“If you see a fluorescent yellow-rice paella, with the vegetables perfectly displayed in symmetrical order, run away. If it’s offered in a menu together with a big jug of sangria, keep on running”. Our Paella Masterclass chef is on a mission to make us experts, distinguishing between the tourist-trap, frozen paella and the real home-made paella.
He continues by making us observe and feel the authentic Valencian “bomba” round-grain rice and the Asian long-grain rice, important when it comes to differentiate between a real cook and a cheating amateur: the long-grain rice can boil for hours and hours and it never gets overcooked, whereas it takes a master to cook “bomba” rice to its point of perfection, not too “al dente”, not too overdone.
Did you know that the paella originated in Valencia, on the East Coast of Spain? It has now crossed all borders, becoming the most international Spanish dish. The paella is to Spanish cuisine what the pizza is to the Italian one. But ask a Valencian if you’d find good paella in say, for instance, the North of Spain, and they will clutch their head in their hands. Funnily enough, we have several Spaniards in the workshop: the two coming from Valencia and nearby Alicante used to have paella every Sunday when they lived in Spain, as you’d have Sunday roast in England. The rest of the Spaniards in the room, coming from other varied regions, would only eat it once every three or four months… that gives you an idea.
So, we’ve heated a bit of olive oil in the paella (confusingly, also the name of the essential pot in which you cook a paella. Because, assume it from now, you will never be able to make a proper paella in a regular frying pan). We’ve chopped red and green peppers and added them together with the squid and prawns.
We sip our wines for a couple of minutes while we listen to the valenciana and alicantina discuss in which of the two places the best paella is made. I smell a real sense of competition. I also smell the lovely aromas coming from the pan… sorry, the paella I should say.