Monday, October 14, 2013

Spain, Morocco, London, Part 2: A Paella By Any Other Name...

Previous Installment

I wrote recently about some paella misconceptions. Well, here's the real deal, complete with recipe and step-by-step documentation.

The problem is that in this case we can't call it paella, because the cook - animation wiz and all-around cool dude David Cid - insists on calling it "Arròs", the Catalan word for rice. The distinction is obscure, hopelessly complex, and, in the end, meaningless, but I'll take a stab at unravelling it (feel free to jump ahead past the italicized section).

Political/Cultural Digression

Catalans (the folks who live in the autonomous Spanish region anchored by Barcelona) are gargantuanly proud of their language and culture. So much so that many pretend not to speak Spanish at all (they're fluent) and to dislike Spanish things like bullfights (a fixture in Catalonia for centuries, but disowned as it became associated with Spain) and gazpacho (which Catalans privately love).

Just to the south is another state, Valencia, where everyone also speaks Catalan, but only a fool would dare say so out loud. While it is indistinguishable from Catalan, they insist, per mass delusion, that they're speaking an entirely distinct language: Valencian. Two things about nationalism: 1. it can - and will - always be sliced ever finer, and 2. it always involves xenophobia. And so the two communities can barely stand each other.

And the problem is that paella started in Valencia. So David, being a proud Catalan, refuses to call his paella "paella". Instead: "arròs". The reasoning is akin to "freedom fries". But what he's cooking is totally paella, as even he acknowledges.

David cites other, cheerier factors, as well: "I say 'arròs de peix' (rice with fish) out of respect for the grain itself ['paella' is named not for the rice but for the pan it's cooked in], and perhaps, even more so, because it strikes me as poetic. If I cook rice with meat, vegetables and legumes, I call it 'arròs de muntanya' (mountain rice). Saying 'arròs' is a tribute to the people who grow it.


The element I hadn't heard of before is "el Llamàntol", a tradition which moves David to rhapsodize:
"The meat of the first shellfish, el Llamàntol, is the seafood sacrifice. Only el Llámentol has its meat extracted and added to the pan (after adding the tomato). El Llamàntol has all the flavors of the Mediterranean sea; we say el Llamàntol is independent, singular, and special, with a character that's very Catalan (the next time you visit, I'll cook an arròs made only with el Llamàntol, which is quite soupy and super super especial!)"
You can view el Llamàntol along with the rest of the process in this weirdo slideshow (created by David using my photos). You might want to follow along with the step-by-step recipe just below, perhaps in a second browser window.

Beware: it moves fast!

This title is a bit of a joke. My name in Spanish translates, very roughly, to "Jaime Izquierda". In Catalan, it's "Jaume Esquerra". And since this particular paella rice was whipped up in my honor, David has whimsically named it for me.

Add olive oil to the pan.

Sacrifice el Llamàtol to the hot oil

Remove el Llamàtol

Extract the meat from el Llamàtol

Add prawns and cook

Remove the prawns and set aside

Add cuttlefish and squid and cook

Remove cuttlefish and squid and set aside

Add onion and garlic and cook until very brown, but not burnt (this is David's signature move).

Add tomato

Add squid ink

Add the meat of el Llamàtol along with the cooked cuttlefish, squid, and prawns

Adjust salt and pepper, and add some hot red pepper
[Note: David doesn't like saffron, which is one reason his paella rice turns out brown rather than yellow, though with all that squid ink and deeply browned onion, brownness is likely inevitable).

Add clams and mussels

Leave everything to integrate with the sauce for around ten minutes

Throw in the rice (80 to 100g per person)

Let the rice integrate with the sauce for 3-4 minutes

Add fish stock

Raise the heat to maximum and cook for 13 or 14 minutes

Turn off the flame

Cover the pan with cloths

Allow to rest 5-7 minutes




Note that there was no socarrat (the crispy stuck-to-the-pan rice). I've had nearly a dozen great paellas within an afternoon's drive of Valencia over the years, but have never once come across socarrat. I'm not suggesting it's a myth; just pointing out that 1. it's not essential (contrary to what some experts say), and 2. paellas are like snowflakes - every cook's version is unique - so beware of dogma. It's possible to break any given hard/fast paella rule and still achieve stellar and authentic results. This staunchly authentic paella, for example, had no saffron, no socarrat, and was cooked over gas heat rather than a fire from the traditional orange tree twigs.

This 20 second video captures a particularly poetic moment:

Ladies and gentlehounds, here is your Arróz:

Go to Part 3

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