Paella - it has been Vandalized!
Updated: Aug 21
SPOILER ALERT: We have been doing paella all wrong! At least outside of Spain.
All images courtesy of Sergio Gil and Bodega la Peninsular
When we think about Spanish food several dishes come to my mind. Patatas bravas; jamon iberico; croquetas, etc. I love Spanish food and last week I did a tortilla española and pan tomate (by the way both came out really good). But even though these dishes are honorable representatives of Spanish gastronomy, the quintessential Spanish dish is, without doubt, the Paella.
During the Spanish Civil War, a large number of families escaped Spain and relocated in Mexico. They brought with them music, art, business, and of course: food. My family was one of the lucky ones that was able to learn some recipes from our new friends from Spain. One of the dishes that we learned how to make was the paella.
Paella has become part of my family tradition. There seems to be a "rite of passage" to learn how to make paella. That dish has been part of celebrations, and at a certain age (and only after you learn hot how to make a good paella), then you receive as a present a paella (that is the name of the actual pan).
The “family recipe” is what is known as a paella mixta, since it includes chicken, pork, and seafood. But one of the ingredients we have used for many years is Spanish chorizo. We love the flavor it gives the paella. But recently my culinary believes were shaken to its core. I learned that paella....DOES NOT HAVE CHORIZO!
During one of the meetings of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, a group of us were having dinner in Ostersund, Sweden (by the way a beautiful city you must visit) and started an interesting conversation: "what people in other countries do to your cuisine that it is wrong?" We called this impromptu conversation FOOD VANDALISM!
I started the conversation with a quick observation as a Mexico national: you DO NOT put yellow cheese on beans. My friend Carlota Beghini, from Parma, Italy, had one simple question: what's that all about putting some big meatballs on top of spaghetti? Then all of a sudden sitting next to me, the Mayor of Denia, Spain, Vicent Grimalt looked at me and said that there is no chorizo in paella. I turned to my right and my friend Floren Terrades, Director of the Denia Creative City of Gastronomy confirmed it. There is no chorizo in paella, that is food vandalism.
I left the dinner feeling in shock. My family tradition was based on a vandalized recipe? I returned to Tucson and researched more about paella and found out that I was not the only one putting chorizo in my paella. Looks like chef Jamie Oliver offended Spain when we shared a paella recipe with chorizo (See the discussion with Graham Norton).
Am I (and Jamie Oliver) vindicated?
Even though Jamie Oliver and I could be wrong on our paella recipe, recently chef Quique Deacosta might have put the record straight during an interview with El Pais newspaper. The note is in Spanish, but here is a translation:
"Paella has a series of recipes, even though there is people that say that actually there is no recipe. On its origin it has to be authentic; outside, an act of festivity elaborated under certain parameters. I will feel bad that a person in Texas or Mexico City would not want to make paella because he does not have snails or rabbit. Lets take care of the popular recipe book and at the same time, lets give freedom at the time to cook paella."
Chef Sergio Gil cooking at the Nordic Expo in Stavanger, Norway.
Guests of the Delice-Network.
A Conversation with Chef Sergio Gil
As many popular dishes, there is no official paella recipe, so I contacted my friend Sergio Gil, chef and food anthropologist in Barcelona, Spain. Sergio and I talked about paella a few months ago and he gave me great feedback. He even offered to teach me how to make paella at one of his restaurants in Spain (I have not forgotten Sergio, and will be there soon) but in the meantime, we connected remotely and here are some of his observations:
About Paella - This is a dish usually credited to the area of Valencia, but there are different versions in the whole coast of Spain, from Tarragona to Almeria. The paella is a rice-based dish, which takes its name from the recipient where it is cooked: the paella.
Paella - This is a shallow pan made of steel, with two handles used during the cooking and to serve the dish. Paellas can be for one person or thousands.
The Rice - The rice should be cooked and remain whole, without burning or lumping (different from rice dishes in the orient, or the Italian risottos). The first step is the selection of rice.
Bomba: Spain produces different varieties of rice, but the one that is used the most for paella is the Bomba rice. This is a round grain of rice, that allows some margin of error while cooking. Region: Delta of the Ebro River.
Albufera: Chef Gil, in his restaurant Bodega La Pensinsular (by the way, one of the best, and the most famous in La Barceloneta) prefers to use Albufera rice. Region: Valencia.
Marisima: According to Chef Gil, rice dishes are capricious and sometimes hard to use in paellas because of the time between cooking and serving the dish at the restaurant. But he says that Marisima rice is his favorite. Region: Guadalquivir River, Sevilla.
All images courtesy of Sergio Gil and Bodega la Peninsular
HERE ARE A COUPLE OF PAELLA RECIPES. AMOUNTS WILL VARY BASED ON YOUR PAELLA SIZE.
PAELLA WITH VEGETABLES
The Fumetto (Broth)
Typical of Valencia. The most important thing is the broth (fumetto). It must be a broth of
vegetables with little presence of roots. Its ingredients are arbitrary (put whatever you have on hand, but try to avoid those that have roots) but Chef Gil suggests the following:
Green Bell peppers
One clove of garlic
Cook all of the ingredients and then remove them by using a skimmer. To your vegetable broth (Fumetto) add some saffron for aroma and color.
Leave the broth in a pot next to the paella because you will add it during the preparation of the dish.
For the paella, you must make a vegetable sauce. This sauced is called the "Sofrito" which is an important element of the gastronomy of Spain.
Chop some onions, green or red bell peppers, and tomatoes into julienne or in squares. Fry them in the paella directly with a splash of olive oil (one tablespoon for every 2 portions).
Once the vegetables are cooked, put in your rice (your choice, but suggest Bomba). On the center of the paella pan, put the rice with a little more olive oil. This is a crucial moment since it is when you build the famous ARROZ SOCARRAT (a delicious crust of toasted rice on the bottom of the pan). Over medium heat, you start adding the fumetto and cooking the rice. At this time, do not use a spoon to move the rice, use the handles to shake the paella if needed. Add to the paella some artichoke hearts, wild asparagus, broad beans, and peas.
Keep adding fumetto until the rice is cooked (about 20 minutes) under medium heat. Turn the heat off and cover the pan with a clean dish towel or cloth (be careful not to start a fire!) and let stand for about 3 to 5 minutes. At this time, Chef Gil tells me (and I agree) that you take the whole paella to the table, and in front of your guests (unless you are eating alone in the company of a good bottle of wine) you uncover the paella. (ok, I am getting hungry now...)
PAELLA WITH SEAFOOD
The Fumetto (Broth)
Similar to our paella with vegetables, the key will also be the broth or fumetto. Start with the same recipe of the fumetto of vegetables, but now you are going to also add some rockfish and if you don't find rockfish, add some heads of shrimp, crabs and the head of any type of white fish, except "blue fish" (fish high on fat content like tuna, salmon or trout). Remember to add some saffron.
Follow the same process from the Paella of Vegetables but then remove the sofrito and save.
On the paella pan, at medium heat, add some cuttlefish, squid, prawns, and shrimp (or any combination you have available). Stir fry for a couple of minutes and then remove from the pan. Once again, add some extra virgin olive oil and rice (Bomba is recommended). Follow the same process as with the Paella of Vegetables so you can have some Arroz Socarrat. Add your sofrito with the shellfish you stir-fried before. Start incorporating the fumetto and when it is boiling, add some mussels, clams, or any shellfish you want (try to use products that are on season and sustainable). After 20 minutes, just like the Paella of Vegetables, you cover with a cloth, let it rest for a few minutes, transfer to the table, and uncover at the table.
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