Monday, 17 June we were invited to a masterclass organised by Wikipaella, DO Azafran La Mancha, Paco Alonso and with Raul Cob (Chef at Cap I Casal) and Juan Carlos Galbis, at the Marina Beach Club, who were to cook a traditional Valencian Paella.
This was not a random `jolly´, but rather a serious event at which the message was put across about correctly selecting ingredients for the emblematic dish of the region and how by returning to their correct use the dish can be made more accessible.
So, what is the problem that has been identified?
Laziness and ignorance seem to be the answer and this has led to those who suffer from gluten intolerance often rejecting paella in Restaurants in the region.
The reality is that the use of artificial colourants and flavorants has crept into the cooking in restaurants and homes across Valencia because it is convenient.
In particular three ingredients are at fault, Stock, tomato and colourants. If you buy industrial tomato `frito´ rather than simply grating ripe natural tomatos, or add artificial colourants such as `tartrazine´ and use stock cubes to build the flavours rather than adding water when the base flavours of the paella have been created by correctly caramelizing the ingredients first then you will ( albeit unknowingly) be adding un-natural ingredients which will affect those with food intolerances.
Two of these three can be very simply eradicated as we say by grating tomatos and using water (the traditional method) and the third is by using the best quality saffron.
On Monday the Denomination of Origin Azafran La Mancha were very much part of the masterclass. Foodies know well that La Mancha produces the best quality saffron but even they do not necessarily know how to use it properly. In a fascinating and educational session the myths were dispelled and we were shown convincingly how it improves the quality of a paella when its potential is maximised.
DO Azafran La Mancha is a grouping of just 22 Producer/Packagers all of whom have to put the seal of the DO on the packaging. And don’t be fooled by ‘azafran manchego´, this is a fraud.
The producers harvest by hand and oven dry the strands (which means they do not need to be heated before using- something which is necessary with poor quality saffron) before packing.
Genuine saffron contains Crocinas, Picrocrocinas, Kaempferol and Safranal which between them add colour, flavour and aroma and are entirely natural. As a result you are adding a natural flavour enhancer which reduces the need for salt or (heaven forfend) MSG.
The most effective way to use saffron is to grind the strands in a mill, mortar or between the fingers. This can be added directly but is better infused in water. The ultimate way to do this is to heat 1gm of ground strands in 250ml of water to 65ºC and maintain the temperature for 4-5 hours. At the end all of the colour and flavour will have transferred to the water and the strands will be white. This mixture can then be stored in the fridge.
1gm contains between 4-500 strands and costs around 7€. However when you consider the correct amount to use is 6-7 strands per head in a rice dish, the real cost is around 0.05€ per head and not much more than a short squirt of the liquid needs to be added to the dish before the rice is added.
Wikipaella, together with the Tourism department of the Town Hall are promoting the use of natural ingredients and are aiming to educate restaurants in the City in the correct use of unadulterated products in Paella not just to make the experience of eating paella better but healthier and more inclusive too.
After all, ‘Paella’ is the 4th most Googled dish in the world!
Following the presentation Juan Carlos Galbis and Raul Cob cooked a traditional Valencian Paella for those attending, making an infusion with the saffron to illustrate how it is best used. The photographs below show clearly that the saffron added sufficient colour and flavour to the dish.
VÍ Vid welcomes this initiative. We have commented in the past on the quality of the rice in at least three of the recent ‘concursos’ we have attended. The question of the use of saffron as an infusion has reached the point where it needs to be taught in the CdT´s and Cookery schools so that its use becomes normalised and the next generation of chefs in the Valencian Community become experts with this ‘liquid gold.’
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