Tucked into the southeastern corner of Spain, Murcia is a little region with a big, long history that goes back, archeologists tell us, at least 8,000 years, when agriculture and cooking alike were both in their infancy. Today, Murcia's cuisine is renowned for a combination of high-quality vegetables grown in the vega murciana, Murcia's market gardens, and some of the best short-grain rice in the world.
Calasparra is the rice-growing region, high up on the banks of the Segura river, where rich alluvial soils and a steady supply of cold, clean, mountain water combine to produce superior rice in two varieties, Sollana (also called Calasparra) and Arroz Bomba, which was nearly extinct until rescued by chefs and growers just a few years ago. This controlled denomination rice is grown for quality not quantity—the region produces just .05% of all Spanish rice—but the slow-growing grain is highly absorbent, thus perfect for Spanish rice favorites from paella to soupy arroz caldoso.
One Murcian rice favorite is caldero murciano, similar to arroz abanda from Valencia to the north. Calasparra or Bomba rice is cooked in a colorful fish stock, resplendent with garlic and ñoras, dried spicy-sweet red peppers the size of plums, also produced in the region. The firm-textured fish used in the stock is served separately from the rice, which itself is always accompanied by a garlicky alioli, often thickened with bread