|Practice makes perfect.|
So, "what’s the secret to making great paella?" I asked Santos, then the manager of D.O.Arroz de Valencia, who drove me around through the shimmering rice paddies of the Albufera (Valencia). His answer was not “it’s the quality of the rice,” or “sofrito is the secret,” or “you need a good caldo.” No, his reply was, “Practice every Sunday.”
Here’s the secret: your paella will get better and better the more you make it.
I didn’t follow his advice. I make paella rarely, for cooking classes, for friends and family visiting from abroad or when I’m a guest in someone else’s home while travelling in the U.S.
Over the years, I’ve strayed from the original, traditional recipe quite a lot. For one thing, to adapt to stove-top cooking, I got myself a small-sized paella pan with a no-stick surface. That pretty much means no socarrat, the crusty rice on the bottom of the pan. I tend to the touristy version, loaded with chicken and shrimp, gaudily garnished with strips of red pimiento and green peas. (Paella maestro, Norberto Jorge, calls such paellas “overwrought.”) Also, taking a tip from chefs I’ve talked to, I’ve become a real stickler for making caldo, flavorful stock, with shrimp heads and shells.
But authentic Valencia paella doesn’t require any of those things. No seafood. No sausage. No garnishes. And, surprisingly, no stock, just water to cook the rice. And practice.
The return of my big paella pan, 15 years after a friend borrowed it, motivated me to resume paella practice. So, here we go.
|Ben has never made paella before. So, he's cooking, I'm coaching and taking the photos. First, level the pan. Add olive oil and heat.|
|Use round-grain rice for paella.|
|Flat beans, fat beans, tomato, olive oil.|
|Add water or stock to continue cooking the meats.|
|Add rice to bubbling liquid.|
|Reduce heat to finish cooking the rice.|
|Paella is done. Remove it from the heat and let it rest.|
|Chicken and rabbit are cut in small pieces.|
Sprinkle the rabbit and chicken pieces with salt and pepper and allow them to come to room temperature.
Heat the oil in a paella pan over moderately-high heat. Brown the pieces of rabbit and chicken slowly, 15-20 minutes. Push the meats to the sides of the pan and add the lima beans or butter beans and the romano beans. Sauté the beans 3 minutes and push them to the sides, leaving the center free.
Stir the pimentón into the center of the pan. Immediately add the crushed garlic and the grated tomatoes. Spread the tomatoes out and continue cooking slowly, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes are reduced and beginning to brown in places, about 10 minutes.
Add the water. Add 1 teaspoon of salt, the crushed saffron and the sprigs of rosemary. (If using snails, add them now.) Stir to distribute the chicken, rabbit and beans in the pan. Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Remove and discard the rosemary. Cook on moderately-high heat 15-20 minutes, allowing the water to reduce by about a quarter.
Taste the liquid in the pan and add salt if necessary. Stir in the rice. Use a wooden paddle to distribute the rice evenly.
Cook the rice on high heat for 8 minutes. Carefully, grasp the handles of the pan, using a heat protector, and shake the pan briskly to redistribute the rice and other ingredients. Do not stir the rice.
Lower the heat. Continue cooking the rice on low until all the liquid is absorbed and a crust is beginning to form on the bottom, 10 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and allow to set 10 minutes before serving.
|Scoop up some of the crusty rice from the bottom of the pan to serve with the paella.|
|Crusty brown bits are the socarrat.|