Spanish Rice. Juan Manuel Sanz / © ICEX
Paella is something of an icon for Spain, and is probably one of the most widely-imitated of Spanish dishes. The name comes from the characteristic pan in which it is cooked, with a large diameter and low sides. Today paella pans can be bought in Tokyo, Sydney, New York or any of the world's great capitals.
But rice is used in a multitude of ways in Spain, not only in a paella pan. Traditional rice dishes are made in the typical pucheros, or stewpots - the ones with high, round-sided walls normally used to make bean stews, and in cazuelas, or earthenware casseroles. In pucheros, rice is normally accompanied by pulses and the result can be described as a hearty soup, ideal for cold winter days. In both cases, the starting-point is usually a sofrito to which the cooking liquid is added. Paella is usually cooked directly over the heat whereas rice dishes in a casserole are often finished in the oven.
Rice, always in Company
The way in which rice is cooked is based on the capacity of the traditional Spanish varieties, with their short or medium-sized grains, to absorb the flavors of the accompanying ingredients. Rice is so versatile it can be combined with an endless range of foods - fish, shellfish, meat, vegetables and many others, depending on the cook's imagination and creativity - and it goes equally well with savory or sweet flavors. One of the most traditional dishes of the regional cuisine of Asturias is, precisely, arroz con leche (rice pudding).
Rice dishes are usually named according to their most significant ingredient, so we talk of shellfish paella, or rabbit paella. Or they may be named after their color, such as black rice made with squid and its ink, or golden rice because of the color of the crust after baking. The best-known paella recipe is for paella valenciana, which combines different types of meat and vegetables - rabbit and chicken, with native varieties of green bean - garrofón, ferraúra and tavella. Valencia, the first region in Spain to cultivate rice, was the birthplace of rice cuisine and is now the torchbearer for rice in gastronomy.
Rice has been known in the Mediterranean area since ancient times, but rice cultivation was introduced into Europe by the Arabs who planted it in the wetlands along the Spanish eastern coast in the 8th century. At the time, it was a rare product that was difficult to grow and was consumed only by the wealthier classes.
The development of rice cuisine only took off centuries later when large-scale cultivation began, making rice available to all. During the 19th century, the traditional growing areas expanded and other new ones were created, such as the Ebro delta, in Tarragona (Catalonia).
The first Designation of Origin for rice in Europe was granted to Calasparra rice which is grown in a mountainous area along the river Segura in the region of Murcia, the varieties being Bomba and Balilla X Solana. Both are sold as either brown or white rice. Bomba rice is the best-known of the Spanish varieties. Its grains are rounded but they increase lengthwise by almost fifty per cent during the cooking process and are very absorbent.
Also protected by a Designation of Origin is the rice grown traditionally in the Júcar river basin and in the Albufera, the most famous of the natural wetlands in Valencia where the varieties are Senia, Bahía and Bomba. The rice, mostly Bahía, grown in the Ebro delta in Tarragona (Catalonia) is also covered by a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI).
Since the middle of the 20th century, new rice-growing areas have been developed in Andalusia and Extremadura, mainly using imported long-grain varieties and mostly for export.
Rice Dishes in Spain's Culinary Repertoire
The provinces of Spain with the strongest rice-eating tradition are Murcia, Castellón, Valencia and Alicante. The secret of a good paella lies as much as in the ingredients as in the pan used for cooking it, but the proportion of water to rice is also a key element.
In addition to "dry" rice dishes made in the paella pan, there are two other, typically Valencian, types of rice dish: one is made in a puchero (deep pot) and has more liquid, and the other in either a flat or deep cazuela de barro (earthenware dish) which is rather more glutinous in texture. Further fine- tuning is provided by the various traditional ways un which the dishes are prepared and presented: for arroz a banda, the rice is cooked in fish stock, but the fish is served separately (or a banda, in the Valencian dialect); arroz con costra (rice with a crust), a dish traditional to Elche either finishes cooking in the oven so that a crust forms or, also traditionally, has beaten egg poured over the cooked rice which is then covered by a metal lid topped with glowing coals; put on top of the pan of rice, over which a topping of beaten egg has been poured; arroz negro (black rice) is cooked with cuttlefish and their ink, which turns the rice dark grey.
It is customary for the rice dishes of the Levante area to be served with one of Spain's most traditional sauces: alioli, made with garlic and olive oil. Meanwhile arroz con leche (rice pudding) made by cooking rice in fresh milk sweetened with sugar and aromatized with grated lemon zest and cinnamon - a clear example of Spain´s Arab heritage- remains one of the most traditional desserts in the nation's gastronomic repertoire.
List of food stores in Spain
List of food stores around the world
- Arroz de Valencia PDO
- Calasparra PDO
- Arroz de Valencia PDO
- Arroz del Delta del Ebro PDO
- Calasparra PDO
13th (Source: FAO)
Source: Spanihs Ministry of Agriculture.
32.5% (Source: Datacomex).
46 (Source: Alimarket)
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