I have really fond memories of paella. Every year for New Year’s Eve my parents would make a paella studded with seafood, chorizo, and lobster tails to ring in the new year. I don’t think it has anything to do with any culture’s tradition, but it was our family’s tradition, and it was a real yummy one 🙂
If you didn’t know, Spanish paella is a rice dish officially originating in the 19th century in the Valencian region of Spain, though its history can be traced back to fifteenth-century Moorish rice casseroles. It’s a rice-based pot dish that includes basically anything you’d like to add to it, based on the paella variation, geographic location, and personal tastes. Versatile paellas include such ingredients as seafood (lobsters, shrimp, mussels), meat (mostly chorizo but traditional Valencian paella has rabbit), vegetables (peppers and peas are a must!) and spices. Basically, you can put anything into your pot, and it’ll still be a delicious and proper paella!
Interesting fact: most people hail paella as the national food of Spain, but in the country itself, it’s considered a Valencian dish and not representative of the entire country. I had made the typical poor tourist choice when visiting Barcelona to order a Spanish paella (I got it, of course, but the chef was probably shaking his head and muttering the whole time). It would be like visiting Buffalo and ordering a slice of pizza, expecting it to be “authentic,” because the pizza is just so exceptional in New York City!
Speaking of New York City (hahaha), you can get a good number of authentic paella dishes, both traditional and reworked, in Spanish restaurants all over the city. But one of the best has been hailed by New York Magazine as the paella to rule over them all. Socarrat is the Spanish term for the layer of toasted rice on the bottom of the paella pot–the indicator that you’ve made the paella to the letter and to perfection. You can definitely find socarrat on the bottom of your paellera at Socarrat, designed to feel like an old countryside restaurant back in Spain. They expertly serve all kinds of paella, from carne (obviously meat paella) to seafood arroz negro, which includes squid ink (don’t knock it till you tried it!) There are four–count them, four–types of meat in the paella carne, which is why NY Magazine suggests it’s the dish to try. But really, any paella you order here will be spectacular, whether you’re hitting close to familiar and comfortable flavors or daring to try something new. It’s the best you can get without hitching a ride on a 747 and jetting to the Mediterranean for authentic flavor.
Socarrat Paella Bar
259 W 19th St (between 7th Ave & 8th Ave)
“These aren’t perfect paellas, not nearly. Sometimes the meat or seafood is overcooked. But they’re better than the paellas at many other Spanish restaurants in New York, where paella doesn’t always fare so well. The rice above that blissful ultimate layer isn’t the least bit dry, and it’s thoroughly infused with oil, with seasonings, with the flavor of whatever’s around it.”The New York Times
“There are five traditional paellas on the menu, each one fresher and more authentic than you’ll find anywhere in this paella-starved town. If you have to choose one, try the paella de carne, made with chunks of pork, duck, chicken, and chorizo mingled in piles of crackling rice, which gets crisper and more crackly as you excavate with your spoon.”–New York Magazine
“Seats are a hot commodity at this tiny Spanish restaurant. Those patient enough to wait will find deftly executed tapas, like grill-marked endive and leeks with a zesty romesco. But the focus is on the namesake dish. The signature version delivers with aromatic rice and a bounty of delicious morsels—mussels and clams, piquillo peppers, chicken and cuttlefish.”–Time Out New York
“Socarrat, the quintessence of the perfect paella and for which the restaurant is named, is the delectable, sensuous crust that forms on the bottom of the paella pan when the liquid is rendered and the rice reaches its peak of succulence. The menu, an authentic array of delicious dishes from the regions of Spain specializing in traditional tapas with an accent on paella and fideua (which substitutes fried noodles for rice) that can be characterized as a true exploration for the palette.”–NY Daily News
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“This place offers several types of paella, some seafood-centric, others not. The minimum order is two servings per paella. If you look at their giant paella pans, it makes sense. The two paellas that we tried were both scrumptious, with crispy rice at the bottom of the pans. The Squid Arroz Negro was the more unique dish, with jet black rice from squid ink. I wondered whether my teeth would suffer any coloring effects with this dish, but I’m happy to report my pearly whites are still the same shade of off-off-white.”–Judy K.
“Paella was awesome. The waiter was so sweet and explained to us just how to eat the paella as well as what “soccarat” was (the crispy burned bottom of the paella). The flavor was spot-on, the softness of the fish against the chewiness of the squid was a great contrast, and the soccarat was so delicious (definitely my favorite part!). Portions are generous and I ate my whole share…which was huge.”–Jenny W.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!