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The other night I made paella for Edward and Sarah after being inspired in Spain. Having said that I pretty much did what I always do but with more confidence after being inspired in Spain.

Mixed paella in non-paella pan

Mixed paella in non-paella pan

I shopped in Borough Market for the ingredients and managed to get:

Calasparra rice

Calasparra rice

  • calasparra rice (use this or bomba rice for paella as the first choice if you can find it. If you cannot find a paella rice use a risotto one. Note that paella rice will absorb about 4 times its own weight in liquid.)
  • a small free-range pork fillet
  • large prawns
  • a swordfish steak
  • fresh chorizo
  • some veges including peppers, red onions and flat leaf parsley.

Sarah is pregnant so I stayed away from shellfish. The great thing about paella is that you don’t need to be too precious about the star ingredients. Whatever is around and looks fresh and good. And feel safe mixing meat and seafood (also known as a mixed paella). The trick is to get the base right.

Caroline’s paella

Ingredients
200-300g firm fleshed fish such as monkfish or swordfish [less if you are adding some pork or other meat]
200-300g pork fillet [optional: if you don’t want fish get a couple of fillets of pork
2 T olive oil
3-4 T olive oil
2 red onions, very very finely chopped
2 green pepperrs (capsicum), seeded and very, very finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon of fennel seeds
100-150g fresh chorizo (a couple of sausages)
250g calasparra rice
3T oloroso sherry (or other dry sherry. Or dry white wine if you are stuck)
900ml fish stock (or chicken stock if you are doing a meat based paella)
a very good pinch of saffron
1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
sea salt and cracked pepper
bunch of Italian flat leafed parsley
some other seafood, for example 6-9 large prawns (depends on size); and/or shellfish in the shell such as 6-12 mussells, a dozen cockles etc. [optional, depends on how much meat/seafood is in there already]

In your paella pan (or the widest frying pan you have if stuck), heat 2T of olive oil. Cut the fish into large chunks and lightly fry on all sides. Do not cook through. Tip fish and juices into separate container and set aside. If you are also cooking some meat (e.g. pork), reserve some of the oil and juices and then lightly sautee the meat. Do not cook through. Tip into bowl and set aside.

If you have prawns, either shell them, or de-head them now. It depends on your preference. Add them to the stock (fish or chicken) and bring to the boil and simmer for 5  minutes or so. Remove from heat. Strain and discard prawn shells and debris and return the stock to the pot. Add the saffron to the hot stock and leave to steep.

Add the remaining olive oil to the pan and heat. Add the onion and peppers and sautee gently on a medium to low heat for around 20 minutes until softened and partially caramelised. Add the garlic, fennel seeds and chorizo (if you are using it). Cook on low for another 10 minutes or so, stirring every now and then until the garlic is well softened.

If you aren’t adding prawns, bring the stock up to boil now then add the saffron and remove from the heat.

Turn up the heat under the paella pan to medium high and add the rice. Stir briefly to coat with the oniony mixture and cook for a minute or so. Add the sherry or wine and stir through. Cook for another minute. At this stage you can pause the process and restart around 20 minutes before you want to eat. Or keep going.

Add the stock and stir through the chopped parsley and the smoked paprika. In theory you can season at this stage but it is a very flavoursome dish so if in doubt leave the seasoning and offer people salt and pepper at the end. Add the fish and/or pork at this stage evenly around the paella, press under the rice. At this stage stop stirring! A paella is not like a risotto and does not require stirring to reach perfection. Ideally the stock creates steam channels through the rice and bubbles up to cook to perfection. This gets us to the challenging part of cooking a paella on a home stove. Ideally the entire paella pan is heated evenly (from edge to edge) underneath by hot coals, or another even heat source. In practice you end up straddling your 30cm paella pan over two elements and rotating it around to try and enable all bits of it to cook. Without stirring. So what I usually end up having to do is to rotate it periodically for about 15 minutes. And then finish it in the oven which should be preset to around 160C.

