Labor Day Without the Labor

(Santa Cruz, Bolivia)

Arroz a la Valenciana, also known as paella, is a quick, convenient dish to make that doesn't require a lot of labor. It's a perfect choice for a Bolivian Labor Day meal, which is celebrated on May 1st, as it is in many other places of the world, because Labor Day is often spent in large families or celebrated with workplace parties. It reheats well so it can be made in advance.

This dish originates in Valencia, Spain and is a great choice for large groups. Rice was introduced into Spain by the Moors, Arabic armies who conquered large swaths of southern Europe. Their centuries-long occupation of Spain left a heavy influence on the food and culture.

There are as many versions of Valencian rice as there are families. It is believed that the word "paella" may come from the Arabic "baquia" meaning "leftovers", so it stands to reason that people were using "whatever was leftover" to make this dish.

In Bolivia, paella is often made with meats and not seafood, since Bolivia is a landlocked country and all seafood is imported (and thus expensive). You can adjust the ingredients as well, but using the following recipe as a general basis.

One key ingredient you won't want to avoid using is saffron threads. Saffron can be a little expensive, but it is such a key ingredient and fundamental flavor to this mean, that it just isn't paella without it.

This particular recipe will serve 4-6 people, but you can double or triple it accordingly.

Arroz a la Valenciana is typically cooked in a paella pan, but you can also easily use a large cast iron skillet. You do not need to cook this on an open fire, so don't be deterred from trying it.


2 chicken thighs
2 long, thick sausage links
12 prawns
12 shellfish (use mussels or clams)
1/4 pound of scallops
1/4 pound of calamari
1 small white onion, grated
6 garlic cloves, grated
1 vine tomato or 2 roma tomatoes, peeled and diced
2 cups of short-grain rice
Pinch of saffron threads
1/4 cup of olive oil
1 cup of clam juice
1/4 cup red pimento (or sliced red bell pepper)
1/2 teaspoon of Bolivian rose salt or Himalayan pink salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
12 black olives or Kalamata olives


In a large pot, boil the chicken thighs and sausage in about 6 cups of water until cooked through (about 30 minutes). Drain and cool until they are cool enough to touch them.

With your hands, remove the thigh bones from the chicken and tear the chicken into strips and pieces. Set aside.

Cut each sausage link into 3-4 big chunks. In 1 tsp of oil, sear the sausage in a skillet just until it is slightly fried or blackened. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Without cleaning your skillet, add 2 tsp of oil. When the oil is hot, sauteé the prawns, scallops and calamari for about 3 minutes. Then remove them from the pan and set aside.

Clean your pan or skillet and add 2 tsp of oil. Heat the oil to medium or just enough to sauteé the onions, garlic, diced tomato and pimento. Do not burn them. Do not drain. Remove from pan oil and all, and set aside.

Take 2 pinches of saffron threads and fry them quickly in a dry pan (no oil) and for only about 30 seconds. This is just to dry them out enough to powder them. Remove them from the pan. Cool them enough to handle, and rub them between the palms of your hands, creating a powdered saffron.

Place your rice in a bowl along with the clam juice. Let it soak for 15 minutes. Do not drain.

While the rice is soaking, boil 3 cups of water in a pot. When it is boiling, add the soaked rice (including the 1 cup of clam juice in which it is soaking) to the water. Add the saffron. Cook the rice 15 minutes only.

Grease your cast iron skillet with 1-2 tsp of oil. Transfer your rice (including water, don't drain) into the skillet. Give the skillet some little shakes until the rice was covered the bottom of the skillet evenly.

Place your skillet on medium heat.

Add the sauteéd onion, garlic, pimento and tomato mixture. Stir them into your rice to ensure all of the rice will be infused with their flavor. Cook for about 10 minutes, moving the rice to ensure it doesn't stick to the pan.

Add the salt**, pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika and ground cloves. Stir them into rice before the rice has absorbed all of the liquid, to ensure all of the rice will be infused with their flavor.

**I recommend Bolivian rose salt because it is very low in sodium and has lots of healthy trace minerals. It is much healthier than Himalayan pink salt, but as salts go, Himalayan is much healthier than white table salt, so you can use whatever is available most easily to you.

Arrange your shellfish, calamari, scallops, prawn, chicken and sausage pieces on top of the rice. Cover your skillet and reduce the heat to low. Cook an additional 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure all of the meat and fish is being heated. It will need to cook until the rice has absorbed all the liquid and all of the meats are hot.

If you believe your rice may burn or stick to the bottom of your paella pan or skillet before all of the meats have reheated, you can add small amounts of water (just 2-3 tablespoons at a time).

Serve hot with 1-2 olives. (Don't cook the olives, simply place them on top of the paella when you serve it. Cooked olives have a very strong flavor that will overpower your paella).

These may seem like a lot of steps to take, but they are all fairly short steps. When you have a large or group event, you can prepare some of these steps in advance. Or better yet, cook the entire paella the day before your event and simply reheat it on the day you plan to serve it. To do that, place your paella pan or cast iron skillet over low heat (so it won't burn), cover it, and heat it up very slowly over 45 minutes to an hour. Add 1-2 tbsp. water occasionally if you need to.

Bolivian Main Courses | Bolivia for Kids

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