Every man worth his salt measures his culinary skills by his ability to produce the perfect paella. No barbecue man here, but paella man! Not that women don’t make paella I hasten to add. I have been invited to many a home for a Sunday paella and it has always been delicious – yet each host has made an excuse as to its apparent shortcomings.
It is the custom to order paella “to take away” if you are having a fiesta. A dish of the size in the photo above will typically feed about 50 people. It was produced at Casa Ramon many years ago by Mary’s mother who told me a not so little secret – traditionally, the lovely yellow colour of paella comes from the spice saffron.
But saffron is very expensive so they use food colouring in the form of a yellow powder – you can buy pots of it in any supermarket and the better paella colorants have a little bit of real saffron added to it! We both had a good laugh. The main thing, she told me, is to simmer it over a real wood fire, and to stir it frequently. And of course, to use the correct short-grained Bomba rice. This make-shift set-up in the previously vacant lot next to Ramon’s is ideal. And the paella is absolutely amazing, with just the right amount of socarrat (burnt bit!) at the bottom.
In July 2013, when my masia was very raw indeed, Rafa and Elena of El Portoles restaurant in Castellon came up to cook for me and 11 guests their pure Valencian version. It was quite an experience and the flavour and texture of the rice was perfect. However, for those perfectionists, there was no socarrat at the bottom. I actually thought it all the better for it. As I have no wood BBQ, they had to use a gas ring so please excuse them. I’m scared of wood fires in el campo!
It was the first time I saw a paella being made from start to finish and the simplicity of its execution impressed me, so much so that I requested the recipe. This was also very simply written, I guess typical for a chef who assumes a profound knowledge of techniques. So here is Elena’s recipe – the photos are actually of a 12-person paella, but the quantities below are for 4. It did not take too long because all ingredients were prepared beforehand. Just use your cooking experience and fill in the gaps!
The genuine Valencian paella recipe as related by Elena!
First of all you need a flat-bottomed pan. It has to be flat, and preferably a real carbon-steel paella pan. The size of the pan will depend on how many people you are cooking for. Place it on a trestle outside with either a wood fire underneath or, much easier, on a gas ring.
Heat up the pan, pour in olive oil (Elena says oil, but I assume it is olive oil. I don’t know any Spanish person around here that would consider anything else) and heat gently on low heat then add:
¼ chicken with bone, roughly hacked
¼ of a large pork cutlet, on bone, roughly hacked
Now add and stir:
a red pepper, coarsely chopped
8 artichokes – cleaned, tough bits removed and quartered (although Elena’s looked liked they were smaller!)
250 grs of large green beans, cut in 2 inch lengths.
When you think they look about like the photo above, add:
2 garlic cloves, chopped, stir first, then add:
1 large creamy mashed tomato
This is the moment to add HALF the water, and watch out because you are using genuine paella rice – too much water and your paella will be mush; too little and it will be like eating bits of, well, raw rice! I have had both experiences.
So add and let boil for 20 to 30 minutes:
1.5 litres water (for the 500 gr rice which is coming later)
When it has reduced, add:
Another 1.5 litres water
Let this reduce once more to a lovely thickened sauce and add:
50 grs of large green beans like in the photo below -they are not the same as the first lot of beans and if anyone can give me exact names in English I would be more than pleased! Also white broad beans or the equivalent get added immediately afterwards as in the photo below.
Next you add:
colour for paella as talked about earlier – you can find it in absolutely EVERY supermarket. Its main point is to add visual appeal. Rafa used the good stuff with added saffron. As for the amount, that is up to you.
Finally, and most importantly, let the remaining water evaporate (note this is Elena’s instructions, but I felt she left quite a bit of liquid still) and then add:
500 gr bomba rice – this is small and round – no other rice will do
Cook as follows:
Highest heat – 5 minutes
Medium heat – 5 minutes
And finally low heat – 8 minutes
It should now be done and soft, but with a little bit of bite. Elena’s was – with Rafa’s help! Let it sit for 10 minutes before serving.
UPDATE: Sadly Rafa died of cancer a few years after he so graciously cooked for FREE at my masia. He went very quickly. A great man with many talents. His wonderful wife continues to run Portoles in Castellon. Please check through Tripadvisor as there is no website.