So I spent this past weekend in Barcelona, and my friend and I decided to take a cooking class in every city we travel together. In Barcelona it was obviously a paella class and this was seriously the best idea. The class was somewhere between 3 and 4 hours long and for around 30 euros we got a tour of La Boqueria, tons of tapas, unlimited sangria, and the best paella I’ve ever had, plus we got to actually help make it and learn a lot about the dish. There is no way I’m going to be able to remember this step by step but I’ll do my best.
First we added most of the veggies, I want to say it was just peppers and onions. Next the calamari went in, first it was the ones with the tentacles. For some reason I volunteered to hold the squid and drop it in the massive skillet (seriously I’ve never seen a pan like this). Of course when I touched it I freaked out and just dropped it without properly shaking it. After those were all in the rest of the calamari went in. Next the clams went in while I was stirring and I was very disturbed by the fact that they were dying under my spoon. This dish was amazing and incredibly fresh probably because the prawns, mussels, and clams were all still alive when we bought them. I had to try really hard not to think about that. Lots of very specific stirring was involved with this dish, and after awhile we added the mussels as well. Brief aside, ever since being forced to eat seafood in France, I love mussels! Anyways, after that seafood was all cooked we added white wine, maybe chicken stock, and water, and then added the prawns. I can’t totally remember all of the spices that went into this dish and at what point. Definitely salt and pepper, and he explained that you should keep salt and pepper in your kitchen mixed together at an 80:20 ratio of salt to pepper. He said this stops dishes from being too salty but doesn’t make them too spicy or peppery. I feel like I usually use salt and pepper at more of a 50:50, but maybe this could be a cool trick to try. Also saffron! Saffron is one of the most expensive spices but apparently in Spain you can get it for insanely cheap! We planned to get a bunch and bring it back to Denmark/the States, but completely ran out of time.
Finally, we added arborio rice. It’s the same kind of rice you use for risotto, but cooked way differently which is why you get a creamy almost soupy consistency with risotto and nice crunchy rice with paella. You have to constantly stir risotto and can’t really leave the stove until it’s done. Paella is a much more low maintenance dish. We put in the rice and peas and then let it do its thing while the cooking instructor led a sangria making workshop. Side note, there is so much complex cooking chemistry and delicate timing issues that go into paella so I have new respect for anyone who makes it well.
UPDATE April 6, 2016:My friend and I decided to make paella again on our own, which was quite the undertaking. We wanted to use a modified version of the one we made in Spain. Basically we wanted to cook it the same way but substitute out some of the seafood for other proteins. We ended up using mussels, two types of shrimp, and chorizo. We didn’t have the recipe we used in Spain so we made this 100% from memory / guesstimating proportions. Once we prepared the seafood (LOTS of work, by the way), we started with lots of olive oil and threw some garlic in to flavor the oil. Once we deemed that done, we sautéed diced bell peppers and olive oil. Once they started to cook we added the mussels, this was my first time cooking mussels and it really freaks me out being the one to cook/kill them, but I guess I’ll get better at that with time. Once they all opened (yikes) we added chicken broth and wine, then cooked the shrimp (big prawns and small shrimp). Once that was almost cooked we added a full bag of arborio rice, peas, and chorizo. Finally, we mixed in saffron, smoked paprika, cayenne, chili powder, salt, and pepper. We periodically added water and chicken stock to make sure the rice would cook through and tried not to stir it too much to make sure it didn’t turn into risotto. Once the rice was cooked through we added lemon wedges and parsley and then ate!
It was delicious. The seafood wasn’t quite as good as the paella we made in Spain, but the dish was seasoned so well and I’m just shocked that we made good paella without a recipe. I’ve definitely come a long way since I first got to Copenhagen and was impressed with myself when I boiled pasta and added spices to some pre made sauce.