This is a recipe for 4-6 people. What you see on picture is oven baked rice I made for myself only. I was inspired that day and since no one was around, I decided to treat myself 🙂
One more thing to be aware of: Arroz al horno, like many other local recipes, has many versions. I chose the one that suits me the best. You will find on my article below, the other ideas, so feel free to moderate this recipe to your own liking!
Since long (actually, since the 8th century when the Moors took control of the Iberian Peninsula) Valencia, thanks to its favorable climate and availability of fresh water became the rice-basket of this part of Europe. Note that the Spanish name for rice – “Arroz” (Arròs in Valencian) comes from the Arabic word “ar-ruzz”, reflecting its Arabic legacy.
It was then only the matter of time when the rice turned into basic ingredient of what we call today Valencian Cuisine. While these days the most internationally recognized Valencian rice dish is the famous “Paella Valenciana”, many other rice dishes enjoy great popularity among the local population. One of them is the “baked rice” – “Arroz al Horno” (“Arròs al Forn) – locally even more popular and appreciated than the traditional paella, but largely unknown outside of the Province.
The roots of the Arroz al Horno go back to Medieval times. While over the centuries its recipe underwent numerous adaptations reflecting seasonal limitations, religious requirements (for example periods of fasting), local traditions or simply availability of new ingredients, the main concept of the meal are guidelines behind it are preserved till these days. For example, the dish had to be baked in an oven in a wide and flat clay pot (casserole). The casserole as well as one of important ingredients – adding color and taste saffron, are part of meal’s Arabic roots. Another deeply-rooted tradition comes from the fact that the arroz al horno (similarly as paella) was the dish of poor people. Paella was prepared in fields by hard working peasants. No wonder its main non-rice ingredients represent all that was easy to find “around”: rabbit (conejo), wild duck (pato), snails (caracoles), eventually chicken (pollo) or seafood (mariscos) as well as seasonally available veggies. From this point of view, the Arroz al Horno is not an exception, although is background is a bit different. It was a dish prepared at home after holidays (Sundays). The main idea behind was to re-use all leftovers from the holiday (that’s why the dish is sometimes called as “Monday Rice” (Arroz del Lunes).
The first known recipe for the Valencian “arròs en cassola al forn” is mentioned in the Medieval cookbook (Llibre del Coch) published in 1520 in Barcelona by Robert de Nola (chef – probably in the court of King Fernando of Naples).
During the 16th -17th centuries, the recipe of arroz al horno was taking its final shape (if there is something like the “final shape” in the culinary art) due to arrival of new ingredients following the discovery of Americas. These days it is generally accepted that the most typical ingredients of the arroz al horno (on top of the rice) are: pork (bacon, ribs, blood sausage, legs, ears, tongue, nose….), chorizo, chickpeas, tomato, sliced potatoes, head of garlic along with water (or broth). Traditionally, the Arroz al Horno is the home dish and so it was prepared by women (in contrast to paella that was (and still is) made by men).
The final stage of making the arroz al horno is in the oven. Given the fact that in the past not many peasants could afford an oven, the baking process was taking place in the village’s public oven (also used for baking bread). The home-prepared ingredients of the arroz al horno were carried by women in clay casseroles to the public (communal) oven. This process gave also unusual name to the dish: “Arroz Paseado” (better known as “Arròs Passejat” (in Valencian) – what can be translated as “Strolling Rice“). The whole baking process had also a social impact, because it was giving chance to women to get out of the house. Saying to “socialize” is probably too much because few centuries ago, for sure it was not a “word of the day”, but certainly, it was an opportunity to chat with neighbors and more importantly – to “get informed”. Obviously, a win-win situation!
The Arroz al Horno is very popular in the Province of Valencia. However, most residents will agree that the Capital of Baked Rice is community of Xàtiva located some 60 km (40 miles) south of Valencia. Every year in June, the town celebrates the festival of “Arroz al Horno” with the closely watched contest for the best d’Arròs al Forn.
As mentioned above, the available leftovers were highly dependent of local and religious traditions as well as on inherent seasonality of ingredients. No wonder that the original recipe of “Baked Rice” has many variations. It may be worth to mention:
- “Cassola de Quaresma” – baked rice prepared for the period of Lent when due to fasting the pork meat is replaced by fish, seafood as well as readily available in this time of the year artichokes and beans. Here the Spanish word “casserole” is replaced by traditionally used Valencian “Cassola” what reflects the fact that the meal is popular mostly in the region of Valencia.
- “Cassola de Fesols i Naps” – also meat based baked rice that has it’s Lent fish version with dried beans (fesols) and turnips (Nabos).
- “Cassola en Tanda” – baked rice with “leftovers” from freshly slaughtered pig (ears, legs, blood, ect ) and in general not “overwhelmingly appreciated” pig’s fatty remains
- “Cassola d’Estiu” – It’s a “vegetarian-like” version of the Arroz al Horno (the fatty pork ingredients are replaced by more veggies). “Estiu” means “Summer” reflecting seasonality of the dish, but the main concept is as explained – less fat, more veggies, although this approach was rather imposed by availability of ingredients than by understanding the importance of the “healthy diet”).
Note, that in the region of Xàtiva, the most popular baked rice is called “Cassola d’Hivern” (Winter Casserole). It closely follows the recipe for Arroz al Horno with addition of the special broth “Puchero Valenciano”. Interestingly, the latter has some Sephardic-Jewish origins. Historically, it was sort of stew made in clay pot with lamb meat, chickpeas and veggies and prepared in an oven in Friday night (to be ready for Saturday’s Sabbath). The leftovers – soup as well as “pilotes del putxero” (meatballs) were traditionally used following days as basic components for other dishes.
The Arroz al Horno is still the family meal, however in our times it reached the “higher status” so it is served on weekends and holidays. While traditional recipe is rather closely followed, ingredients are not anymore coming from holiday’s leftovers but are rather selected in grocery shops especially for this purpose.