If you have prawns and/or shellfish – add these about 5 minutes before you deem the rice to be cooked i.e. at the point you are likely to stick it in the oven. Having had paella in Spain it should not be served uber soft. I would say that perfectly cooked is just a fraction more al dente than a risotto.So the point to add the additional seafood is where it still has a bit of bite to it and feels undercooked but kind of getting there (if that makes sense).The shellfish are cooked when they open up.

Remove from the oven or the stove top and serve direct from the pan. Offer people seasoning at this stage.

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As a long term risotto@home kinda person I made a radical departure into paella maybe 18 months ago. It has become a much requested dinner party staple. My concern was that I hadn’t tried the real thing on its home turf. You always have a sneaking concern that you have the weightings of the flavours slightly out of whack, when you make a classic dish without the frame of reference of trying it in its country of origin.

I have never forgotten the expression on Sarah S’s face when she tried spaghetti bolognaise in Bologna. Outrage. The real thing is very subtle.

When in Barcelona we had very good paella at two restaurants. Can Majo came highly recommend by just about every blog, guide and online and print source we found. This meant that we were unable to get a reservation on the Saturday with our party of six.  Instead we went to L’Arròs in Port Vell which is the slightly more downmarket sister restaurant to La Gavina (also recommended), which is a bit more glam and right on the waterfront.

L’Arròs had a superb menu, very seafood focussed as you would expect but with a meat section for the non fish or rice eaters. The paella were split into seafood and meat. Everyone is served an individual portion direct from the paella pan. Unfortunately for 6 year old Alice (who is allergic to fish), they served a little amuse bouche meatbally dish when we arrived. There was much debate over whether this was chicken, pork, lamb (no!) or something else. It was obviously fish as Alice suffered the after effects some hours later. Delicious for the rest of us.

In the end three of us went for the swordfish, prawn and green garlic paella (below). I was yearning for the lobster or shellfish but given that I am still somewhat allergic to shellfish I figured this was foolhardy.

The paella was cooked to perfection. The fish was tender and delicious. The rice had a little more bite to it than I maybe do at home. Note to my friend Lulu who gnashes her teeth constantly about restaurants undercooking rice. However the subtle flavours of garlic, peppers, onion, smoked paprika, saffron and fennel – all came through.

Paella with swordfish, prawns and green garlic

Paella with swordfish, prawns and green garlic - selected by three of us

Paella with shellfish including scallops

Nick M's choice - paella with scallops

The next day Andrew and I had managed to secure a table at Can Majo. This place is likewise in Port Vell although on the other side. Can Majo is uniformly recommended with the only negatives being some digs at their service. When we arrived some 10 minutes late they were turning people away and looked baffled about the existence of our reservation. Despite Andrew spelling his name, something different had made it to the reservation book. I suggested that we use my name in Spain as Caroline is converted to Carolina as standard and there were fewer chances of mix-ups.

In the end they dragged in a table from somewhere and organised a place for it. I would definitely say that the service there is on the curt side. Having said that, I was feeling somewhat sympathetic for the owner / maitre’d. Can Majo is in a great spot and obviously gets a lot of people just trying for a table on the off-chance. Its reputation has also dropped it onto the tourist radar. The owner has the somewhat edgy air of a man who has created a great restaurant, found himself in the guidebooks, and is faced with a bunch of ignorant twits (I hate to say it – Brits) turning up to dine there. His attitude reminded me of the owners of Two Rooms in Miramar in Wellington with their infamous turfing out of a woman who arrived wearing too much perfume. And hence destroying the palettes of the other diners.

There were a fair number of locals dining there including what looked like an astonishingly well-heeled “Branjelina” family who turned up en masse with about 8 kids of every ethnicity in super designer clothing. Andrew and I were riveted. Eat your heart out Benetton.

