As I was gearing up for my trip to Spain (!!) Virginie coincidentally suggested we make a Paella on a beautiful Melbourne winter Saturday afternoon to have on her patio, with a big heater, great wine and gorgeous friends. She suggested this as if it was a typical every-weekend occurrence, and I guess to her it is. I could not wait to be part of it. This girl knows how to set a mood.
Virginie is French and Spanish. This means she’s someone you not only want to share meals with, she’s someone who knows a lot about cultural, fancy dishes. They ones that always seem extravagant by name. The kind of stuff you’d order on holiday in Paris. Sure, I’ll try the Bœuf bourguignon, thank you. But when Virginie talks about these dishes she’s not wondering if she’s be able to do it, she’s trying to think of what ingredients she’ll need and finding a time to go to the South Melbourne Market.
She’s got, what I like to call, A Beautiful Mind.
As a Venezuelan, I am used to eating rice with any meal breakfast, lunch, dinner. Virginie said the opposite about paella. it’s too filling for a dinner meal, she said. Paella is for lunch and small tapas is for dinner. Spanish secrets to staying thin 101.
I was afraid about the mess we’d make. Paella just seems like one of the meals that would make your kitchen look like an orange colored bomb went off but it was all relatively simply and straight foward, as long as you have your ingredients and all necessary utensils.
Seafood Paella by Virginie through her Auntie’s recipe.
This fed 4 of us, but we were longing, wishing, praying more would magically appear.
a paella pan (which is round, shallow and has handles on the side), 2 canned tomatoes, tuna steak cut into cubes, garlic sliced thin, sliced onion, 3 cups of rice, prawns (gambas), 6 cups of fish stock, style thread spice, paprika, newspaper, a grill.
First thing is first. Make sure your grill is working and turn it on.
After you’ve thinly cut your garlic and onion, pour out the canned tomatoes and chop them into smaller bits as well, then cut up your tuna steak in cubes, and then put your knife down because the cutting is done and that is dangerous.
Place your pan on low heat and add in the garlic and the onion with some olive oil. As we all know, but sometimes still mess up, we can’t let the garlic burn so watch it and move it around. Then add in the 2 canned tomatoes with sauce. Yum. That delicious smell filling up your kitchen is called the Sofrito. I would spend a lot of money of a Sofrito scented room spray.
Now add in your tuna steaks, turn the heat to medium and leave it frying for a bit. It will start getting smoky and exciting. Watch until your start to see the outside of the tuna change to a white color. Once it does add in the large prawns (gambas) which I’ve got to say add an extra touch of cool to any homemade dish. Just seeing them makes you feel like a real chef.
After a few minutes take the prawns out. But don’t forget where your put them you’ll need them later.
Then grab a drinking glass and fill it to the brim with rice three times. Pour them all into the pan. How pretty are the contrasting colors! Salt, pepper, and paprika that beauty. Make sure everything in the pan is mixed and blended together.
Fill up that same drinking glass used for the rice, but this time fill it with fish stock. Six times. Pour it all in. It will look soupy and weird, but now I get where the flavor in every grain of rice comes from.
You’ll want to leave it on the stove top on medium heat for a few minutes while you check that grill is on, and also that everyone has enough wine in the glasses.
Then put the pan into the grill, before you close it add in – the most expensive spice in the world – Style Thread. Now relax, you have 20-25 minutes before you have to do anything else. If you don’t have a grill though, make sure the paella sits on high heat somewhere where the entirety of the pan is being heated. Use two burners if you have to. But whatever you do make sure the pan sits on high heat for at least the last 10 minutes it’s cooking. This will create the best part about paella, a caramelized crust at the bottom called Socarrat. When the paella is ready, add it the prawns and set it on the table.
Get your newspaper ready because now comes my favorite part. Virginie doesn’t know why it started or where the tradition came from, but her grandmother always covers the paella with newspaper for about 5 minutes after it’s ready. I’m obsessed with this! It’s the little things that get me!
After those 5 minutes… TADDAAAA. It looks like a beauty and smells even better. Of course you’ll need spanish music in the background for the big reveal but putting that on will be an easy task, especially compared to what you just made!
How you serve the paella is up to you, but if if what up to me I would serve everyone their share, pretend like I was really upset about the sticky rice at the bottom that has probably ruined my pan, and quickly run to kitchen to scoop and scrape out all the socarrat for myself.