n Valencia, Spain, the ancestral home of paella, rice is a hotly contested topic. Whether they stand behind Bomba, the popular and well-known paella rice, or favor Albufera or another of the local varieties, Valencianos have very definite thoughts about paella rice, and how it should react to broth, and in the pan, while on its way to becoming the perfect texture. In the end it should be soft and juicy, but with soccarat, a slightly browned/burnt crust on the bottom. Finding just the right rice is key; but you must know what to do with it too.
Amongst short-grained rice varieties, there seem to be (roughly speaking) two types, those that “break” and release starch, and those that retain their structure and absorb liquids well. Those that release starch (Arborio, etc.) are ideal for making creamy risottos.
But to make the best paella you want rice that retains its shape and will absorb a full paella pan of stock, packing the rice full of the flavors of paprika, saffron, meat, and herbs. And, finally, all that liquid helps the rice on the bottom of the pan darken and crisp without becoming black and bitter. But which rice is best?
Many in Valencia see Bomba as the classic (and only) rice for paella. They cite its quality and consistency. Yet others see Bomba as a good place to start when first learning to make a paella, but it’s not the pinnacle of paella rice perfection. They’ll tell you that until you become really practiced at cooking a paella, Bomba’s reliability is the way to go; but once you’ve got a dozen or so paellas under your belt, Albufera or another local Valencian rice, though trickier to control, gives a better result. As for which is “better”, that is, as with so many things, a matter of personal preference and a subject for a long friendly debate, perhaps over sangria and tapas.
The good news for curious cooks is that Bomba, Albufera, and other Valencian rice varieties can be found online, or in better international grocery stores. And in Valencia they are quite inexpensive (€3-4 for a kilo) in the Central Market and elsewhere.
Now go make a paella.
Text and photos by Glenn D. Kaufmann
Mercado Central (Valencia’s Central Market)
Plaza del Mercado
46001 – Valencia
+34 963 829 100
Monday to Saturday from 7:00 am to 3:00 pm
The author/editor is indebted to others for the content in this article. While the final product on this page is ours, and we claim full ownership and responsibility for same, what you read here is based on our research, which led us to the following sources of information:
1. Personal Interviews and experiences