When talking of rice, arroz, in Spain, most people immediately think of paella and whilst an authentic one is a gastronomic delight, there are some poor imitations around, especially in the resorts, where the expected bright yellow colour is acheived not with saffron, but tartrazine. In fact, there are a lot of dishes apart from paella and many regions have their own speciality.
Rice was first brought to Spain by the Moors and was once grown throughout Andalusia and even Extremadura, but today, most production is centred in Valencia and Murcia. There are three PDO areas – Calasparra (Murcia), Valencia, and Delta del Ebro (Catalonia). The star cultivar is Bomba, which is grown in all three areas, but the Calasparra variety is the most commonly found. It is a typical short-grain rice, but is very absorptive, so is almost impossible to overcook. Senia and Bahia varieties are cheaper, but less resistant to becoming mushy without careful observation. A comparatively new variety is Albufera which offers the creaminess of the Bahia and Senia, but with a resistance similar to that of Bomba. Due to market demand, some growers are now producing brown and wholewheat rices.
There should be no problem finding Spanish rices and it is definitely worth buying the best, but at a push, the Italian risotto varieties Arborio and Carnaroli will suffice, but don’t expect the same results.