I shared the paella I make some time ago. A Portuguese woman taught me to make it – it’s good and has always been well received by friends and family. It ticks the box of being a celebration dish when you are all gathered together. I have eaten paella in various places, some good but some disappointing. I always compare it to a paella I ate in Ibiza many years ago. It was a Sunday, we were sitting at tiny tables outside a humble family run eatery on a cliff top, the sun was shinning and we were looking out to the sea. All the other tables were filled with local families chatting and laughing their voices competing with the sounds from the birds and insects. The scent in the air was of seafood being cooked mingled with the wild herbs growing around us.
When I close my eyes I can transport myself back to that Sunday, the paella is eteched in my memory for ever it tasted of the sea with a depth of flavour I have never experienced since. For the life of me I have no idea the name of the restaurant or where in Ibiza it was. The Paella I make is passable but not like the one I ate on ‘that Sunday’. I have always thought that I romatised ‘that Sunday’ so much that actually the paella wasn’t as good as I remember and I should just ‘let it go’ to quote Small Girl’s favourite song.
During a recent visit to Barcelona I signed up to a market to table event at the Cook and Taste Studio. We were met by Rosa a Chef and Teacher at Cook and Taste and we’re taken to Mercat de la Boqueria and introduced to Rosa’s favourite vendors and bought seasonal goodies to take back to the studio and cook. Such classes are a wonderful way to get a small insight into the way local people shop and cook, Rosa is an energetic and generous guide, she shared her passion about the Catalan heritage, the food and the city. Under her guidance we made Gazpacho, tomato bread, Roasted vegetables over flatbread, cream Catalana and paella whilst chatting, laughing and drinking wine.
And there it was seafood paella in a studio in the heart of Barcelona and I was transported back to ‘that Sunday’. This is it – the best paella ever. The taste is rich and deep yet the ingredients are not fighting to be noticed or so many that they confuse one’s palate and lay heavy on your stomach. This paella is a perfect balance and a lesson in restraint. It is made with love and patience and produces one of the best meals I have ever eaten. How I never wept over my lunch and held back from kissing the face off Rosa is beyond me!
The recipe I will share with you is for four but you need to feel this and not be constricted by quantities.
4 large prawns / languistines
Large handful of cuttlefish cleaned and chopped
large handful of cockles or clams
large handful of mussels
2 cloves of garlic *
1 litre of fish stock *
2 or 3 large tomatoes grated*
320g of rice*
Pop your paella pan on a medium heat add a good slick of olive oil, quickly fry the prawnsuntil lightly browned (about a minute each side) and remove. Stir in the grated tomato to deglaze and add a slosh of wine. Now cook those tomatoes until all their water and wine evaporates – this will take longer than you think – you want to get the tomatoes a sludge colour – keep adding a dash of wine or a shot of olive oil -this is where you need to feel it. Whilst the tomatoes are in you need to keep moving them around on the base of the pan, ensuring you are scraping the bottom of the pan not just stirring – a wooden spatulas is good for this. Basically tomatoes have a sugar content that will want to cling to the bottom of the pan and caramelise or burn – you need to prevent this by pushing them around in a scraping motion.
Add the cuttle fish and garlic to the tomatoes and mingle them well – don’t be afraid to add olive oil or wine to help! Once all the liquid has evaporated sprinkle in the rice – it should be a thin layer over the bottom of the pan – not a double layer just one layer – so rather than a weighed amount of rice – you know you have the right amount for your pan. Fry the rice for just a few short minutes do not move it – add the stock and gently ensure the rice, fish and stock are mixed together – but do not stir like a wild thing you don’t want to release the starch – just make sure the rice and fish are equally spread – then DO NOT STIR AGAIN ( believe me you will want too – just don’t).
Increase the heat to medium high and cook for around 8 minutes add the cockles and mussels pushing them slightly into the remaining liquid (they will give up their juices and flavour the rice) reduce the heat to minimum and cook for 10 more minutes.
At the last moment add the prawns to the top of the rice to just to heat them up. Turn the heat off, cover with a large clean tea towel and leave to stand for 5 minutes before serving.
In that 5 minutes – gather friends and family around the table – paella waits for no man and serve with a flourish.
*Garlic – roasting a head of garlic and using cloves from this adds a sweetness and smokiness / you can just use raw – just chop finely or crush and add.
*Fish Stock – if you want to make your own – put some fish bones, prawn shells if you have some or some little fish with a little leek or a bit of fennel in a saucepan, add a litre or so of water , bring the boil and simmer for 20 minutes (strain before using).
*Tomatoes – cut in half then run the cut side down the largest side of a grater – so the flesh grates and you are left with the skin which you discard.
*Rice – use a suitable paella rice.