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What is the best rice to use in paella ?

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Best Paella Rice

Paella rice is not your everyday rice, it is a specially bred short grain rice with low starch and high absorbtion properties and the best paella rice is grown in Spain.A lot of people ask us what rice they should use when cooking paella, and can you buy it in Woolworths or Coles ?

So, What is the best rice to use in paella ?

Paella is at its heart a rice dish, with the ingredients serving a secondary role to flavour the rice.  In Spanish, the ingredients are known as the ‘banda’ and sometimes the rice is even served without the ‘banda’ since its primary function is to release flavours into the rice.

  Rice is from the botanical species oryza sativa, and there are two primary sub species indica and japonica.  Indica rice is characterised by long, narrow grains, and is normally served as an accompaniment for example in Indian cooking (eg Basmati rice).  This is because the grains themselves do not readily absorb flavours, and the rice itself has a distinctive flavour of its own.

  Japonica rice on the other hand is characterised by short oval shaped grains, and has little flavour of its own.  It does, however, have super absorbent properties and readily absorbs moisture and flavours from the recipe.  Japonica rice absorbs two to three times its own weight in moisture, and for this reason Japonica rice is the best rice to use not only in paella, but in a range of rice based dishes where the absorbtion properties are import (eg. Risotto).

Varieties of rice

 Rice is categorised by the length of its grains, with long grained rice measuring over 7mm, medium grain rice 5-6mm, and short grain rice less than 5mm.

  Short grain rice, or Arroz Redonda (round rice) is preferred for paella, and in Spain the main varieties used for paella are senia, bomba, bahfa, and thaibonnet.   Many people suggest using Calasparra rice for paella, but it is important to remember that Calasparra is simply a region in which the rice is grown it is not an actual variety of rice.  Calasparra rice is naturally a Spanish rice and likely a very good quality, but it could be any of the varieties mentioned above.

 The original Spanish paella rice was farmed in the natural wetlands of Lake Albufera on the Iberian Peninsula in Valancia, Spain; and to this day the rice fields of Lake Albufera and surrounds are an important contributor to the local ecosystem, preserving many species of fauna and flora that are no longer present in the lake itself.  Many a sangria fuelled argument has been fought over whether the best paella rice comes from Calasparra or from Valencia, and it would be foolish of me to make a judgement.  

Certainly, however, both Calasparra and Valencian rice are excellent quality Spanish Arroz Redondo and perfect for making paella.

  Bomba rice is the most sought after for paella because of its superior quality and absorbtion properties.  By quality, it means that bomba rice keeps its shape as it cooked because it expands lengthways.  Bomba rice is one of the more expensive varieties of rice, often two to three times dearer, because this variety when grown produces relatively low yields and therefore is less suited to commercial cultivation than the other types of rice.

A speciaty deli will likely stock a short grain Spanish rice, in fact I was in Thomas Dux this morning and they did have Bomba rice on the shelf $10.99 for 500g. If you are not able to find a bomba rice, or other Spanish Arroz Redondo, then in Australia the most popular commonly available short grain rice is arborio which can be easily found in Coles or Woolworths. The key problem with arborio rice is that it is starchy and becomes sticky when cooked, whereas a paella rice is low starch and the cooked grains remain separated.

The rice you choose for your paella must be the best quality you can find.  Look for homogeneous grains of rice in perfect condition with no broken grains, as these will release starch into your paella making it sticky. 

Rice use in cooking paella 

 When cooking the paella rice it is best not to rinse it first, as this detracts from the texture of the finished dish.  Do not mix varieties because they won’t cook uniformly, and never use brown rice in paella it takes too long to cook.

 To measure ingredients, use about ½ a cup of white short grain rice (100g) per person.  When cooked each grain of rice should be separate and not sticking to each other.  To tell when rice is cooked take a grain out and cut in in half.  When you can no longer tell the kernel, or heart of the grain, from the rest of the rice grain then the rice is cooked.  If the kernel is still distinguishable from the rest of the grain then the rice will not digest properly and is not quite cooked.

Whilst rice is the most important ingredient in a paella, a great paella is a balance of flavours with no one flavour overpowering the others.  Purists prefer to use less ingredients, so that each ingredient can be tasted individually.  Use quality ingredients to bring out the best flavours and textures.

  When it comes to saffron, use about a pinch for each person, or for each 100g of rice.  Either steep the saffron in your warm stock for at least 15 minutes, or crush it with a pestle and mortar and add either directly to the stock or put it in with your paprika.

If you can't find a good paella rice in your local supermarket or deli you can buy specially procured paella rice right here on Saffrondust with free shipping anywhere in Australia. 

At Saffrondust we stock the largest range of saffron in Australia and all of our saffron is imported direct from the manufacturers overseas and never repackaged locally.  We are passionate about our saffron quality and we source the best.  That tiny pinch or two of saffron that you use in your recipe is very important, and stale or low grade saffron will just not do the job properly.  It is our mission to make sure that your saffron performs authentically and consistently every time.  Our biggest satisfaction is winning repeat orders from our valued customers.

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