One of our favorite things to do when we are home from travels is recreate things we ate and drank while abroad. It might be something we cooked prior, but we always seems to learn a new cooking trick, for the better. I find that some of the best things we have are the simplest- with the freshest ingredients, best olive oil, and no fuss.
I’ll never forget the 1st time we ate paella together in 2012……. As in authentic Spanish Paella in the heart of Valencia, Spain. Not a bastardized American version. We came to Valencia on a whim on our first trip together. Valencia is the home of the Albufera (a protected national park 45 minutes south of the city center of Valencia, where the best rice for paella is grown).
After aimlessly walking around town, we found a street that appeared to be a locals’ type of destination. Outside the tavern, there was a group of Spaniards smoking, while inside a handful of locals conversed, drank beer, and dodged the dozen (plus) hanging ham legs dangling precariously over the bar. A tiny kitchen with a wood-fired stove brought forth pure Paella Valenciana, pintxos, cheese & iamon iberico (segunda rama). The decoration was screaming ‘we have been open forever, come for the food, nothing else.’ Eat, drink, converse…..and come back.
We sat at the bar and started chatting with the owner, Fabiano. He was also the bartender, waiter, host and confidant. He gave us some of his Jamon to try. This particular jamon was cut in the middle with what, he said, is the best part of the jamon. Melt in your mouth jamon. Jamon you do not have to chew. Jamon that melts and slowly dissolves after reaching a perfect temperature of 98.6 degrees (Fahrenheit)
I’d argue that someone who doesn’t like jamon iberico should not be trusted. Ever.
While they had various types of Paella to order, it was only fitting that we order the traditional Paella Valenciana, with rabbit.
The owner brought out the piping hot plate and used a traditional Paella spoon to scrape the pan with the wonderfully caramelized rice crust. The saffron and sofrito were bright, and cooked to perfection.
Carrer de L’Escultor José Capuz, 12, 46006 València, Valencia, Spain
My husband was and is the risotto master of the household. However, he has adapted and transformed his skills to paella. The dish tends to look a bit intimidating, but give it a try. It’s much easier than it looks. Here is a basic recipe. Whatever you do- don’t add onion.
Tip: If your cooking surface is smaller than the pan, purchase a heat diffuser to put over the stove.
Ingredients (Serves 4):
4 Cloves Garlic, chopped
4-6 Oz Sofrito
A Pinch of Saffron
High Quality Chicken or Vegetable Stock
Rabbit or Chicken Meat (~1Lb)
Piquillo Peppers (May Substitute with Roasted Red Pepper)
Lemon Wedge (garnish)
Rice- Enough to cover about 1/3 inch of the bottom of the pan (sorry we eyeball this!)
Option- You can always add other vegetables such as green onions, green beans, artichokes. Warning, if you add regular onions you may anger a true Spainard). You can also add sausage or chorizo. If you do cook with the meat.
Step 1- Brown the Meat, remove from heat.
Step 2- Cook garlic for about 1 minute, then add Sofrito.
Step 3- Add the rice, ensure it evenly coats he pan cook for about 2-3 minutes. Do NOT stir the rice, this is the cardinal sin of paella. You do not want the rice to turn creamy.
Step 3- Add stock, about 1 Cup at a time, as needed. Again, do not stir.
The whole process takes about 45 minutes. Add the veggies after about 30-35 minutes, then add the mean on top. At this point, cover the top with foil for the remaining 10-15 minutes. You can add the piquillos with the veggies, or put on top at the end.
Garnish with Lemon Wedge and Parsley (optional).