Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Paella Heaven

Aneto Paella Croquettes 
My friend Chef Tom asked me to a get together featuring some new paella broths last evening.  Paella! One of my favorite dishes!  It's one of those things I discovered in Madrid when I was a student and have been on a search for 'good' paella in the U.S. ever since.  So naturally I made all haste to make arrangements to attend.

Featured Aneto natural broths 
It also seemed like destiny since just a few days before I had noticed a new line of paella broths in the Sausalito Mollie Stone's that I was excited to try out, and the party was presenting the very same Aneto paella broths.

Chef Abel, Assistant Ana and Daniel of Aneto 
At a lovely home in San Francisco, and pictured left to right, Chef Abel Monago, Assistant Ana Vilaseca, and Daniel Ferrero of Aneto were in the kitchen creating lovely tapas and several paellas for a number of food lovers, writers and bloggers in attendance.

Paella croquettes 
The first bites out of the kitchen were paella croquettes  made of Valencia style paella and one prepared with the seafood broth colored black with squid ink.  Reminiscent of the Italian arancini, these balls of rice had a nice crisp outside that yielded to the bite sliding into a creamy paella interior bursting with flavor and creaminess.

Plate of Paella Stuffed Mushroom Caps 
After a leisurely chomp through the paella croquettes, the next appetizer plates were mushroom caps stuffed with paella.  These were also tasty.

Chickpea, Spinach and Cod Paella 
Close up of Chickpea, Spinach and Cod Paella

The next four paellas came out in succession.  The flavors were complex.  The Aneto broths are made naturally, like we might make a broth in our home, yet using more complex ingredients than we would normally take the time to gather.  It was great to see a succession of completely recognizable and wholesome ingredients in each broth.

Valencia Paella with Green Peppers, Artichokes, Asparagus and Sausage 
Valencia Paella with Green Peppers, Artichokes, Asparagus and Sausage

It was great to learn the story of paella beginning as a fisherman's dish where they started by using local ingredients, fish pieces and a carbohydrate.  The fishermen also used potatoes and pasta as the carb portion of their dish.  Rice has become the popular carbohydrate, and it stands up well to the technique.

Seafood Paella with Prawn Carpaccio and Pinenuts 
Seafood Paella with Prawn Carpaccio and Pine Nuts

And I learned that technique is what paella is, rather than a recipe.  Daniel compared paellas to omelets where you choose ingredients and cook to your individual taste rather than using a recipe from others.  To make paella, you need a shallow dish and high heat.  First you saute the assembled ingredients - some vegetables and meat/fish in the pan.  When these are cooked, you add the rice and broth and cook at high heat for about 10 minutes, followed by 10 minutes of low heat, then a brief rest of 5-10 minutes.

Chickpea, Spinach and Cod Paella 
Chickpea, Spinach and Cod Paella

The best rice to use for paella is Bomba rice because its molecular structure allows it to expand lengthwise rather than bursting open as many rices do under the rapid and high heating required to make paella.  It's more forgiving to overcooking.  A medium grain non-sticky rice in general is advised for use.

Paella using Aneto broth with Squid Ink 
Paella made with Aneto natural paella broth with Squid Ink

After hearing the cooking description, I'm thinking that I may be able to actually make this in a shallow pan that I have in my kitchen successfully without buying a special paella pan.  I'd not tried making this dish at home for lack of pan, and concern of bringing yet another piece of cooking equipment to my over stuffed kitchen cabinets.  Hearing the story of paella I realized that the lack of a perfect pan shouldn't stop me since after all, this dish originated with fishermen who I'm sure were not concerned about the perfect pan!  So I'll be picking up some of this flavorful broth soon and try this myself.