Most paellas include rice, chicken, shellfish, pork, saffron, green peppers, green peas and simple spices, such as sea salt and bay leaf. This is a variation on traditional paellas, many of which are made with rabbit, snails, chicken, beans and artichokes. While most regions of Spain have their own varieties, Spanish cooks agree that rice and saffron are key ingredients.
Paella is a very versatile dish because nearly anything that goes well with rice and saffron can be used in the recipe. Because paella originated in Valencia, traditional versions are called “paella Valenciana.” Paellas that contain seafood, usually shellfish, are called “paellas de marisco.” There are even meatless variations that contain white beans, eggplant, artichokes and peppers.
Well-cooked rice is essential to good paella. Although bomba rice, a medium-grain rice with almost round grains from the Levante region of Spain, is traditional, regular medium-grain white rice makes a good substitute. Paella can also be very expensive to make. Spanish saffron, the spice that turns the rice yellow, is one of the most expensive spices on the market. A very economical substitute for saffron is safflower. Very similar to saffron in flavor, it also colors the rice yellow, giving paella its distinguished look.