Many crimes have been committed in the name of paella, but now researchers in Valencia have established 10 commandments of what you should and shouldn’t put in their national dish.
The ten permitted ingredients are: rice, water, olive oil, salt, saffron (or food coloring), tomato, flat green beans, lima beans, chicken and rabbit. No fish or shellfish. Never.
The research was conducted by social scientists from the Universidad Católica de Valencia at the instigation of local leader Rafael Vidal. The researchers interviewed 400 amateur cooks over the age of 50 from 266 Valencian villages.
The findings were published in the International Journal of Gastronomy and Science and were presented Thursday at a meeting titled A nightmare glocal discussion: what are the ingredients of Valencian Paella?
Ninety percent of respondents agreed on the 10 essential ingredients, with some dissent on rabbit (88.9%). Paprika (62.5%) and rosemary (52.2%) are also considered acceptable, as are artichokes (46.3%), when in season.
“Everyone has an opinion on paella but the idea was to do fieldwork to establish what the essential ingredients are,” explains Pablo Vidal (no relation), an anthropologist at the university involved in the research.
“What we showed is what is always an ingredient in paella, what ingredients are sometimes used and what should never be used.”
For locals in Valencia, their version of paella is the version and nothing else deserves this name. Some will even say that it can only be made from local water.
If people in the rest of Spain want to add seafood, saudase or even black pudding, that’s their business, says Vidal, but in the eyes of Valencians it’s not paella.
The typical seafood paella encountered elsewhere in Spain is generally dismissed by Valencianos as water with cosas (rice with things).
“In Valencia, everyone thinks their recipe is the best, that’s why we conducted this research, to try to reach a consensus,” he said.
Last year, the regional government declared Valencian paella a cultural asset. “Paella is an icon of the Mediterranean diet, both for its ingredients and for its characteristics as a representation of Valencian culture,” reads the eight-page statement published in the official Spanish state bulletin.
The new study says the worldwide popularity of paella “is both a success and a challenge”. One such challenge was the outrage over British chef Jamie Oliver’s chorizo paella recipe.
“Oliver helped spark a discussion about what makes an authentic Paella Valencian», Explains Vidal. “I’m sure that one day a street in Valencia will bear his name.”
Like a barbecue, paella is a dish for social events that is usually prepared on weekends or holidays. However, it is traditionally served in restaurants on Thursdays.
There are various explanations for this. The first is that Thursday was traditionally the cook’s day off, so people tended to eat out. Another is that Francisco Franco loved paella and also liked to eat out on Thursdays, so restaurants put it on the menu lest the dictator show up for lunch.
It is also claimed that this was a way to use up leftover fish and meat before the weekly Friday shop.
Vidal says there are as many recipes as there are cooks and what makes a good paella is a matter of opinion, except in Valencia, where it’s a matter of science.