What Is Arroz a La Valenciana?

Cynde Gregory

Arroz a la Valenciana, or Valencian rice, is a kissing cousin to Spanish paella. Paella, which also hails from Valencia, has been delighting diners since the 1850s. In essence, arroz a la Valenciana is one type of paella that has grown feet and traveled the world. Versions abound in Portugal in Europe, to the South in Chile, in Central and South America, and in the Asian Philippines.

Roasted red bell peppers are a common ingredient in arroz a la Valenciana.
Roasted red bell peppers are a common ingredient in arroz a la Valenciana.

As the name suggests, the base of the dish is rice, either sticky or long-grain, that is cooked in white wine and sometimes also in beer. This dish includes chorizo sausage as well as chicken, or pollo, which is why it is sometimes called arroz con pollo. Most cooks include onion, tomatoes, and roasted red bell peppers. Duck or rabbit can replace or accompany the chicken, and many cooks see this dish as a chance to use up green vegetables, such as peas as well as cooked, dried beans.

Leftover peas can be added to the dish arroz a la Valencia.
Leftover peas can be added to the dish arroz a la Valencia.

In addition to Valencian paella, another type of Spanish paella is paella de marisco, which features clams, lobster, and other seafood in place of the poultry and abandons the vegetables. Paella mixta, yet another variation, throws caution to the wind and combines chicken, sausage, and seafood together along with green vegetables and, if it suits the cook’s fancy, some cooked, dried beans.

In the wonderful world of rice dishes, two things make arroz a la Valenciana a stand out. First, while other types of rice can be used, traditionalists insist upon using bomba rice. Bomba is short-grain rice that expands horizontally rather than vertically; it is capable of absorbing as much as 30% of its volume, and each grain remains separate from the others, unlike sticky rice. Secondly, a few threads of saffron bring the dish up the ladder from really very good to beyond exquisite.

Filipino cooks put a little spin on the dish without tampering with its basic personality. Rather than sausage, their version, which is called arroz Valenciana, includes sliced pork. Atchuete oil and patis rather than saffron lend a distinctive flavor to the meal, and the addition of chicken organ meat and even sliced hot dogs give this version a solid base. Arroz Valenciana Filipino style is always served with malagkit, or sticky rice, rather than with bomba.

Although Creole citizens of Louisiana insist their dish is called jambalaya, there are enough similarities between this wonderfully spicy rice stove top casserole and arroz a la Valenciana to suggest more than a passing acquaintance. Both are cooked in a series of steps; first, meat and vegetables are cooked together in wine, beer, or water. The rice is cooked with some of the meat and juices added in. Next, the rice is fried with buttery onions, and as a final step, sausage and other ingredients are added. Seafood is often featured in jambalaya as well.

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