February 2015, Gomera
If I am to start this book I must start with that most Spanish dish, if indeed there is such a country: Paella. I have eaten paellas that glow in the dark and are at best like any other junk food, lacking any subtlety, bland, disappointing. While at the other end of the spectrum those that jump out of the pan at you, lusting for life, for love and for company. So how to make the latter.
As I understand it, the origins of this dish, as with much in Spain, are rural, pastoral. Please understand that I have knowledge, understanding, but I am no researcher. The knowledge I have comes from my anecdotal experience of Spanish food and so is subjective, an understanding rather than a researched fact. So I will describe a paella described to me by a very good friend, Tito Franco.
Fundamentally this is mobile food to be cooked wherever, nowadays perhaps as a sophisticated picnic, once, I presume as a hot meal for peasants working far from a kitchen.
The four indispensable ingredients are rice, saffron, a sofrito (stewed onions, peppers and tomatoes or a variation) and despite what some have said, stock. Now in order not to carry heavy stock all the way to wherever lunch has to be taken, this recipe makes the stock in the pan to which you add the rice. So, you catch/buy your rabbit, game birds, whatever, cut up; have your snails, cleaned. These are seasoned and browned, except the snails, over a paella heated by wood, preferably prunings from orange or olive, on the slopes of some beautiful mountain, to which you add some chopped onion, softened then some chopped tomato, pimenton and water. You cook this until you have a strong, flavoursome stock, then the saffron and rice is added and the whole thing is cooked on a rapid heat for about twenty minutes adding the snails towards the end. You must season the beast early on as you do not want to stir or mess with it too much and ideally getting that most sought after part: a crispy almost burnt part at the bottom; the socarrat. Serve with lemon quarters and strips of grilled red peppers. Also, I forgot to mention, but no matter, because unless you are in Valencia you cannot get Perbreja, a wild herb that you infuse into the stock.
Now this is joy; sumptuous food that embraces life and makes you love.
Now for some recipes that you can cook in your fancy kitchens and pretend that you are elsewhere.
If they knew what I was about to write, there would be a million Spaniards laughing already, but as they cannot agree about this most important issue and relentlessly argue about the perfect paella, why should I not give my pennies worth. By virtue of my ginger beard, my shit Spanish, hostia puta, I will give my version with dignity and with as much validity as any who happens to have a Spanish passport. My validity comes not from some documentation, but from the thousands of happy souls, who have eaten my rice.
RULES OF RICE:
100 grams per portion, use La Bomba if available or Calasparra. 60 g per person for wet rice such as arroz caldosa or melosa.
Stock ratio is twice as much by volume to rice for paella, 2½:1 for melosa. 3:1 for caldosa
Saffron should be toasted very lightly to dry and crushed in a pestle and mortar. Perhaps 1/8th of a teaspoon per portion
Oven or not oven. Traditionally paellas are not put in an oven. But if they are cooked on a stove you want a heat distributed across the pan and most hobs cannot achieve this. This is why in the recipes I describe a method using the oven.
Pan size. One size does not fit all. These pans are very cheap and come in different sizes for a reason. Buy a pan suitable for the amount of people you are cooking for.
Remember to over season, when you taste it you are tasting the stock and the rice adds as a bland brake so you need to over season to counteract this.