Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Samantha from Cochran, GA. Samantha Wonders, “How do you make paella?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Samantha!

Do you smell that? There's an awesome aroma coming from the Wonderopolis kitchen right now. Our tummies are starting to rumble. We hope it's time to eat soon. Want to know what's on the menu? We're cooking up a big batch of paella!

Paella? That's right! Famous all over the world, paella is a tasty rice dish that first developed in the mid-1800s near Valencia, Spain. Today, paella is still closely associated with Spanish culture.

The name, paella, comes from an Old French word (paelle), which came from a Latin word (patella), both of which mean the same thing: pan. That's no coincidence, because paella is usually made in a special paella pan (called a paella in Valencia and a paellera in other parts of Spain and throughout Latin America) that is a shallow, round, polished-steel pan with two handles.

So what exactly is paella? Unfortunately, that question isn't quite as easy to answer as you might think. There are many versions of paella. Even in Valencia itself, where paella got its start, there are many different varieties of paella. Many people who cook paella look at it as an evolving culinary art form.

The original recipe for paella — known today as Valencian paella — paired saffron-scented rice with a mixture of rabbit, chicken, snails, and three types of beans. Other green vegetables and seasonings found locally around Valencia were also often included.

The one thing common to all varieties of paella is rice. Over 1,300 years ago, the Moors planted rice in a lagoon called the Albufera, outside Valencia. Rice is still grown there today, and rice still forms the basis of all paella dishes.

Today, there are two other popular types of paella. Seafood paella leaves out the beans and green vegetables and replaces the land animals with different types of seafood, such as fish, shellfish, eel, and squid. Mixed paella can take many forms, including mixtures of land animals (including chicken and pork), seafood, beans, and vegetables (including peppers, peas, and artichokes).

Although paella recipes can vary greatly from one area (and chef!) to another, some common ingredients are usually included in some form. For example, the use of olive oil and saffron are common to most types of paella.

Since paella is a rice-based dish, the type of rice you use is very important. Spanish chefs prefer bomba rice, which is a nearly-round grain found along the eastern coast of Spain. If you can't get your hands on bomba rice, chefs recommend using medium-grain rice instead of long-grain varieties. Medium-grain rice tends to absorb more liquid, and thus flavor, than others.

If you want to cook paella the old way, you'll need a paella pan. You'll also need to cook it over an open fire or a grill powered by charcoal or gas. This allows for a hot fire to brown meat quickly, followed by simmering the rice and other ingredients over a lower heat as the fire burns down. Today, though, modern cooking techniques are often used to cook paella on the stove in a large skillet.

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