The Paella King

It has been raining for a while here in Seattle now . . . You are restless because you are having one of those Spain dreams you often have this time of year.

You are in Costa del Sol or the Costa Brava, and you are lounging at a beachside restaurant, your toes knead the warm soft sand, and you are intoxicated by the heat, the Mediterranean Sea . . . and the cool dry sherry wine.

You want to prolong the afternoon, so you decide to splurge on a paella — a dish to match the moment. After a half-hour of enjoying tapas (appetizers) and fino (dry sherry), the paella arrives. While it reposes on your table, allowing the various flavors to mingle, you admire it. Resting in the large, round shallow pan from which it gets its name are prawns, squid, chicken, clams, mussels and legumes in a bed of golden rice. Infusing all is the exquisite aroma of saffron.

Then, just as you and your friends prepare to indulge, the dream begins to fade . . . OH NO! What to do?

Testimonials

Hi Jim! Thanks for such an amazing event, we had an absolute blast and everyone CANNOT stop talking about how great the paella was. Even Georgetown Ballroom said we had the best wedding food they’d ever seen.

— Gwen & Matthew Stubbs, Seattle

Dear Jim Kuhn, Thank you so much for making the fabulous paella for our wedding celebration. It was a huge success!

— Kirsten & Mike Jacobs, Snohomish

The Paella King Welcomes You

To all who have journeyed to this site: The Paella King as a food business will cease operations as of June 1, 2017.

I am retiring and my son, Toby, is taking his musicianship (with the band, Tangerine) and his skills as a “paellero” to Los Angeles.

I am grateful for the patronage of the Northwest community over these last twenty years, from when many people assumed that the paella image on the side of my van was a pizza, and pronouncing the word “paella” was a linguistic feat. Well, we’ve moved far beyond that, and I regret that we will not be here to cater to the rising demand for this special dish. However, it is one thing to stop making paellas, but another to abruptly cut oneself off from the memories and the community. With that in mind, starting in June, I’ve decided to use this platform to share some of the recipes and stories that I’ve compiled over the years.

The Making of the Paella King

Many years ago I went to Seville, Spain to study flamenco guitar. In my naiveté, I expected to find “real” flamenco on every street corner and that in a year I could become a competent flamenco guitarist. Neither of those things occurred. However, I did fall into the surreal world of Spanish gypsy flamenco, where the most ordinary aspects of life were elevated to art and where the participants conspired to create a kind of theatre, in which each of us had a role to play.

I have never laughed so hard, nor witnessed such profound art as during those times. The experience both liberated and challenged me: how could I incorporate that sense of play and art into my life in the States? The Paella King is part of my attempt to answer that question.

I started this business in 1997 with the idea of recreating some of the joy of music and food that I experienced in the gypsy community in Spain, both for my clients and for myself. I chose paella because it is a great party dish and I was aesthetically drawn to it. Who could not be inspired in the presence of a good paella, with its prawns, squid, chicken, clams, mussels, and legumes resting in a bed of golden, saffron-infused rice? It is a fiesta in a pan!

I’ve been traveling around the western part of the state of Washington for the last 14 years, preparing paella and sometimes playing flamenco guitar for a variety of events — from intimate gatherings to weddings.

History and Elaboration of Paella

The word “paella” is an evolution of the Latin word “patella,” which referred to a flat-bottomed cooking vessel with handles on the sides and was probably used to prepare a variety of dishes. The settling of the Arabs into the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century AD brought with it the cultivation of rice (ar-rrozz in Arabic, arroz in Spanish). The largest production of rice in Spain occures in a region called “La Albufera,” a wetlands area not far from the city of Valencia, on the east coast. The other prominent ingredient in paella, saffron (azafrán, in Spanish), is also grown in Spain. This completes the trinity for paella aficionados: the pan, the rice, and the saffron.

Paella began as a fairly simple dish. Workers in the rice fields would cook their midday meals over an open fire in paella pans, taking advantage of the fresh vegetables, snails, eel, and wild herbs available to them. As their economic situations improved, on special days they might add a chicken or rabbit to their “arroz.” At some point — around the 13th century — the dish became known as “arroz a la Valenciana en paella,” and then, sometime in the 19th century, it was called simply, “paella Valenciana.” Over the years, it has incorporated different ingredients, depending on what was available: in coastal areas, seafood might predominate, while in the interior, one might find meats, or even mushrooms. One thing is fairly constant, however: a paella is a rice dish cooked in a paella pan.

So, what makes a good paella? First, for paella enthusiasts, a good paella is judged by the quality and flavor of the rice, regardless of the variety or quantity of “goodies” that are embedded in it. Next, the cooking of all the ingredients must take place in the paella pan. It is a process during which the meats and other ingredients are sautéed, removed, and then replaced, but there should be no cooking of the rice separately. The rice, a good short-grained Spanish variety, must be cooked in such a manner that all of the liquid is absorbed and ideally a light crust is achieved on the bottom, called the “soccarat.” The socarrat is prized because of the concentration of flavor there. As a final note, because of the fiesta-like nature of the dish, there is sometimes a temptation towards wild experimentation in regard to ingredients — adding wine or inappropriate vegetables, for example — but one should resist that and respect the rice.