There are lots of good reasons to look forward to a gastronomic trip to Alicante and I can think of no better reason than to try what is probably the most famous dish from Alicante. The famous rice dish Arroz a banda is an Alicante classic.
The name Arroz a banda translates to ‘plenty of rice’ or ‘rice on the side’ which is basically what this classic Alicante dish is all about. Paella, which hails from Valencia maybe the most famous rice dish of Spain, however, true aficionados in search of traditional Spanish dishes should head towards Alicante to try this favourite of locals up and down the Alicante region. Here you will find families and groups of friends sitting round the table sharing a pan of the saffron infused, amber coloured, rice cooked in fish stock and served with aoli. I love it with crusty bread too. The Alicante staple is usually served with some kind of fish too such as gurnard, mullet, prawns or squid.
The rice for Arroz a band is cooked in the same type of pan as a paella, which is wide and flat. This allows for the steam to escape and the bottom of the rice to develop a delicious crusty base known as socarrat. Socarrat is often something unfamiliar to the uninitiated. Socarrat is formed when the bottom of the rice begins to catch a little on the bottom of the pan as it cooks and starts to create a little crust. This is partly due to the tomatoes in the dish and other non rice ingredients gravitating to the bottom of the pan. The socarrat is highly revered in Spanish rice cooking and considered, by many, to be the best part of the dish.
Arroz a Banda originated with the fishermen of Alicante, who, after selling of the best of their catch, would be left with the little bony fish that nobody wanted to buy. This would then usually be taken home and cooked with potatoes and onions for a hearty meal. Being, naturally frugal, the fishermen’s wife would then use the leftover stock (caldo) the following day to cook another local plentiful food…rice. Thus, the creation of Arroz a Banda.
It’s all about the rice
The rice used for Arroz a Banda traditionally needs to be the type that has short round grains. Ideally la bomba or Albufera, both grown locally and, both protected under the origin of rice of the Valencia region. The Bomba and Albufera varieties give grains that do not stick together when cooked, with a good consistency and absorption of flavors.
If you can get the authentic rice for trying the dish at home, that’s great, but whatever rice you use, you’ll still end up with a delicious meal. Likewise, if you don’t happen to have a paella pan, you can always use a rice cooker. I have done this many times and when done right the rice cooker can give a wonderful socarrat to your rice dish.
Here’s a great recipe for making Arroz a Banda that I found online
Or, if you prefer to test your Spanish..
The Alicante region is a food lovers paradise and the food scene here is quickly becoming one of the main reasons that people visit this beautiful city but some things never change, regardless of whether they are ‘trendy’ or not. And Arroz a Banda is one of those timeless things.