Monday, September 10, 2007

Pepe's Paella

One of my favourite Spanish names is undoubtedly Pepe. Pepe is short for Jose, a variant of Josep (Joseph). As my friend Pepe tells it, historically, Spanish and Italian paintings featuring the biblical Joseph (husband of Mary) were initialled with the letters "P.P." for "padre putativo", or putative father (of Jesus, of course, whose true or non-putative father was God, so we're told). The initials P.P. eventually morphed into the nickname Pepe, which in Spanish is pronounced identically to the pair of letters.

I haven't investigated any of this so take it for what it's worth. It could be a well-conceived fabrication, which wouldn't surprise me coming from Pepe.

In addition to elaborating with erudition on the subject of his name, Pepe has imparted various other pieces of valuable information, not the least of which is his recipe for paella. This recipe was handed down to me one Sunday afternoon at my friend David's place, to which I had been invited to sample the famous paella. David provided a chicken; Pepe took care of the rest.

Now, before I give you the recipe for Pepe's paella, you should know a few things. First, this is an authentic paella recipe from the land of paella, Valencia. Valencia's marshy coastal regions are ideal for rice growing and rice, in all its forms, is a staple of the Valencian diet. According to Pepe, Valencians enjoy great health as a result. Second, it is possible to further pinpoint the origin of Pepe's paella to Pepe's pueblo, Castellon, each Valencian pueblo enjoying a distinct version of paella. For example, south of the city of Valencia, fiddleheads are added to paella, which Pepe confirms is quite delicious. Elsewhere you might taste snails, ones you yourself find in the fields; a rare commodity to be sure.

Finally, there are three secrets to paella making. First, the ingredients must always be fresh-issimo. As Pepe warns, do not allow yourself to be cheated by a dishonest food merchant. Always demand the best. Second, your reason for making paella, or the "purpose of the paella", must be pure. You cannot cook paella for people you dislike or whilst in an irritated mood--claro que no. Third, paella must be made with cariño. Cariño is a sort of corporeal tenderness that you might show a timid lover. Paella, above all, needs cariño.

Now, if you are prepared with a noble purpose, cariño in ample quantity and the personal resources to demand the best from potentially unscrupulous food merchants, you are ready to make Pepe's paella. This is the recipe. It serves approximately 4 hungry paella eaters. I might observe that, as Pepe's instructions were somewhat fluid, the quantities are approximate and you may need to adjust the amount of water needed to complete the cooking process.

1. Cover the surface of a flat bottomed, high sided frying plan with olive oil. Don't skimp; paella needs a good amount of fat. If you happen to have a paella pan, dig it out from the bottom of the closet; it is time for it to prove its worth. If not, a large frying pan will do.

2. Turn the heat to high and allow the oil to get hot. Add a finely chopped clove of garlic or two and season the oil with a teaspoon or so of salt.

3. Add half a chicken and about half a pound of rabbit, each divided into approximately four pieces. If you like, you might at the same time add about a quarter pound of pork rib, also in four parts. We didn't have the latter and it didn't appear to hurt the paella so do as you will.

4. Cook the meat on high heat until well browned on all sides (about 10-15 minutes).

5. Lower the heat to medium and, along with about a teaspoon of sweet Spanish paprika, add the following vegetables, chopped into bite sized pieces unless otherwise specified:

1 large tomato with all its juice
1-2 bell peppers (preferably red, though green will do)
1/2 lb of green beans, broad beans or white kidney beans
1 artichoke, quartered, well trimmed and cleaned with lemon to avoid colouring the rice

You might also add some fresh rosemary or thyme to flavour the paella. We didn't have any. Their absence was not felt by a first time eater of Pepe's paella.

6. Sautee for another 10 minutes until the vegetables begin to soften.

7. Add about 1 litre of water (1 cup per person) and a pinch of saffron. Simmer for about 20 minutes until the meat is cooked through and has flavoured the stock.

8. Taste the broth for seasoning. Add salt and pepper as needed, being careful not to oversalt.

9. Add 2 cups of short-grain rice (1/2 cup per person) and cook uncovered for about 15-20 minutes or until just tender. The liquid should be absorbed at this point; you might need to sprinkle in more water if all the liquid has evaporated, and the rice is still hard. The goal is to achieve "el grano suelto", which is a closed, but flavourful grain of rice. If the rice is overcooked, the grain opens and, well, "el sabor se va."

10. Turn off the heat, cover and allow to sit for about 10-15 minutes.

We consumed our paella with several bottles of cava and a salad of avocado, tomato, onion and olives. Lunch lasted approximately 6 hours. Needless to say, it was delicious.


stephen said...

Barcelona Girl.... It is nye on 10 in the am and my mouth is watering!!! Can we do a cooking show version of a Paella variety? I miss you. Can I see you soon. My loins, joints and flesh are yours to work into wonderful dishes. ss xoxox

David said...

Pepe hails from a region in Spain where they are known to be untrustworthy...