Call it a paella? Just because it has rice in it and is cooked in a large, flat pot doesn’t mean it’s the real deal. After years of controversy, the dish has been pinned down and many of the ingredients you think might belong – fish, shellfish, chorizo - don’t. They are not part, have shown the sociologists of the Universidad Católica de Valencia, of the traditional Valencian recipe. After interviewing 400 amateur chefs, aged over 50, from 266 Valencian villages, they found that the following key ingredients were allowed: rice, water, olive oil, salt, saffron (or food coloring), tomato, flat green beans, lima beans, chicken and rabbit. Do you notice that something is missing?
What, no shrimp?
Not if you want to call it a Valencian paella.
How about giant prawns in their shells and placed on the rice like a huge garnish? It still looks authentic.
Not even them. No giant mussels either. Strictly no shells at all. And while we’re at it, no fish of any kind.
Is it because of Jamie Oliver? I know a few years ago he caused a stink by adding chorizo...
Decidedly, his chicken and chorizo paella recipe, published in 2016, did not please the purists. The anger was palpable. Responses included “Remove the chorizo. We do not negotiate with terrorists. First warning. No more than the invention of a paella robot. Then, last year, the government of Valencia, the dish’s birthplace, gave it protected status, issuing an eight-page announcement declaring the dish an item of cultural significance. “Paella”, he said, “is an icon of the Mediterranean diet, both because of its ingredients and its characteristics as a representation of Valencian culture”.
What motivated the research?
A local restaurant owner was keen to pin down the recipe and sparked a two-year project led by anthropologist Pablo Vidal-González. It says a lot about the tensions involved that an event where the research results were presented was titled A Nightmare Global Discussion: What Are The Ingredients of Paella Valenciana? A local journalist wrote in 2014: “The classic Valencian recipe undergoes a brutal mutation when it falls into the hands of others.
Oh dear. What if I break the rules?
Well, it’s your choice. Don’t call it Valencian.
Researcher, Vidal Gonzalez has indeed declared that there is no definitive paella, the best recipe being “the one your grandmother made”. Scottish grandmothers, of course, don’t count – only Valencians. And ideally, they should have lived at the same address for 20 years.