When making paella, one of the things you will want to make is a nice socarrat. But what is socarrat and what does it have to do with making paella? Well, let’s first go over the process it takes to make a paella dish. Paella is a traditional Spanish dish that cooks all the ingredients of the dish in a single pan know as a paella pan. This pan is made of lightweight and thin metal to ensure the entire surface heats up rapidly. Thicker pans cause heat to be centered around the center and takes time to spread. This can lead to the center of the paella burning! Paella pans avoid this by also typically having dimples in the metal to disperse heat. The end result is a pan that gets hot faster and spread through the dish quickly.
So, what does this have to do with socarrat? Socarrat is the delicious crispy bottom layer that forms when using a paella pan to make paella recipes. Since everything in paella is cooked in one pan, all the juices and flavor sit at the bottom. The juices and rice get to sit in the pan for nearly 30 minutes! Now, consider that uncooked rice is heavy and will sink to the bottom. Well, not you are getting an understanding on how socarrat develops. As the juices and flavors concentrate at the bottom of the pan, so does the rice! This allows the rice to absorb the juices of the dish. After most of the liquid is absorbed, the heat will continue to cook the rice leading to a crunchy bottom layer! This is what is know as the socarrat.
The Unknown History of Socarrat
The history of socarrat is not something that can easily traced back to a single event or region. Socarrat is essentially a type of scorched or crunchy rice. You can get crunchy rice simply by cooking rice at a high temperature for long enough. The bottom layer of rice will become crispy over time rather than burning at a low enough temperature. Since there is no specific age crunchy rice similar to socarrat and socarrat itself, it is pretty much impossible to get a precise period in which it was invented. What is know for sure is that making socarrat as a byproduct of cooking other recipes was around long before paella become popularized in Spanish culture.
Earliest Types of Scorched Rice / Soccarrat
Some of the earliest types of food we could consider like socarrat originate from Asian country like China, Korea, and Japan. This makes perfect sense as Middle Eastern and Asian countries made rice a staple grain earlier than European countries. Some of the earliest types of socarrat like rice dishes include:
In China, the name for scorched rice is a bit more literally than socarrat. Guoba is the traditional term for a dish incorporating scorched rice. The word literally means “pan adherents” so, the pieces of rice that get stuck to a pan! To make this, all cooks would do is cook rice in a pan like a wok until the bottom layer became crispy. This dish is typically eaten with some flavored sauces and a selection of protein like shrimp.
Okege is another type of socarrat like rice dish from Japan. Unlike Guoba, which is made specifically for a dish, okege is more like the useful byproduct of cooking rice. Because regulating the heat of pans in the past was not as simple as setting a burner to medium, the rice would typically burn. The bottom layer of burnt or crunchy rice would not be thrown out. Instead, earlier Japanese cooks would eat the rice with vegetables, moisten with water, or soften it in a soup.
Unlike the previous two types of scorched rice dishes, this Korean dish specifically calls for the use of crunchy rice to make a tea! That is right, you can use crunchy rice for much more than just meaty dishes like paella. The rice is re-boiled and eaten as snack rather than part of a full meal.
Which Pans Makes the Best Socarrat?
If you are thinking of making a good socarrat with your paella, then you have to consider which pan is best for making it? You can essentially make socarrat with any pot or pan. However, certain pots and pans work better than others. For example, you could get away with making a paella and developing socarrat with a cast iron pan. However, cast iron is dense and heavy compared to the thin steel in paella pans. This means that not only with the pan take longer to heat up, but it will also take longer to cool down. While this may not sound too bad, you must consider that taking it off the heat with cast iron will not immediately stop it cooking. You could end up with burnt rice rather than a nice crunchy socarrat. The best way to ensure you get the best socarrat possible is to use the right tool for the job.
A paella pan will get you the best socarrat compared to other pots and pans not made for the dish. The heat will disperse more evenly and cooking the entire bottom layer of rice quicker than if you used a cast iron or heavy stainless-steel cookware. Technically, any pot or pan can develop socarrat thought some are better than others for the job.
How to Make Socarrat
Making paella socarrat is simple. You may not even know what socarrat is and still make a great one just by following paella recipes properly. The socarrat in paella is developed from bomba rice (a short grain rice that is popular in areas of Spain). The round grain can absorb tons of liquid without becoming mushy and unappetizing. This makes bomba rice one of the best types of rice for paella. For decades, bomba has been known as the unofficial standard for paella even though there are other types of short grain rice that one can use.
To make socarrat, all you have to do is ensure your rice is cooked evenly over low medium heat for around 20 to 30 minutes. This should be enough time for all the ingredients and flavors to be absorbed.
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