What Makes an Authentic Paella Recipe? 

By Edu Valor / Author - Spanish Chef

Do you want to see a Valencian chef cringe? Tell them that any rice dish made in a paella pan is an authentic paella recipe. 

They are fiery about protecting their heritage. Today, this age-old dish, treasured by Spaniards, enjoys protection against losing a tradition.

Not that I have anything against making your version. On the contrary! I'm all for creativity.

But when I order an authentic paella in Spain, I'm expecting a paella Valenciana like the one below. Nobody likes a negative surprise!

Chefs needed to define the recipe so we could all enjoy the old tradition.

What Does the Science Say About the Authentic Paella?

A study by the Catholic University of Valencia with anthropologist Pablo Vidal and chef Jose Andres revealed one thing.

The ingredient list of 400 non-professional cooks, older than 50 years. People from the 266 towns in Valencia were part of the research.

The ten essential ingredients are Valencian rice, olive oil, chicken, rabbit, water, salt, tomato, saffron, flat green beans (bajoqueta), and garrofón beans (a type of butter bean). There were also less frequently used ingredients.

They found 38 other regularly used and 50 other occasionally used ingredients. The ones that stood out were paprika/bell pepper, rosemary, and artichoke.

They had to limit the list to be considered an authentic paella Valenciana. That includes those regular and occasional ingredients.

In fact, all those recipe versions qualify as authentic.

In defining the recipe, ingredients hardly used or not significant in the study were left out.

The research paper is on the International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science website.

A steaming sauté to prepare the authentic paella.Preparing a sauté for an authentic paella full of aroma!

What About the Other Paella Recipes?

With so much demand across the world, I think it’s necessary to set boundaries. Let me go one step further.

The seafood paella – another hugely popular Valencian dish – is not THE authentic paella either. That should not surprise you by now!

A rice dish can be authentic Spanish but not always an authentic paella. You would add their defining ingredient(s).

We can have an authentic paella marinera (seafood paella, seafood as the defining ingredient) which has Valencian coastal roots.

That’s another pair of shoes, like other versions of the rice recipe. The purpose is to devise a set of rules to represent a tradition.

If we want to use the name paella Valenciana, I’d like the idea of a piece of history on a plate as part of a culture.

I like the thought of a lovely food gathering while remembering the good old times, as if we are part of something bigger than ourselves.

A paella for 12 in good company!A paella for 10 in good company! Photo by Valenciabonita.es

Naming a Long Tradition for the Better

So now you know the paella Valenciana is the authentic one, and there are many of them. The estimate is around 200 versions.

Seafood paella, black paella, and other popular versions are NOT part of the "authentic" list. Authentic Spanish, yes, but not an authentic paella!

Whoever says the dish includes chorizo is in for a witch hunt in gastronomic terms.

I don't necessarily agree because some traditional paella recipes include – like in the photo above – longaniza or other types of sausages.

Enough Spanish and international internet chefs were criticized for doing just that. Naming the rice creation is where the trouble hides.

The names Paella and Paella Valenciana are legally protected and are used only under certain conditions within Valencia. They have tried to break the rules and failed. Ask Catalan restaurant chefs!

When it comes to tradition and authenticity, certain people (including tourists) are interested in the culinary history of a region, and in tasting that history. I myself enjoy that experience, as do many others.

Las Fallas celebration of ValenciaThe "Fallas" festival of Valencia. Every year in March and unmistakably connected to paella.

The Authentic Paella Recipe that Brings People Together

Still curious about the authentic paella recipe? Who do you want to share it with? Whenever you are ready, here is how to make it!

The study also showed a popular tradition passed from parents (mostly fathers) to children. About 80% of home cooks prepare the dish for more than four people.

It’s clearly food for families, friends, and those invited. Most often made on Sundays or whenever people want to come together, to celebrate a special occasion, or not!

There are many paella excuses for social gatherings, but only one is called the paella Valenciana. The authentic one!


Edu's Spanish Paella Recipes