Many non-Spaniards view paella as Spain’s national dish. However, most Spaniards consider it to be a regional Valencian dish. Valencians, in turn, regard paella as one of their identity symbols.
There are three widely known types of paella: Valencian paella (Spanish: paella valenciana), seafood paella (Spanish: paella de marisco) and mixed paella (Spanish: paella mixta); but there are many others as well. Valencian paella consists of white rice, green vegetables, meat (rabbit, chicken, duck), snails, beans and seasoning. Seafood paella replaces meat and snails with seafood and omits beans and green vegetables. Mixed paella is a free-style combination of meat, seafood, vegetables and sometimes beans.
Most paella chefs use calasparra or bomba rices for this dish. Other key ingredients include saffron and olive oil.
On special occasions, 18th century Valencians used paelleras to cook rice in the open air of their orchards near lake Albufera. Marsh rat was one of the main ingredients of early paellas, along with eel and butter beans. Novelist Vicente Blasco Ibáñez described the Valencian custom of eating marsh rats in Cañas y barro, a realist account about life among the fishermen peasants near lake Albufera.
Living standards rose with the sociological changes of the late 19th century in Spain, giving rise to reunions and outings in the countryside. This led to a change of paella’s ingredients as well, these being rabbit, chicken, duck, seafood and sometimes snails. This dish became so popular that in 1840 a local Spanish newspaper first used the phrase paella to refer to the recipe rather than the pan.
The most widely used complete ingredient list of this era was as follows: short-grain white rice, chicken, rabbit, snails (optional), duck (optional), butter beans, great northern beans, runner beans, artichoke (a substitute for runner beans in the winter), tomatoes, fresh rosemary, sweet paprika, saffron, garlic (optional), salt, olive oil and water. (Poorer Valencians, however, sometimes used nothing more than snails for meat.) It’s these ingredients, and only these, that Valencians insist go into making modern Valencian paella.