Sunday, September 04, 2016
Here in Bigastro they call the dish arroz and the way it is made follows time honoured traditions which vary slightly from one cook to another.
What I make is a form of paella and it neither conforms to the traditions of the Vega Baja nor to what Valencians would properly describe as paella.
I like a lot more meat in my paella than most Bigastrense and I like my rice to be spicy in flavour rather than subtle. I add beans, tomatoes and red pepper to bulk it up but long since stopped putting onion and chorizo into the dish. I use large chicken pieces so that each person gets a generous amount rather than scraps of meat with a lot of bone.
However, I am nowhere near as guilty of the horrors that some professional chefs in the UK try to get away with.
Gordon Ramsay, a chef with a total of 14 Michelin stars and umpteen TV cooking shows, teaches an Englishwoman how to make a paella in one of his videos. The resulting dish does not even deserve to fall into the category of “rice with stuff in it.”
In best Kitchen Nightmares style, Ramsay launches into making a “paella” with (what else?) chorizo, chicken, shrimp, squid and clams. He then jazzes it up with a generous squirt of sherry, as well as a few chilli peppers – because it’s never too late to confuse Spain with Mexico.
But perhaps the worst part is the fact that he prepares this concoction in a frying pan, and it comes out so runny that he is forced to serve it with a ladle.
John Torode, an Australian-born celebrity chef, restaurateur and host of the UK version of Masterchef, also claims to know a lot about paella. However, he makes his paella in a sauté pan!!
Torode stir-fries onion, garlic, turmeric and paprika, then adds the rice, the broth and, instead of just leaving it be, stirs everything vigorously, lest the flavors should not gel completely together.
To his credit, Torode adds beans to his paella which will earn him brownie points with Valencian viewers. But then he botches it by sautéeing cod to decorate the paella, which he also tops with shrimp, mussels and the classic – and utterly useless – lemon quarters. Of course you need the lemon to squeeze over the dish but it should be in a dish by the side.
When the rice is done, he shakes it up passionately one more time, because he knows that a good paella needs to be mushy and that the rice grains should be crushed.
Marco Pierre White also rises to the paella challenge. Ramsay’s mentor, the enfant terrible of British cuisine and once the youngest holder of three Michelin stars, White states that he had the best paella of his life in northern Spain, and Valencians are going to have a stroke when they hear that. In his recipe, he adds a more-than-generous helping of white wine to his rice, and enough paprika to stop a moving train.
In the end though, you cook the food the way you want and if it is enjoyable and tasty what does it matter that the dish does not conform to the way it should be. Just don't try serving it to native Spaniards!