Contrary to popular belief, paella originally consisted of rice, beans and snails, with the occasional addition of water vole or eel if available. On high days and holidays, rabbit or chicken would be added to the paella, but although there are now many versions of the dish, the true Valencian paella does not include shellfish.
It's a simple dish with few ingredients, in total contrast to more familiar ‘luxury’ versions that can be found in yachting marinas the world over. The beans would have been a mixture of what was available, for example, flat green beans rather like runner beans, white beans resembling cannellini and known as mongetes in Catalan, and garrafones – fresh butter beans.
½ teaspoon saffron strands
2 tablespoons olive oil
750 g/1½ lbs. cups chicken or rabbit joints
1 onion, finely chopped
4 tomatoes, halved and grated
250 g/8 oz. runner beans, sliced
250 g/1¼ cups cooked, soaked dried cannellini or butter/lima beans, or the contents of 1 x 400-g/14-oz. can, drained
900 ml/3¾ cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
250 g/1¼ cups short-grain rice, such as Bomba
Salt and ground black pepper
Put the saffron in a small bowl and pour 2 tablespoons of boiling water over it, then leave to soak for 30 minutes.
Heat the oil in a wide shallow frying pan/skillet and sauté the chicken or rabbit pieces until golden brown, then remove and set aside. Keep the chicken or rabbit warm while you prepare the vegetables.
In the same pan, gently fry the onion until soft and translucent, then add the grated tomatoes and the saffron with its water, and continue to cook for a further 5 minutes.
Put the chicken or rabbit back into the pan with the onion and tomato and add the stock and rosemary. Bring to the boil, then simmer for about 10 minutes, uncovered. Taste the stock and season with salt and pepper.
Next, add the rice and prepared beans, distributing them evenly and pushing them down so that they are submerged in the stock, and continue to cook, uncovered, for about 25–30 minutes, or until the rice and beans are cooked and the liquid has been absorbed. During this final cooking, leave the dish well alone.
If it seems to be drying out before the rice is cooked, add a little boiling water or extra stock, but don’t stir it in.
Once cooked, it will sit quite happily for quite a while, covered with a lid or clean, damp cloth/rag. In any case, it should be allowed to sit for a few minutes before serving – in Spain it is normal to eat paella tepid rather than hot.