All About Spanish Rice: Paella and Beyond!

Paella is just the beginning when it comes to Spanish rice dishes!

Depending on what region of Spain you are in, the type of pan your rice is cooked in and the ingredients it contains, rice can go by a huge range of names here in Spain. Making sure you know which words to look for will ensure that you get the freshest, most delicious rice in each region! Here is are fool-proof guide to ordering paella and other types of scrumptious Spanish rice dishes.

Looking for the best paella in Madrid? Here's everything you need to know to feast on Spain's best rice dishes!
Seafood Paella is just one of many delicious Spanish rice dishes!

Types of Spanish Rice Dishes

With the exception of the eastern region of Valencia (the birthplace of paella), what the rest of the world calls paella here in Spain goes by many different names. In fact, outside of Valencia the dishes that are not called paella are often even more delicious!

1. Paella

Purists will tell you that the only dish that should ever be called paella is the traditional recipe for paella Valenciana. The roots of this now infamous rice dish are not what you might imagine! True paella has no seafood, is only about 2 cm deep and originated as a hearty lunch for workers in the fields of far from the coast.

The traditional recipe calls for rabbit, snails and large green beans and is cooked over an open fire in a thin, round pan known as a “paella.” The name for Spain’s most famous rice dish actually comes from the pan it is cooked in! To avoid confusion, many Spaniards now refer to the pan as a “paellera” and the food as “paella.”

Delicious seafood Paella from Valencia. To be true paella it has to be this thin!
Seafood Paella in Valencia, with plenty of socorrat!

2. Arroz con Bogavante

Outside of Valencia, most menus will refer to rice dishes as just that, “arroz.” Most are still cooked using the exact same paella pan, but because the ingredients and the region are different it is not called a paella. Instead, it is “rice with…” whichever main ingredient they’ve chosen to add. Perhaps the most prestigious ingredient is bogavante aka lobster. A well-made arroz con bogavante is a flavor-packed thing of dreams! Other popular ingredients are scallops, shrimp, chicken and fish.

3. Arroz al Caldero

If you’re looking for a Spanish rice dish so juicy that it is almost creamy, then keep your eyes peeled for arroz al caldero. This rice dish is prepared in a deep, black, cauldron-like pan and hails from Murcia, the region just south of Valencia along the Mediterranean coast. And where paella is all about the crisp crust on the bottom of the pan, arroz al caldero puts its money on intense flavors and luxuriously creamy textures. The secret to a spectacular arroz al caldero is all in the broth, which often contains up to 15 different types of fish and the smokey ñora peppers that are native to Murcia.

4. Arroz Caldoso

This style of rice will have you debating whether to grab a fork or a spoon! Arroz caldoso literally means “brothy rice.” This style of Spanish rice dish is popular throughout the Iberian Peninsula (Portugal included!) and has hundreds of variations, from seafood to vegetables to chicken!

5. Arroz Negro

With its inky black color, this style of rice lives up to its name! Arroz negro, or black rice, gets its jet black color from squid ink. It usually contains various types of calamari hidden in the inky goodness. And don’t forget to ask for bright white alioli sauce, a garlicky mayonnaise, to go with it!

If you're looking for paella in Madrid, another place to try is Que si quieres arroz Catalina. This rice dish is prepared with squid ink, which gives it its black color and enhances its seafood flavor.
A totally unique style of Spanish rice: arroz negro, made with squid ink.

Words to know

1. Socorrat: Perhaps the most important word when talking about paella! Socorrat is the crispy, almost burnt layer along the bottom of the paella pan. Only the best paella chefs know how get the socorrat and it is a surefire sign of a great paella!

2. Paellera: The large, shallow, round pan used to make paella and many other Spanish rice dishes. This type of pan is also called a “paella,” which is where Spain’s most famous rice dish got its name!

3. Caldero: Deep, cauldron-like pan used to make the creamy Murcian-style of rice known as arroz al caldero.

4. Garrofón: Unique style of large, flat, green beans used in a traditional paella valenciana. You can find these unique beans almost exclusively along Spain’s easternmost provinces in the region known as Levante.

5. Ñora pepper: The secret to spectacular arroz al caldero. These dried, round peppers are an essential part of the broth and bring a richness and deepness of flavor to the rice. Most chefs use about 3 ñora pepper per person in their recipes.

The secret to the deep, rich flavor of many Spanish rice dishes? These sun-dried ñora peppers!
Sun-dried ñora peppers are the key to great arroz al caldero.

6. Azafrán: As the key ingredient in paella, saffron famously gives the dish its characteristic yellow color. Fun fact: saffron, or azafrán in Spanish, is one of the most expensive spices in the world. Many Spaniards substitute it for a yellow food coloring to cut down on the cost of making paella.

7. Arroz Bomba: The most popular type of rice used in dry Spanish rice dishes like paella or arroz al caldero. This variety of rice has a lower starch content which means each grain stays intact and doesn’t fall apart, which is how paella maintains such a unique texture!

Where to Eat the Best Spanish Rices & Paellas in Madrid

As paella and other Spanish rice dishes are not traditional part of Madrid cuisine, to find great rice in the capital city we definitely recommend searching out restaurants owned and operated by families from Spain’s coastal regions! Here are a few of our favorites.

1. El Caldero

This family-owned restaurant brings the coast of Murcia into the heart of Madrid. They offer 14 different types of rice dishes from their namesake arroz al caldero to various types of made-to-order paellas. Ninety percent of the ingredients that the restaurant uses (from the rice to the salt to the wines), they bring fresh from small producers in Murcia every week.

El Caldero – Calle de las Huertas, 15

2. Casa de Valencia

For classic Valencian paellas, there are few better places in Madrid than Casa de Valencia. In fact, the King of Spain himself inaugurated this spot and it has been serving a wide selection of paellas (socorrat included!) since 1975.

Casa de Valencia – Paseo del Pintor Rosales, 58

3. Cañas y Barro

Located in the Conde Duque neighborhood, this is one of the best spots in Madrid to try arroz negro. This is a no frills neighborhood restaurant with classic Valencian recipes.

Cañas y Barro Calle Amaniel, 28

Want to discover more of the many secrets behind Spain’s tastiest foods? Join us on a food tour! Explore the local market where Madrid’s delicacies are sold on our Hidden Madrid Food & Market Tour or delve into the delicious world of Spanish tapas on our Tapas, Taverns & History Tour

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