Paella (pa'eʎa) is an internationally famous dish consisting of white rice, meat, seafood, beans and vegetables (depending on the recipe) originating in the Valencian autonomous region of Spain. Spaniards view it as one of their country's national dishes.
The word paella derives from the Latin word patella for pan. Patella is also akin to the French poêle, the Welsh padell, the Italian padella, the Old Spanish padilla and the New Mexican Spanish puela.
Valencians refer to both the recipe and the specialized shallow pan in which it is cooked as paella. However, outside of the Valencian region, paellera is the proper word for the pan. The paellera is traditionally a round, shallow pan, made of polished steel with two handles.
The two most popular types of paella are Valencian paella and seafood paella. Valencian paella consists of white rice, green vegetables, meat, beans and seasoning. Seafood paella replaces meat with seafood and omits beans and green vegetables. The varieties of rice used are usually Calasparra or Bomba. Other key ingredients include saffron, and olive oil.
This dish has become enormously popular throughout much of the Spanish-speaking world, including the Hispanic regions of the United States. It also enjoys moderate popularity throughout Western Europe.
On special occasions, 18th century Valencians, who are Catalan speakers, used paelleras to cook rice in the open air of their orchards with vegetables of the season along with chicken, rabbit, duck and snails. Later, social life became more active with the sociological changes of the 19th century in Spain, giving rise to reunions and outings in the countryside. This early rice dish evolved into Valencian paella where it was customary for men to do the cooking. In 1840, a local newspaper first used the phrase "Valencian paella" to refer to the recipe rather than the pan.
The most widely used ingredient list of the 19th century version is as follows: short-grain white rice, lima beans, chicken, rabbit, snails, duck (optional), judía verde (a wide, flat green bean common to Spain which is a subspecies of Phaseolus vulgaris), artichoke (a substitute for green beans in the winter), tomatoes, fresh rosemary, salt, paprika, saffron, olive oil and water. It's these ingredients that Valencians insist go into making Valencian paella.
Eventually, Spaniards outside of the Valencian region saw the charm in this dish. Coastal residents began adding seafood to the traditional recipe and called it mixed paella. Mixed paella became popular outside of Spain. As other cultures set out to make paella, the dish invariably acquired regional influences. Consequently, paella went from being a relatively simple dish of rice, beans, meat and green vegetables to including seafood, various types of sausage (the most popular being Spanish chorizo), a wide range of vegetables and many different seasonings. However, the most globally popular, non-Valencian recipe is seafood paella.
In Spain, mixed paella is very popular. Some restaurants that serve this mixed version refer to it as Valencian paella but Valencians insist only the original Valencian recipe can bear the name paella valenciana.
It has become a custom for mass gatherings in the Valencian region (festivals, political campaigns, protests, etc.) to prepare an enormous paella, sometimes to win a mention in the Guinness Book of Records. Huge, gargantuan pans are commissioned for these cases.