Finding the perfect Paella in Spain, is a bit of an art. Which seems odd considering it’s one of the countries globally craved dishes. So why exactly is it hard for tourists and how do you know where to find the good stuff?
Thankfully, the answers are far easier than the quest and if you get it right, to the victor goes the socarrat.
What is Socarrat:
Ever find yourself fighting for the crispy corner of homemade lasagna? The perfectly charred yet succulent piece of pulled pork. The best french fry?
That’s Paella’s Socratt, the bite everyone fights for.
Why Is it Hard to Find?
Many of the great dishes of the world like risotto, roasts and black beans are pretty simple yet time consuming to make. Paella is no different. Traditionally, a communal style dish, socarrat takes an hour and a half to develop. Too many ingredients in the pan, smother the rice and make it impossible to crisp. Paella can not be rushed or the exact quality that makes it such a sought after dish is missing.
Since good Paella is a matter of timing, kitchens have to plan ahead. That means, you’ll need to plan at least one day in advance to find the good stuff.
What to look for:
- A small menu without English subtitles or pictures.
- Smaller family restaurants that welcome their guests warmly.
- Late lunch hours, skip restaurants that open for lunch at 11am.
- Restaurants that require a reservation for Paella the day before.
- Same day orders are fine… if they warn you of an hour long wait.
- Find a restaurant serving Paella at the table, out of a Paella pan.
- Waiter or guests scrapping a Paella pan with the back of a spoon.
- Locals! Preferably tucked in at the bar… alone with their own bottle of wine, always a good sign.
What’s in True Traditional Paella?
Originating in eastern coastal Spain, Paella is from Valencia. Traditional Paella Valencia does not have seafood. Rather rabbit or chicken, local beans (typically, tavella, garrofo and or ferraura) and snails. So snails not shrimp are traditional.
Craving seafood or freaked by snails? Go ahead, go for Seafood Paella, it truly is delicious. Just make sure to find a place that has both traditional and a seafood version.
Restaurants that allow you to order with no advance notice, warm up pre-made Paella and at that point honestly, what’s the point! There will be no socarrat and the meat will be dry. There is so much good food in Spain, if you don’t have time to do it right, order something else!