Cooking authentic-styled paella requires both the right rice and the proper pan. The pan is not the high-end variety seen in nicer cook shops, but a handled flat pan made of tin steel with a dimpled surface. If you travel to Spain and visit any large department store, you will find a section devoted to these pans in all sizes.
Paella also needs the proper rice, which absorbs liquids quite slowly. The best paella rice varieties are from Calasparra, a small town in southeastern Spain — not surprisingly, near Valencia, the birthplace of paella. Calasparra was designated a DO, or "Denominacion de Origen." These rice fields were created by the Moors centuries ago at the confluence of three rivers.
The short grain rice from Calasparra has the unique property of expanding in girth, not length, and absorbs a significant amount of liquid. Of the rice from Calasparra, bomba has the reputation for being the best for paella.
Even though Calasparra rice is difficult to find except online (www.tienda.com), stay away from the prepackaged paella boxes which contain parboiled rice (which is, of course, partially cooked). Although many cooks substitute risotto, the result differs since risotto is creamier than Calasparra rice.
Compare Foods Supermarket (818 E. Arrowood Road; 5610 Independence Blvd.; 4300 N. Tryon St.; 3600 N. Sharon Amity Road; 3112 Milton Road) sells two brands of Spanish-styled short grain pearl rice: Goya's Valencia rice (12 ounce box, $2.59) and Iberia's Valencian rice (12 ounce bag, $1.19). Also, Sur La Table (SouthPark) is selling a Paella Gift Set which includes a 13-1/2" paella pan; saffron (.8g); bomba rice (2-1/4 lbs.); and a cookbook.
Looking for a food you can't find? Or do you know of other food items unique to the Q.C.? Whether it's regional foods or international, talk to me: [email protected] or 704-522-8334, extension 136.