Friday, 7 June 2013

Barcelona – Paella (Food series II.)

As part of our intercambio sessions we decided to make paella together with our Catalan friends. This was the first time when Paul made paella from scratch using only fresh ingredients and we were both very excited about it. Turned out we learned way more than we expected!

Good paella cannot be made in a pan or a wok. It needs its own dish: a paellera. It’s a shallow, round shaped pan made of steel and can be purchased in many sizes according to how many people you want to feed. It seems like size matters as according to our friend, Juan Carlos, the food in the dish should be nice and thin so that it cooks through easier.

When I was at Juan Carlos’ house the last time he measured their paellera to make sure it’s big enough and it was one and a half hand wide. I went home and measured our paellera and it was also one and a half hand wide. However his hand is bigger than mine! So he had to call Meritxell, his wife to bring us their paella dish.

The other important thing you need is this:

This is a very mysterious thing. Nobody knows its real name! I call it ´the black round thing´ but it’s ‘difusor del fuego’ in Spanish or a ‘fire diffuser’ in English. What this important (but still nameless) thing does is that it shares the fire equally under the paellera. This is very important so that the rice cooks everywhere at the same time.

We followed the one and only Jamie Oliver’s master chef mixed paella recipe. We got all the main ingredients such as rice, chicken, seafood etc. and Juan Carlos brought all the secret ingredients, for example the saffron, the parsley etc. Here are all the things you need to start off (emphasis on the 2(!) bottles of wine):

We also learnt another trick: marble helps to defrost meat faster! Who knew? Here is all the seafood we’re going to put in the paella.

Finally Meritxell arrived and saved the day with the bigger paellera and another secret ingredient: the ‘caldo’. This is a kind of stock that you use to pour it on the paella. You have to mix it with water, boil it and put spices in it (according to Jamie anyway).

Then the main event starts. Beforehand Paul put the chicken in the oven so it was waiting patiently in the oven ready to go in the paella. First Paul cut up the bacon and the chorizo and started frying them.

Then came the onion. (I would quietly mention that I chopped up the onion so I made some contribution to the meal, too! I ‘m sure that the success of the meal came from my excellent chopping technique.)

Meanwhile Juan Carlos drained the seafood. We learnt that you have to dry the calamari before you put it in to cook otherwise it explodes! (I wouldn’t have minded to see this but I didn’t want to ruin the meal so I didn’t say anything.)

Then you put in the rice, first without water! It soaks up the fat from the chorizo and the bacon.

Then comes the stock with the saffron happily swimming on top.

Throw some paprika on top…

…then let it simmer.

Let’s put the chicken in, too.

Look at that!!

Finally the rest of the seafood. By now the rice is almost cooked. We learnt that the steam that comes from the rice is enough for the mussel and the prawn to cook in.

Here’s the finished meal.

All throughout the cooking you mustn’t mix the rice. Just leave it as you poured the water on it. They say that if there’s a crunchy bit of rice left in the middle then the paella is perfectly cooked. Spanish people love this crunchy bit.

Here’s a word of warning when you go to a restaurant to eat paella. When you are in Barcelona or any other seaside town it is said that the closer the restaurant is to the sea the freshest the seafood in it. This however is not always true so be careful where you go. There is another rule that is good to follow: make sure that the restaurant you eat in serves the paella in a pan or a paellera that looks like the one we used. This means that the food is freshly made and it will take about 20-30 minutes for them to make it. If you get it quickly on a plate you can be sure that it was taken out of the freezer and warmed up in the microwave.

Here we are all ready to eat the king of meals. It was one of the best paellas I have tasted. There was great food, great wine and great company. What a lovely evening!

Special thanks to Juan Carlos and Meritxell for helping us with the cooking.

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