There are three important tips to consider when making paella. Did I know what they are before my adventure today? Absolutely not. But the chefs at ‘My First Paella’ were willing to show me.
Our group met outside Ruzafa market, hungry to cook one of the two traditional rice dishes of the day: paella con mariscos (seafood paella) or paella valenciana (paella with chicken and rabbit). We were ushered through the market with purpose, team paella con mariscos and team paella valenciana visiting the stalls that sold the fresh ingredients we needed.
At each bright stall the ingredients were selected and explained. Green beans, butter beans, artichokes, tomatoes. The butter beans in Valencia are famously fresh, and it’s hard to locate them elsewhere in Spain, so even fancy restaurants from Madrid travel here to buy them. Our vegetable stall was manned by a third-generation owner, and a photograph of his grandmother and the stall decades before was passed around.
After an explanation of jamón ibérico versus jamón serrano (Ibérico is more expensive and higher quality as the pigs are free range and eat acorns), we headed outside to try ‘Easter sausage’ or longanizo de Pascua. Anis gives the sausage its aromatic flavour, and after we each tasted a piece, it was onwards to put our ingredients to use.
A surprise awaited us once we arrived at the paella school. We were shown how to make sangria, and had time to relax and eat tapas. Manchego cheese, jamón serrano, green olives, patatas bravas, and small and flavourful mussels called clochinas were laid out for us to sample.
Then, it was time to start cooking the paella. Everyone contributed to our paella valenciana, whether it was shelling the butter beans, grating the tomatoes, or grinding the saffron into powder and mixing it with oil to make a paste. The chef guiding us made sure we all had a task to do, and explained what we were looking for to know the recipe was ready for the next step. Peppered in alongside jokes such as ‘make sure you social distance the chicken’, were the three helpful tips I mentioned earlier.
Tip number one: when cooking paella valenciana, there should be three parts water to one part rice, and plenty of salt. When you think you have enough salt, add another generous pinch. It should be too salty to be a soup. Tip number two: once you have cooked your other ingredients and added the water and rice, spread the rice evenly along the bottom of the whole pan. Then, don’t touch it. No stirring, no covering, no adding or removing water. Only adjust the flame. It should take 15 minutes to cook entirely, so if it’s still watery after ten, raise the temperature. And finally, tip number three: use a spoon to check for that delicious crispy caramelised bottom. Once you think your paella is done, use a teaspoon to give it a poke. If the spoon sinks through easily, and the ingredients move around, it’s too loose. Wait a little longer, until the spoon sticks into the dish. That’s how you guarantee those caramelised parts of the paella.
To celebrate our successful paella, we each were offered a shot of ‘Kçalla’, a delicious anis liquor served icy cold. After that, it was time to sit down, eat, and chat. Our paella was served with a side of fresh tomato and capers, and whatever drinks we desired. For dessert, it was squares of fluffy sponge cake, coffee, a shot of sweet muscatel wine, and juicy orange slices dusted with cinnamon.
The workshop was welcoming from start to finish, with all of us told to make ourselves at home, help ourselves to drinks from the fridge, and take any breaks we needed. Before the paella was served, our chef said that he was “so happy to welcome [us] and make [us] feel Valencian.” With everyone helping with cooking, and sitting down to eat together, the environment was warm and comfortable.
My First Paella’s workshops are worth the price for the ingredients and the experience of making the paella alone. Add in all the extra tapas, drinks, and priceless expertise and instruction, and you have an excellent deal. If you’re in Valencia and want to learn to make this much-beloved dish, look no further than My First Paella.
My First Paella also have workshops for dishes like tapas, fresh Italian pasta, sushi, and more complex rice dishes like arroz al horno, arroz negro, and arroces melosos. They also have other workshops at a more advanced, professional level. All their recipes are available on their website, which you can find here.
Report by Julia McGee-Russell
Article copyright ‘24/7 Valencia’
MY FIRST PAELLA
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