonia and Valencia, this dish is sometimes called paella negro on menus, even though serious rice lovers will tell you the preparation is different from that of a true paella.
Arròs a banda
This humble rice dish, typical of Valencian coastal towns, packs in loads of flavour. It originated with the fishers of Alicante. They would sell their best fish and keep the leftovers, which they used to make fish stock, in which they then cooked the rice. It’s usually served with alioli, a strong garlic mayonnaise.
Arròs al forn
This popular, hearty rice dish is a home cooking staple. It’s baked in the oven and usually contains, among other things, sausage, chickpea and potato left over from making the typical local stew. It’s also called arroz al horno in Spanish.
Arròs amb costra
A lot like arròs al forn but covered with an egg to create the costra or ‘crust’ in the name. It’s very typical in parts of the southern Valencia region, especially Elche.
OK, this isn’t technically a rice dish, but we should include it anyway because it’s so closely related. This is a lot like the seafood (or marisco) paella – made with a combination of local seafood such as rockfish, monkfish, cuttlefish, squid, shrimp, and crayfish, plus lots of lemon – but this dish is made with fine, usually hollow noodles instead of rice. The name actually comes from the local Valencian and Catalan word fideuada, meaning ‘large amount of noodles’. It’s typical of the Valencian coastal areas, and is said to come originally from the nearby town of Gandia.