Ever since Paella Valenciana was abused by chefs abroad like Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey, and Cataluña claimed it as their own, chefs and locals living in Valencia have fought hard to establish the Valencian Communities’ favourite dish both in terms of ownership but also its ingredients and the manner of cooking. VÍ Vid has been there since the beginning of this campaign: with the 10 chefs who originally tried to get a DO for Paella Valenciana, with Paco Alonso and subsequently wikipaella.org ( whose annual awards are to restaurants home and abroad who cook the traditional paella in the traditional manner and to a high standard) . We have attended every serious paella cooking competition from Sueca to Castellon, including participating as competitors at DACSA, jurors in Valldigna and press at the rest.
Some dismiss the attention Paella Valenciana gets as ‘navel gazing’, but nothing could be further from the truth. Understanding Paella cooking is to understand the people you live with, their culture and the way they live.
And as the years move on (13 years on!) the debate is just as intense, and still developing.
Perhaps fortunately the debate today is not so much about ingredients (these must be fresh, high quality and from as near as possible , preferably the garden, a market garden and a good butcher or fishmonger who sells top quality meat or fish from the Valencian Community or the Mediterranean sea.) Nor is it about what constitutes the Valencian Paella…. there is general acceptance now that Paella de La Valldigna, Paella de la Ribera, Arrocito de Castelló, Paella de la Horta or Camp de Turia or the Paella de Marisco etc are equally as Valencian as the ‘original ‘ with rabbit and chicken.
Today, as Pepe Fortea would say, ‘Valencian Paella belongs to the whole Valencian Community…..it is what is traditional locally, what Grandpa/ma cook on Sunday in their houses and now (with all the attention) belongs to the World’.
Pepe is one of our favourite chefs, a teacher at Valencias’ CdT and at Escuela de Arroces y Paella Valenciana for a long time, who would describe himself as an experimental chef. He’s not the only one, Juan Carlos Galbis, Raul Magraner Martinez, and others spring to mind who have dedicated themselves to how to promote this dish and do so that the World cooks it properly instead of adding chorizo (no paella has chorizo in it!) and enjoys and loves it for what it is.
Thus with Covid 19 restrictions removed the first event we attended was a superb masterclass with Pepe and Raul, giving up their traditional ‘Monday off’ to share their ideas on how techniques can be improved and shared in a way that will translate to chefs abroad who want as an authentic experience as they can produce.
The event was hosted by Sergi Fem Terreta and his partner Carmen who organise the competitions for the Valldigna paellas and the guinea pigs for this ‘development’ paella were the press (including VÍ Vid, José Cuñat (@locosporlapaella), Julian Fernandez and Eli Garcia (Paellaclick.com) as well as Miquel Font Sempere (radio journalist). Sponsors included Ferreteria Garcia Simarro and Azafran Désbrin. Rice (Arroz Dinamita) an Albufera variety was provided by Molino Roca in its distinctive red and yellow sack.
Wines came from Bodegas Casa Gualda and the cooperativa Rio del Jucar, La Forcallà de Antonia (Rafa Cambra) and the whites Pulga de Morella (DO Valencia) and Mariluna (Bodega Sierra Norte).
The paella commenced in the normal manner, caramelizing the chicken and rabbit, pre-cooking the green beans and removing them, tomato then pimentón dulce were added and then water (in this case from the hose) to create the stock.
However Pepe has been developing a ‘super concentrated’ stock and this too was added, then the garrofó (white lima beans joined the melange.) The rice was added, partially cooked then covered with paper to finish cooking in its residual heat, giving as a result the typical ‘socarrat’ . Another new development saw the artichoke added in a gel form.
Whilst this took place we started on traditional tapas with one of the most typical dishes from El Palmar, All i Pebre (eel, potato, garlic and hot paprika stewed), and an original Esgarraet made with llisa-grey mullet, red peppers, fresh onions, and black olives in an excellent extra virgin olive oil) cooked by Raul Magraner (Restaurant Bon Aire).
The resulting paella was indeed concentrated, with incredible depth of flavour and natural colour from the saffron adding not just flavour but reducing the salt needed and a spectacular visual experience.
It was another superb learning experience, and a ‘supernova’ paella but most of all it was a total pleasure to be back in the company of people who understand Valencia’s top dish and want to share their experience with the World!