As Jamie Oliver knows full well, people from Spain – and the Valencia region in particular – can be pretty puritanical when it comes to how a paella should be made.
The British star chef received a barrage of criticism and even death threats from Spain after adding an off-limits ingredient.
“Remove the chorizo. We don’t negotiate with terrorists. First warning,” one disgruntled Spaniard responded to Oliver’s Instagram post.
“Why don’t you chop off your fingers and turn them into nuggets?” another critic went as far as saying.
‘Paellagate’ may have made international headlines and taken matters to the extreme, but it’s safe to say that many Valencians are fed up with their beloved paella – icon of Spanish cuisine and the Mediterranean diet – being butchered by chefs who don’t stick to the correct ingredients.
Think it’s a bit far-fetched? Well, on Tuesday the regional government of Valencia (where paella is originally from) decided to give their quintessential dish protected status for its cultural importance, detailing in an 8-page bulletin why it deserves the accolade.
Among the reasons to protect paella are “the distortions that could result from mass tourism” and the need to safeguard “traditional professions” associated with paella-making.
So if it wasn’t clear already, Valencians and Spaniards in general paella pretty seriously.
To be clear, there are different variations of paella which we’ll detail below, but overall you should avoid the following ingredients when preparing a paella or looking for an authentic paella at a restaurant.
Peas: You often see peas in paellas but this is a big no-no in fact, it should be green beans instead.
Onion: That’s right, cebollas may be found in many Spanish recipes but add them to a paella and you may end up crying for two reasons.
Chorizo: A quintessential Spanish food product but as Jamie Oliver has been warned, not one that should be added to authentic paella.
Carrots: An extra ingredient to your vegetarian paella won’t hurt, right? The colour even matches that misplaced shrimp as well. ‘Chuck in some mushrooms while you’re at it, why won’t you?’ said no Valencian ever.
Mixing meat and seafood: As we’ll detail below, seafood and meat-based paellas are allowed by the paella vigilantes, but mixing chicken with shrimp isn’t a match made in heaven for them.
Beef: If chicken, duck, rabbit and in some rare cases pork chops are allowed, why not diced-up beef, you may ask? Expect disapproving looks from Castellón down to Alicante.
Stock: Any proud Valencian will stay well clear of the different premade ‘caldo’ options on offer at Spanish supermarkets and make their own stock using water and the paella’s official ingredients.
Food colouring: So you’ve not been able to get your hands on some saffron and thought that by dyeing the food yellow a Spaniard wouldn’t notice? Good luck with that.
Wrong rice: Avoid long-grain rice like Basmati and if possible try to get your hands on bomba, bahía or sénia rice, the best kinds for paella.
What ingredients should an authentic Spanish paella include?
According to Wikipaella, the self-proclaimed online “paella police”, there are three types of paella – paella Valenciana, arroz a banda (or senyoret) and paella with rabbit and snails (paella de conejo y caracoles).
Each has slightly different variations in their ingredients, but the main traditional ingredients are the same: rice, extra virgin olive oil, saffron and tomato.
Arroz a banda has seafood, which includes cuttlefish, shrimp and angler fish as the most frequently used ingredients. Less common is squid or mussels.
Paella Valenciana has chicken, rabbit and often snails or duck. Pork ribs and meatballs are not used as frequently but still get the OK from Wikipaella.
The site recognizes that there are always regional and seasonal differences among recipes, such as adding artichokes, but as we saw above there are some definite no-nos.
And remember: nobody expects the Valencian Paella Inquisition!