Search This Blog

05 July 2012

Paella Valeciana from The Rice Book by Sri Owen

In July 1991 I had lunch at El Delfin, a restaurant facing the sea at Malva Rosa, just outside Valencia. You eat in a large, white room, with black furniture and a stone floor, a bar at the end near the kitchen door, a breeze just lifting the corners of the white tablecloths; when a particularly fine dish comes to table, other patrons are likely to walk across and comment on it appreciatively, praising the cook, Señora Cesar. It is, of course, a family business. I was allowed into the kitchen to watch the Senora prepare this dish in the traditional way, in a shallow iron pan - a paella - over a wood fire. The fire heats the bottom of the pan evenly, so that the bottom layer of rice is nice and crunchy but not actually burnt.
I give here the original ingredients that I saw Señora Cesar use, and I have also suggested some alternatives which I have tested and which produce practically the same result, though the people of Valencia, who are rightly proud of their cuisine, might not like you to call it a Paella Valenciana.
The Valencia way to eat this dish, among family or friends, is just to put the paella in the middle of the table and let each person eat their way from the edge into the centre. I'm told that 10 or 12 people, or more, can eat this way at a big round table, and after seeing some of the old paella that are still in use, I can well believe it.
The best rice to use is of course the short grain rice that has been grown around Valencia and Murcia since the time of the Moors, who built the irrigation canals that are still the basis of rice farming in the region today. In Calasparra, in the hills above Murcia, they grown rice which is stamped Denominación de Origen as if it were a fine wine, and a few farmers still grow a low-yield traditional variety called Bomba.
If you're not able to get Spanish rice, use the best short grain you can find: Japanese or Korean, or Italian Arborio. If you use dried butter beans, soak the overnight first.
Preparation: 20 minutes
Cooking: 40 minutes
Serves 4-6

3 tbsp olive oil
2 chicken breast portions and 2 chicken thighs, cut into small chunks with the bones and skin
225 - 340g rabbit meat, cut into small chunks
1 small onion, finely sliced
4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 large tomatoes, skinned and chopped, or 2 tbsp tomato purée
112g fresh butter beans, or reconstituted dried butter beans, or fresh broad beans
170-225g flat green beans or runner beans, but into 5cm pieces
2 pinches saffron strands, crushed in a mortar, or ½ tsp turmeric
16-20 snails, cleaned (optional)
1.1 litres hot chicken stock or hot water
Salt and pepper to taste
450g short grain rice

Heat the oil in the pan, and when it is hot add the chicken and rabbit pieces and fry them, turning often, for 3 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, cayenne pepper and tomatoes or tomato puree. Stir all together for 1 minute. Add the beans and saffron, and stir again. Cover the pan for 2 minutes. Uncover, and add the snails (if used), and stir; then put in the hot chicken stock, water, salt and pepper. Cover the pan and let this simmer for 18-19 minutes. Up to this point, the dish can be prepared several hours in advance.
By now the liquid should be just enough to cook the rice. If you are doubtful about this, transfer the solids to another container; then measure the liquid - it should be just about 850ml. If necessary, add some more hot water. Bring the liquid back to the boil and put in all the solids and rice. Stir the whole thing well, adjust the seasoning and cover the pan. Lower the heat and leave it all to cook undisturbed for 15 minutes.
Turn off the heat and let the pan rest for 5 minutes. Serve hot from the pan, or transfer to a warm serving dish. Scape the thin crust from the bottom of the pan and scatter it over the top so that everyone gets a fair share.
• This extract is taken from The Rice Book by Sri Owen (Frances Lincoln, £9.99)

No comments: