Ask anyone to name a Spanish dish, and we bet paella will top the list. And it’s for good reason, too. The dish, originating in Valencia, uses all locally-sourced ingredients, from the rice grown in Spain to the seafood fished from the local shores. It’s also a dish that has varying recipes, depending on your tastes. The plate of food, which uses saffron to give the rice a distinctive yellow colour, can include chicken or seafood, while others opt for one filled with beans and vegetables – and some include them all. But one thing that remains consistent is that it’s a comforting and filling plate of food. Paella, pronounced pay-ey-yah, started as a dish created by farmers and peasants who could only afford to throw what little food they had into a giant pot. Now, you’ll see the dish appreciated all over the world – 2013 was even named the International Year of Paella, and gourmet restaurants have long been putting their own spin on it, including squid ink in the rice or turning it into a soup Heston Blumenthal-style. If you fancy making your own paella, we recruited the help of food stylist and restaurant owner, Henrietta Clancy, to show us how to make it. You can watch the video above, or scroll to the bottom of this article to find the recipe.
Many people associate these sweet, doughy treats with Mexico, but they’re actually said to have been first made in Spain by a shepherd looking for something which was easy to cook in a pan over a fire. And the name ‘churro’ is meant to come from a breed of sheep called the Navajo Churro, whose horns look very similar to the tasty dessert. The fried choux pastry, which is sprinkled with sugar or dipped into melted chocolate, is a staple in the summer months and can be found at festivals and fairgrounds all over Spain.
Jamón ibérico, or Iberian ham, is a cured ham from Spain. It comes from the Iberico pig, which is considered to be the original pig of Spain – dating all the way back to cavemen times. But what makes this ham so special is its unique taste. The pigs lead a free-range life and are left to forage for sweet acorns, which in turn gives the meat a rich and creamy taste. Then, the meat is cured in salt and left to age for up to three years – much longer than the ham found in your local supermarket aisle. And not only is the meat a real delicacy, it’s healthy too - rich in oleic acid which is said to lower cholesterol.
You might not think that feasting on a bowl of soup on a hot, sunny day is a wise idea. But in Spain, a portion of gazpacho soup is the perfect way to start a meal. The secret is that the tomato, cucumber, garlic, olive oil and vinegar concoction is served cold – sometimes with a few ice cubes thrown in, too. And all of the ingredients blended together are completely raw, giving it a fresh taste and making it healthier, too.
Much like paella, you’ll never find a set recipe with sangria. Everyone has their own variation of the red wine punch, and you’ll find every restaurant experimenting with different spices and fruits. And while the drink may be synonymous with Spain, it is enjoyed around the world, with it making its most famous debut at the New York City World Fair in 1964. Plus, it can be healthy, with red wine containing small amounts of potassium and iron, and moderate amounts boosting your levels of healthy cholesterol. Pack it full of your favourite fruits and you’re pretty much on your way to your five a day, too.
It’s no secret that the Spanish consume a huge amount of meat, with dishes filled to the brim with ham, chicken, pork and fish. But it doesn’t mean being a vegetarian here is impossible. We’ve already mentioned the gazpacho and churros which are veggie-friendly, and there are plenty of other dishes to choose from, too. One of our favourites is croquetas, a fried ball which can be filled with everything from spinach and pine nuts, wild mushrooms, or cheese and walnuts. Just make sure you avoid croquetas de jamon Serrano, which is filled with meat.
If you follow a gluten-free diet, you won’t have a problem eating here. Most of the food here is naturally gluten-free, containing lots of meat and rice, and it’s really easy to avoid bread and pasta. Many restaurants offer dishes recommended by FACE – Federaction de Asociaciones de Celiacos de Espana, the Spanish coeliac association, and you’ll also find aisles dedicated to gluten-free products in supermarkets. You can use the phrase sin gluten, which means without gluten in Spanish, to keep an eye out for gluten-friendly food. We’d recommend avoiding gazpacho and meatballs, as bread is often added to these.
2 pinched saffron threads
1 litre chicken stock
A splash of olive oil
½ tsp sea salt
6 skinned, boned chicken thighs, cut in pieces 100g
Spanish chorizo, sliced
100g pancetta, cubed
1 onion, finely chopped
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp thyme
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
300g paella rice
3 tbsp white wine
250g tomatoes (approx 3), sliced into wedges
Couple of handfuls of frozen green peas, defrosted
6 mussels, scrubbed and debearded
6 skin-on raw king prawns
To serve: chopped parsley and lemon wedges
Heat the stock and saffron in a saucepan, do not bring to the boil but keep warm over a low heat.
Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a large paella pan over high heat. Add the salt and chicken and fry for a couple of minutes on each side until golden brown. Remove from the pan and set aside on a plate. Now cook the chorizo and pancetta, add to chicken and set aside.
Reduce the heat and add another 1 tbsp of oil, then the chopped onion, red pepper, garlic, thyme and paprika and cook until soft. Add the rice and stir to coat. Add the white wine, and as soon as it has evaporated add the stock and tomatoes. Return the meat to the pan, bring to the boil and reduce to simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the peas, prawns and mussels to the pan, add the lid (or a foil lid) and cook for 5-10 minutes until the mussels have opened (discard any unopened mussels). Rest for 5 minutes.
Serve with chopped parsley and plenty of lemon wedges.
Fancy trying some Spanish treats for yourself?
Why wait? We fly all-year round to Spain from over 10 airports in the UK. You can also get to Spain from Gatwick in less than three hours. And if you loved this, then why not find out what the food is like in Iceland or What is the food like in Cuba?
Authors: Abi Payne-Humphries and Olivia Hunt
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