Words and Photos by: Tiffany Yang-Tran
Paella is a Spanish rice dish that combines many vegetables, meats, seafood, saffron, and other seasonings. This dish has a beautiful history that displays the Roman and Arab cultures of Spain. One of the most unique aspects of Paella is not the ingredients that comprise the dish but rather the way it is made. The word “paella” actually refers to the big pan it is cooked in. In ancient Sanskrit, “pa” means to drink. This phrase, translated to Latin, was made into words like “Patera” or “Patella,” which usually meant a container to perform culinary functions.
Because Spain did not have a lot of timber, they could only burn cooking fires with green twigs, which produce quick, hot flames. In order to better harness the evaporation of the fire, the diameter of cooking pans grew. The size of these pans can range from 12 inches to several feet in diameter, and the shallow depth means the rice can have maximum contact with the bottom of the pan. The pan’s bottom is dimpled, which serves stabilizes the structure and traps some liquid to help with even cooking. The an also allows a small crusty layer of rice to form, which is one of my favorite parts of paella. Making this dish is a slow process, but it’s all about the even cooking of each grain of rice so that it can soak up all the flavors of the seafood, chorizo, meats, and spices.
Now more about the ingredients involved in making this wonderful dish. Bomba rice is most often used for this dish because these rounded and medium-sized grains absorb the flavors well and maintain their shape. Then protein is added, which differs from region to region. Some of the traditional meats and seafood added to the dish are rabbit, chorizo, chicken, snails, shrimp, lobster, crab, snails, clams, and mussels. To this plethora of goodness, onions, garlic, peas, beans, artichokes, and bell peppers are also added. Finally, paella gets its characteristic earthy and rich flavors from saffron and smoked paprika.
Now that you’ve read this, you’re probably hungry and wondering where you can get some of this wonderful paella. You’ll be delighted to hear that you can find some authentic paella right on Newbury Street at a restaurant named apeo!
I went recently with my family and discovered their Cazador Paella, which reminded me of my trip to Barcelona. There, I took a paella cooking class that taught the traditional cooking methods and ingredients used. The hef stressed the importance of slow cooking so that all of the flavors could be absorbed into each grain of rice. Each bite of paella at Tapeo was just a perfect burst of rich juices and aromas. It really embodied all of the characteristics of authentic and flavorful paella. The rice had absorbed the flavors beautifully, the chorizo was tasty, the quail was delicious, the mushrooms were soft, and the small crusty layer of rice finished off the top of the meal.
On top of a great paella dish, the atmosphere and the waiters were very nice. The wait staff was very accommodating to food allergies and took the time to answer all of our questions.
Tapeo also has other items on the menu that represent traditional Spanish cuisine, like churros con chocolate, chorizo, and an assortment of tapas. The restaurant has a very rustic atmosphere with warm yellow walls, copper accents, and flickering candles. It would be a lovely place for a date, family gathering, or any time you want to get some authentic, delicious paella.