A culinary journey through Spain via the unparalleled medium of informal oral testimonies. This is written in English. If you would like a Spanish/Spanglish translation may I recommend reading slower, louder, and adding the letter “o” intermittently to the end of words. This is the fourth part in the series of this crash course in Spanish cuisine. An introduction to this tale can be found by clicking here, and you can see the earlier forays of this adventure by scrolling down and reading more of this blog, which I would recommend that you do anyway.
As a proud half Chinese person, I am always at least half willing to sing the praises of rice, one of our finest grains and the most widely eaten food in the world. This being the case, it is a wonder that so many people cook it poorly. Not the Spanish though, no, far from it. One of their national (and by national I mean a dish that someone would list if they were to think of food from Spain) dishes uses it as its base ingredient. Far different from the types of rice I had growing up, but different is scarcely a bad thing.
“Did Sophia like the paella?” asked the Abuela to the children.
“She liked it so much,” replied Olivia, “that she finished every single grain of rice on her plate. And had two helpings.” – a poorly translated non-verbatim translation from a Spanish conversation during a car journey.
Ah yes, paella. Pie-yay-ah. What good is a Spanish food blog if it were not to feature paella. They say that the best paella is in Valencia, where it originated, but I challenge you to give you a paella better than the one that I tried in Vilassar de Dalt. Homemade on a summer’s day, accompanied by a tinto.
This paella came with everything. Rice (of course), prawns, mussels, squid, cuttlefish, chicken, duck, (“pollo y pato!?” exclaimed the Abuela) pork, peppers, olives, and beans. Muy bien. Muy, muy bien.
Timing, they say, is everything. This was cooked on a special paella dish, of course, with a special gas burner brought in for the occasion. Once the ingredients have had their first preparatory cook, all should be left to simmer for eighteen minutes. Eighteen minutes. Remember that, for I have been told that it is this that is the real secret to a good paella.
And my was it good.
The last time that I can remember having a paella was in Greece. It wasn’t my paella, but my friend couldn’t finish it because it was too much like a risotto. Indeed it was, but I quite like a risotto. Paella beats it for me. The fresh seafood. The complexity of flavourings. The fact that it is an occasion in Spain.
“On the third Sunday of the month, we will have paella. Make sure you are around.” I did.
Another au pair for another family apparently proclaimed that the paella she tried was just the same as that she tried in America. The one she tried in America was just with chicken, and in America. She has now left Spain. For something unrelated, but it is a better story that this type of sacrilege is reason enough for deportation, and so that is how I will end this story.
The dish that is possibly the reason that I decided to start this Spanish food writing endeavour, which has become a much bigger task than I had anticipated.
“Next week we have paella.”
“Believe me, I know. It’s highlighted in my calendar.”
“Yes. Well for now this is paella for the poors. It is just the rice with some fish stock.”
And served with aioli.
This dish originated from fishermen, men who have likely always come somewhere under the economic umbrella of “the poors”, especially considering how hard they worked.
At the end of a fishing trip, fishermen would have found that they had a number of fish which were too small to sell. What to do with these fish? They are still caught, and as the old adage goes: waste not want not. And they did not. They used the smaller and poorer quality fish to make stock, and would then use the stock to cook arrosejat. The next day they might have a stew or similar with the remainder of the fish bones, but “nutrient stew” doesn’t travel well through time, especially as it is liable to replaced by “nutritious, more palatable stew” at a later date.
Arrosejat stayed. And it is best served as a side to seafood.
Arroz de la Cubana
The salsa which my arroz de la cubana was served with looked less pureed than the representation in the above photo. Imagine a chunkier, less garishly red salsa.
Here’s a dish for the kids. Sausages, tomato salsa, eggs and rice. It harked back to the nasi lemak of my Malaysian breakfasts, and the sausages, eggs and chips of my childhood. In a more traditional Cuban style, it would be served with a fried banana. But this isn’t Cuba, and banana isn’t a main course in mainland Europe. Supposedly it is also popular in the Philippines, which would go some way to explaining the nasi lemak similarities.
A simple, moderately spicy dish for the kids. Not to be confused with the cubano, a merienda drink for the kids.