One of the best known, loved and most abused dishes in Spain has been awarded Protected Cultural Status on the grounds that a good Paella celebrates “the art of unity and sharing”.
On Tuesday, the government of Valencia – the region of origin of paella – declared the dish to be an item of cultural significance, touting its history and virtues in an eight-page ad published in the Official Gazette.
“Paella is an icon of the Mediterranean diet, both because of its ingredients and because of its characteristics as a representation of Valencian culture,” the statement read.
“All the ingredients used in its preparation – such as fish, meat, vegetables, the aptly famous and healthy olive oil and the whole grain that is rice – are part of the Mediterranean diet.”
The fragrant blend of proteins, vegetables and carbohydrates, he added, “makes paella one of the most balanced dishes in gastronomy”.
The regional government said the new statute would help promote study and research on the dish and would “ensure the survival of this cultural element and ensure its transmission to future generations.”
Despite its sacred status in Valencian cuisine, paella has often been the victim of controversial twists – and even mechanization. Five years ago, Jamie Oliver terrified many on the peninsula by suggesting that chorizo deserved a place in the dish, while earlier this year a Spanish industrial engineer unveiled a paella robot.
The statement, noting that paella should be protected from “distortions that could result from mass tourism”, also included a series of dos and don’ts.
Heat sources are important: although orangewood is abundant in Valencia “and gives the dish a special character and aroma”, the main thing is to make sure that your fire is not too smoky, or, if you cook on an indoor stove, check that the hob distributes heat evenly, he says.
Perhaps the most important rule is never to stir the rice while it is cooking. Any spatula foray will release too much starch from the rice and leave you with a sticky paella.
The government stressed that the dish is “the symbol of a Sunday family lunch … and represents a sense of identity and continuity that we must protect, maintain and transmit.”
She admits, however, that times have changed when it comes to cutlery: “Tradition has it that a paella is eaten with a spoon (in the past they were made of wood and individual), even if it is true today that this custom has fallen. and each guest can choose for himself.
He also recalled how the dish developed over several centuries after the Arabs brought rice to Spain and the saffron trade began to flourish.
“The first reference to paella – or ‘Valencian rice’ – is in an 18th century recipe manuscript, which explains how it should be prepared and notes that the rice should eventually dry out.”