Put Ham in Your Paella?
by The Tapas Lunch Company
From the TLC Blog
In my experience, the correct technique and ingredients for a paella are such contentious points that I'd normally rather not even talk about them. The 'paella purists' tend to shoot down just about anything anyone recommends which is even slightly out of the ordinary, and I have seen comment threads on several posts on this site turn distinctively nasty as the purists battle the innovators in a war of words. Not to generalise too much, but the purists do tend to hail from the Valencia region and appear to be on a mission to protect that most representative of dishes from external manipulation. The innovators are often British consumers, looking to put a spin on an otherwise traditional dish, which is the kind of practice that leads to creations like Lemon and Coriander Humus and is why you'll commonly find chorizo paellas being made all over the UK, whereas you'll almost certainly never see such a thing in Spain. But that's fine - each to their own.
Imagine my surprise this past weekend then, when an experienced paella chef in my friend's home village of Navaconcejo (Extremadura) was seen to throw a couple of handfuls of diced serrano ham into the paella whilst frying the basic ingredients.
The chef in question (my friend's aunt) claimed to have learnt the trick from a Valencian friend who she said made the best paella she'd ever tasted. The ham, she said, added an extra dimension to the base flavour of the paella. And after a long lunch, I'd say I have to agree. The paella was delicious, and the odd piece of diced ham amongst the rice was a welcome variation on the texture.
So there you have it - next time you make a paella, try adding some diced ham to the ingredients when frying. This is a perfect use for dry or leftover bits of ham you might have in the fridge, or if you have a full leg of serrano on a stand, just cut off a few thicker than normal slices from the outer, dryer layers, and dice it up.
But please, please, don't tell anyone I told you to do this.