Posted: June 3, 2010
I have always wanted to learn and see a real Spaniard cook authentic Paella in my kitchen. So I took the challenge and asked my dear Spanish friend Nora to demonstrate once for all at my home. I could not wait any longer! Nora came over with her real paella pan or caldero and she is original from Almeria situated in middle of the beautiful region of Andalucia.
I have learnt that Spanish rice dates back to the eighth or ninth century brought in by the Moorish invasion. The rice was cultivated in the eastern region of Spain, around Valencia and the region earned its reputation as Spain’s great rice capital only after 1238. Because Valencia is separated from the Mediterranean by narrow strip of solid land, and because rice growers are after all farmers and not fishermen, for this reason it was natural that early rice dishes looked inland for raw materials such as wetland eel, snail, frogs, rabbit, chicken and duck.
Since Nora doesn’t eat much meat and wanted to take a step away from most meat items, she relies heavily on seafood such as prawns, mussels, clams and squid. Since I don’t have the Spanish short-grain rice like Bomba from Valencia or Calasparra from Murcia, I offered to her the Italian Acquerello carnaroli rice.
To cook her paella she started with a kind of “sofrito” of onion, garlic & coriander root paste sautéed with olive oil. Added chicken meat that gets deglazed with beer. Crushed saffron is added along with the bay leaves and green beans, tomatoes, red pepper and artichokes. Chicken stock was added together with seasoning and salt. Then comes the rice which was spread carefully around the pan. She cooked this for 5 minutes on a high flame, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon and reducing the heat to low and cooking until the liquid has been absorbed. Mussels and clams were steamed separately, added them at the last minute together with the remaining shellfish. The reserved shellfish stock was adding to the pan as well.
She removed the pan from the heat and let it sit for 10-15 minutes allowing its flavours to marry.
Nora’s paella is beautiful, light and delicious and full of flavours. She is a connoisseur and a true Andalucian!
What I did learn additionally while watching Nora’s fabulous cooking style was as liquid reduces, the oil and the proteins inside the paella mixture seal in the heat, cooking the rice underneath. That’s why she stopped me from the temptation to dip my finger or a spoon into the rice while cooking. If you break the “film” on the surface she explained clearly the heat will escape as if from a chimney and the rice will cook unevenly. And for whatever reasons, paella simple doesn’t taste as good hot as it does merely warm. I also learned that controlling heat is the most important task and don’t overload the paella up with everything you can think of, and don’t add too much or many of the ingredients you choose. In the end the paella is above all a celebration of rice, everything else - seafood or otherwise – is secondary, just gravy.
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