One of the things I was most looking forward to during our trip to Spain was the paella experience I discovered online, a trip to the market followed by a cooking class in the evening given by Janet Mendel. Janet is not only the friendly and knowledgeable owner of our charming studio accommodation, but a widely acclaimed author of many books on Spanish cooking. She is an American who has lived in Spain for over 30 years and is a font of knowledge on language and customs, as well as cooking of course.
Our market trip started with coffee and eggplant tapas at a local cafe, before we headed off through the narrow streets of Mijas to the inside market. The coffee I must say was perfect, and the slices of crumbed eggplant crispy golden and sweet.
The entrance to the market is easy to miss, I’m not sure I would have found it if Janet hadn’t led me through a doorway where the first thing I saw was a lovely vase of pink flowers, complete with Geraldton Wax! Ahhhhh, home !
Our first buy was pollos muslos, which looked like the thigh and drumstick of a chicken boned, followed by slices of jambon, delicious melt in your mouth ham. I loved the care with which the butcher sliced the ham, cutting off pieces of gristle and making sure each paper thin slice was perfect.
Next was the seafood, the stalls were bustling with Spanish housewives buying bacalao for the traditional Easter dish of salted cod fritters. I managed to order, in Spanish, gambas, langoustinas, mejillones and calamar ( small prawns, large prawns, mussels and squid) even using the very precise Spanish measure, un manojo, a handful.
Vegetables and other ingredients purchased at the supermarket, we headed off home, where Janet peeled the small prawns and made a flavorful stock with the shells, and I enjoyed a glass of wine and book in our comfy window seat ( complete with a view of a beautiful wattle tree)
At the very Spanish time of 7:30, we headed over to Janet’s kitchen to make the paella, first enjoying an aperatif of sherry, and tapas of ham on bread smeared with olive oil and ripe tomato, while Janet explained how similar to the French wine makers of Champagne and Burgundy who had reclaimed the name for exclusive use of wines made in their area, Spanish sherry wine makers have now done the same (some online research later revealed that sherry in Australia is now known as then to the paella. Janet has kindly allowed me to include her recipe so I am not going go through step by step, just share some photos and a couple of things I learnt from Janet about making paella.
Interestingly, a traditional paella, despite what you may read when looking for recipes, does not include chorizo. Originally made by farm workers in the Valencia area, it did not even contain seafood, this was added later. Original dishes included chicken or rabbit, even wild duck, and different types of beans.
Adding the rest of the ingredients, and the most important tip about making paella
The most important ingredient in paella is the rice. Even though it may seem as if adding the ingredients such as calamari rings early on in the piece may cause them to be tough, (and that thought did run through my mind just as Janet was explaining it) the rest of the ingredients are there for flavor
Also, unlike risotto which needs constant stirring, once the hot stock has been added (note the stock simmering on the stove) paella does not get stirred.
Traditional paella cooked outside on the flat bottom pan over a wood fire develops the crust, the socorrat , when it is left to stand covered once the cooking period has finished. However a paella cooked inside in a more modern pan does not always develop this crust.
At last, the paella we have all been waiting for!!
Many many thanks to Janet for a wonderful evening.
Please visit her blog, My Kitchen in Spain, to learn more about Spanish cooking
And here is the recipe!