If there’s one thing you need to eat in Spain, it’s paella. And that’s exactly what I planned to do once I got to Valencia during my recent trip to Europe — eat all the paella I could get my hands on. After all, paella originated in Valencia; hence the fact that most recipes call for Valencia rice, a short-grain white rice from the same area.

Unfortunately, my trip to Valencia succumbed to the whims of the mercurial travel gods, and I ended up spending an entire week in Barcelona instead. Not one to be dissuaded from my dream meal, I was determined to have my paella anyways, even if it could only be had a few hours north of where it originated. I set about the gorgeous city of Barcelona to find the perfect place to eat, but noticed a problem right away: many different restaurants had these funny signs with ten or so photos of paella, all labeled with a brand name: Paellador. Others had a difference brand, Paella Maxima. As one who likes my food so fresh that it would almost be breathing, my foodie-tuned spidey sense went off.

After a little digging, it turns out that these are pre-fab frozen paella companies. Restaurants buy the dishes frozen, then heat up the paella to serve to customers, who think they’re getting the real thing. Um, no. No. Great big capital NO. Frozen paella? In Spain? Are you kidding me?

I polled the staff of a few restaurants and eventually turned up a handful of places that served fresh paella. I ate at three or four of them, and indeed the dishes they served were freshly made with some of the finest seafood the Aegean sea has to offer. I never did try the frozen paella, and you know what? I never will. Yikes.

For those of you not currently cooling your heels in Barcelona, I recommend making paella at home. It’s a very simple dish to make, and the ingredients are easy to rustle up. If you’re in the East Bay or near Mill Valley, I highly recommend making the short trek down to your local Spanish Table shop, where they not only stock Iberian imported foods, but they can also school you in the magical ways of paella making and recommend a Spanish wine to pair with your meat selection. Can you say staycation?

Recipe: Paella Valenciana

By Stephanie Stiavetti

Valencia-style paella is a simple dish that contains both shellfish and chicken. Bring a little bit of the Iberian coast to your kitchen.

Prep time: 15 min
Cook time: 45 min
Total time: 1 hr
Yield: 4 servings

Paella Valenciana


  • 1/4 tsp saffron threads
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 chicken legs
  • 2 chicken wings
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups Valencia rice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper pepper
  • 8 small fresh clams, scrubbed and clean
  • 8 small fresh mussels, scrubbed and clean


  1. Stir saffron into chicken stock; set aside.
  2. In large, wide skillet or paella pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add chicken to pan and cook until browned, 7 minutes per side. Remove to a plate.
  3. Add onion and garlic to pan and cook for 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Add stock to pan along with tomatoes and bring to boil. Scrape any browned bits from bottom of pan.
  4. Stir in rice, salt and pepper. Add chicken again and simmer gently over low heat for 20 minutes, stirring only occasionally.
  5. Examine shellfish to make sure they are clean. Throw away any that do not tighten closed when tapped. Nestle clams and mussels into rice until almost covered by rice and broth. Continue cooking over low heat until rice is tender and all shellfish open, about 7 to 10 minutes. Throw away any clams or mussels that do not open. Serve hot.

Culinary Tradition: Spanish

Paella in Spain: A Conspiracy 29 March,2011Stephanie Stiavetti

  • Hilary

    I am actually going to Barcelona today, and would LOVE to eat this paella. Where were the three/four places you sampled?

  • Dwayne Johnson

    I usually make this dish with some fresh chorizo.

  • Hilary, I hope you’re having fun! One place I went to was on La Rambla, called “American Soda” – silly name, but decent paella. Another was out at Puerto Olímpico called Marino Moncho’s. I can’t remember the other places.

    Also, here’s another post on the topic:


Stephanie Stiavetti

Stephanie is a writer and cookbook author recovering from her former tech-startup life. On the side she’s also a media consultant, specializing in all forms of digital goodness: audio, video, print, design, and social media.

After leaving the tech world nearly a decade ago, Stephanie made a career jump to her lifetime love, writing. She currently writes for the Huffington Post, KQED’s Bay Area Bites, NPR, and other select media outlets. Her first cookbook,Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese, is due out in fall 2013 on Little, Brown with coauthor Garrett McCord.

Being a recovering techy leaves an indelible mark, and everything Stephanie does is infused with her deep fascination with digital technology. She has been blogging since 1999, before blog engines even existed and a great readership consisted of a handful of friends who occasionally thought to check out your site. In 2005 she started her first food blog, which she repurposed in 2007 to become The Culinary Life.

Stephanie can be called many things: food writer, essayist, professional recipe developer, cookbook author, social media consultant, videographer, documentary maker, website developer, archivist of life. Despite all of these titles, she most commonly responds to Steph.

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