I MADE THIS! (AGAIN!)
Regular readers of this column will know that, though I love paella Valenciana, if I want to make my own I have to do it in the privacy of my own home with no Valencianos to witness me in the act. Valencia’s seriously believe you have to be Valencian to make a decent paella – It’s impossible, impossible, for a guiri (foreigner) to make a decent paella! Paella Valenciana is sacred, really. I even have a friend whose parents lived in Paris for many years and couldn’t get their Sunday paella to taste right, so when they came to Valencia for family holidays, or when friends from here were visiting them in Paris, they always took Valencia water with them, for the paella – And you cannot play around with a Paella Valenciana…It is always made with chicken and rabbit, and is nearly always eaten at lunchtime…
I now make a very good Arroz Meloso de Mariscos (soupy rice withe seafood, meloso means honey-ish) I know it’s good because my daughter’s partner, a Valencian, has not only told me it is, but always requests it on visits to our home!
And I’m here to tell you that after our second visit to the ‘Escuela de Arroces y Paella Valenciana’ (the school of rice and Paella Valenciana) in the Barrio del Carmen, we are really pretty good at the classic chicken and rabbit paella. No more will I submit to our Valencian guests taking over, as they have in the past, the cooking of what they think will be a second-rate paella!We last visited the “escuela” in 2015 when there were just five of us taking the tutorial. D and I, a Japanese couple and an American lady who were coincidentally at a convention at the UPV (the University of Valencia) but had not previously met.
This time, as we approached, there was a crowd of female cyclists in the narrow street in front of the restaurant, trying to secure their bikes to the bars of the windows of a building opposite. We were meeting B, who arrived at the same time as us, on the stroke of 10 am by the Miguelete- the cathedral bell. There were 21 cyclists – all Dutch. We left them to sort the bikes and entered, where we met 2 couples. An English couple visiting Valencia for his birthday and two more Dutch ladies, sisters, in the city to chill…
We had coffee whilst the group outside carried on trying to secure their bikes, but they suddenly moved off and Jaime – our tutor for the day (and joint owner and Commercial relations director) introduced himself and Juan, who was to be our translator for the day, and we were off.
Where to? The Mercado Central (The Central Market)of course, to buy the ingredients for our paellas; we were to cook 3 paellas – D, B and I were going to cook a paella for three, the other couples would be cooking paellas for two.
And where were the 21 Dutch ladies, I hear you ask – they had been taken to the other branch of La Escuela, a few hundred metres away. Thanks to the success of this enterprise there is a recently opened “school” offering more places on a daily basis to learn the fine art of rice. It’s not just paella that you can learn how to make, hence the name Escuela de Arroces y Paella Valenciana (the school of rice and Paella Valenciana) you can learn how to make a vegetarian or a seafood version.
The visit to the Mercado Central is most entertaining and informative, and included a potted history of the building, before taking us to various stalls to buy the different green beans for the dish – we were making a summer Paella Valenciana today – beans in the summer and artichokes (alcachofas) in the winter, when the beans get too expensive. Then on to the chicken stall to order the chicken and rabbit we would be using today, we would return for it a little later when it was chopped and ready for the recipe. So, on to the pimienton stall, paprika to you and me. Here we bought smoked paprika as we would be cooking our paella over gas, and the smokiness normally imparted by the traditional orange-wood fire would by added in this way.
We visited five of the markets 400 or so stalls to pick up the ingredients, including the azafran (saffron) where we learned all about this highly prized and hugely expensive aromatic. Then we made our way back to the restaurant to cook our paellas, but first we had to don our chef’s hat and apron – and latex gloves, because we would be cooking to Jaime’s expert instruction. Breaking, not chopping, the beans, podding the broad beans, grating the tomatoes . Whilst the ingredients which we had mixed (an enormous amount) of water reduced into a delicious caldo (stock) we took a break and were invited to almozar (eat elevenses). A delicious tortilla de patatas, which was a potato omelette which another of the chefs had been making while we cooked. This was served with a large slice of Valencian tomato (they are surely the tastiest tomatoes in the world?) followed by clochinas al vapor (Steamed mussels) and served with a crisp and cool white wine.
Then it was back to the kitchen to add the rice and to stay with the dish until it was perfectly cooked, which involved highly amusing steps and was very entertaining. Then it was back to the table carrying our own paellas which were arranged in a row and we all sat down to eat. A lovely salad was bought to the table and large glasses of red wine were poured to accompany our meal. Jaime encouraged us to eat it with a spoon directly from the dish – the traditional way, and also to try each other’s as “no paella is ever exactly the same.” I have to say that I thought ours was the best (but I may be biased!).
This is also a restaurant, Arroceria La Valenciana, and it had filled up nicely inside and out on the sunny terrace – well worth a visit just to eat, as the food looked great. There’s a presentation of a Diploma to say that we had successfully cooked a paella and that we were qualified to cook one for friends and family. I have purposely left a lot of the detail of our day out of this report, so that if you try it, and I strongly recommend you do, there will be enough surprises to make your day as enjoyable and memorable as ours. it is a really fun day run by a friendly and very enterprising team of professionals who obviously really enjoy what they are doing, and, judging from the other diners around us, this goes for the restaurant (La Valenciana) too.
Escuela de Arroces y Paella Valenciana
Carrer dels Juristes 12
+34 963 153 856
C/Obispo Don Jerónimo, 8 Bajo
+34 96 104 3540
Zona Centro Historico
Open everyday 11:00 – 02:00
Paella cooking classes twice daily
Mornings 10:00 am Monday to Saturday include tour of Mercado Central €55 PP
Afternoons 18:00h and Sunday mornings 10:00 no tour as Mercado central is closed 50€ PP
Arroceria La Valenciana
Lunch from 13:00 and Dinner from 20:00
Menú de Degustación (Tasting Menu) €22
Extensive a la Carte menu
Wines from All over Spain between 13€-25€ a bottle