Many crimes have been committed in the name of paella but now researchers in Valencia have laid down 10 commandments of what thou shall and shall not put in their national dish.
The ten permitted ingredients are: rice, water, olive oil, salt, saffron (or food colouring), tomato, flat green beans, lima beans, chicken and rabbit. No fish or shellfish. Ever.
The research was carried out by social scientists at the Universidad Católica de Valencia at the instigation of local chef Rafael Vidal. The researchers questioned 400 amateur chefs aged over 50 from 266 Valencian villages.
The results were published in the International Journal of Gastronomy and Science and were presented on Thursday at a meeting titled, A nightmare glocal discussion: what are the ingredients of paella valenciana?
Ninety per cent of those interviewed agreed on the 10 essential ingredients, with some dissent over 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 about paella but the idea was to do fieldwork to establish what are the essential ingredients,” says Pablo Vidal (no relation), an anthropologist at the university involved in the research.
“What we have shown is what is always an ingredient of paella, what ingredients are sometimes used and what should never be used.”
To people in Valencia, their version of paella is the version and nothing else is worthy of the name. Some will even argue that it can only be made from water from the region.
If people in the rest of Spain want to add seafood, saudase or even black pudding, that’s their business, says Vidal, but in Valencian eyes, it’s not paella.
The typical seafood paella encountered elsewhere in Spain is generally dismissed by valencianos as arroz con cosas (rice with things).
“In Valencia everyone thinks their recipe is the best which is why we carried out this research, to try to arrive at a consensus,” he said.
Last year the regional government declared Valencian paella a cultural asset. “Paella is an icon of the Mediterranean diet, because of both its ingredients and its characteristics as a representation of Valencian culture,” read the eight-page declaration which was published in Spain’s official state bulletin.
The new study says that paella’s global popularity “is both a success and a challenge”. One such challenge was the outrage caused by the British chef Jamie Oliver’s recipe for paella with chorizo.
“Oliver helped to provoke a discussion about what makes an authentic paella valenciana,” says Vidal. “I’m sure that one day he’ll have a street in Valencia named after him.”
Like a barbecue, paella is a dish for social events that is usually prepared at the weekend or on holidays. However, it’s traditionally served in restaurants on Thursdays.
There are various explanations for this. One is that Thursday was traditionally the cook’s day off so people tended to eat out. Another is that Francisco Franco was partial to paella and also liked to eat out on Thursday, so restaurants put it on the menu lest the dictator showed up for lunch.
It’s also claimed that it was a way of using leftover fish and meat before the weekly shop on Friday.
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 question of science.