Beside us were a couple of middle aged British woman who were attempting to send back their wine. The owner was called over and a scene kicked in. In essence they didn’t like their wine. It wasn’t off. They didn’t like it. They said it was too sweet and they wanted a dry white. The owner said it was the driest white he had. Meanwhile Andrew ordered a glass of Spanish sauvignon blanc. It was much more fruity with a higher sugar content than the NZ or French equivalents. Because Spain is HOTTER! Of course the wine tastes different in Spain (or France, or Germany, or Chile, or Greece, or New Zealand). The terroir is different. The weather is different. My view is that when travelling you take your chances with local winelists. If you are not familiar with the wine you just have to try it. Send it back if it is off. Buy another wine if you don’t like it.

So to the food. Superb. We had a couple of fishy tapas including teeny tiny fried fish. Very tasty. Even if Andrew did mutter that it was miniature fish’n’chips [minus chips]. Cretin.

The paella are for two or more so we were bound to share one. We went for a general seafoody one but in this case in broth which basically meant more soupy than your standard paella. What I like about the Can Majo style is that they bring the pan to the table to show you. Then it is removed and the messy business of portioning onto your plates is done on a table to the side. Plates are brought back with your paella. Plus the pan with leftovers for the most hearty appetites. I have to say I thought that Can Majo had the edge over the previous day.

Can Majo seafood paella in broth

Can Majo seafood paella in broth

And the leftovers…

And Can Majo leftover paella in broth

And Can Majo leftover paella in broth

I am cooking paella on Friday night so will be posting a recipe over the weekend. Kate B has already had a go at my generic base how to make a paella recipe. With much success I understand.

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I was in Barcelona for a very important purpose. My friends Chan (Sri Lankan) and Neasa (Irish) – both New Zealand residents – were getting married in the obvious Kiwi-Asian-Gaelic location. Barcelona.

Chan waiting

Waiting for Neasa

NeasaandChan

Neasa and Chan - the bride and groom

The wedding ceremony - outside

The outside venue for the wedding ceremony

The wedding music courtesy of Neasa's friends

Neasa's Irish friends play the wedding music

The wedding venue - inside

The wedding venue - inside

The musical bride

The musical bride

Strictly speaking this was a blessing only as the legalising ceremony was in New Zealand before I left. Their wedding deserves special mention in a foodie blog due to the quality (and quantity) of the food. Two words. Lavish. Delicious.

One of my pet gripes with weddings is that guests are often abandonned for hours after the ceremony with nothing but glasses of bubbles for sustenance. The bride and groom scarper for photos while friends and family get hammered thanks to drinking on an empty stomach. Well prepared bridal couples sometimes ensure canapes are passed around at this time. Given that canapes are priced per piece the general ratio is 3 to 4 per guest. Or several mouthfuls for the more Survivor-like guests; and nothing for the rest.

Not at this wedding. Copious quantities of tapas were served with Cava (Spanish bubbles). Tapas ranged from tortilla (like a Spanish frittata with eggs and potatoes) to fish croquettes to small Spanish meatballs with caramelised onions.  When the formal ceremonies recommenced the troupe of guests were relaxed and with the edge taken off.

Tapas were followed with a buffet featuring paella, confit duck braised in port wine with pears, and a luscious salad with grilled goats cheese. And this was just a corner.

Things really got out of hand with the desserts. Neasa and Chan were obviously unable to shortlist out of the mouthwatering options of classic Spanish desserts, pastries, chocolates and more. So we got everything in tiny pieces in multiple courses. My table had the inspired thought to each have one of everything. And were floored when we discovered that the options kept being refreshed. Completely done in we were faced with the daunting prospect of the wedding cake. A chocolate, truffle, mousse cake. Each.  I feel slightly queasy remembering choking down a corner. Because I had to. Because it was so delicious.

The dessert - second course

Second round of the dessert

The above is a compliment to the bride and groom. It takes a lot to out cater me and I officially concede to being done-in by the wedding feast. Viva Barcelona. And all my love and best wishes to Neasa and Chan. Should you choose to reconfirm your vows in Barcelona anytime. Count me in.

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