Chef Rafael Vidal from behind the line
What better way to celebrate World Paella Day than to taste the original paella from Valencia, Spain, cooked by the world famous paella chef Rafael Vidal?
Let me back up a bit. I cook “American” paella, meaning I mix seafood and meat, and add broth, peppers, and onions – a blasphemy within the rarefied paella circle in which I found myself last Tuesday. That day I was invited to Mercado Little Spain (30th St & 10th Ave, NYC) for a lunch where Chef Rafael would cook me the perfect paella.
If you were there that day in line ordering ordinary paella, you saw the open kitchen with wood-fired stations, and me in it, in an apron, videotaping Chef Vidal as he cooked his signature dish while you waited to be served.
It was an amazing “behind the line” experience capped with delicious food!
Clockwise from top right: bone-in chicken legs and rabbit, fava beans, artichoke, rosemary, tomato, saffron & salt, green beans, rice, olive oil. (not shown – water) Serves 12
The ingredient list is simple as paella. There’s no broth or soffrito, the meat is browned in olive oil with green beans stirred in, then artichokes. Tomato sauce is added, water, then a local to Valencia type of fava bean, before rice is sprinkled evenly into the bubbling mix. Saffron and salt add flavors until there is nothing to be done but bring the liquid to a boil and cook. There are no peppers – hot or sweet – and there is only a final sweeping of the paella with a rosemary branch to complete the flavor.
display of paella ingredients for sale at Mercado Little Spain
As the liquid cooks down, the rice, which is a local to Valencia rice that keeps its shape and an “al dente” core, “marries” the pan to create a rich toasty crust called “socarrat” that is the prized portion of the meal.
To see the perfect paella created – not once, but twice by the expert – was a fantastic experience. Then Chef Vidal plated the paella with care to have each element included, and even refilled my plate after I inhaled my first portion. It was so delicious that I slowly ate my second helping to savor each mouthful.
A word about the ingredients: use the finest you can. If you don’t want rabbit use more chicken. Bone-in is ideal, but American tastes being what they are – boneless is OK – you’ll just lose some flavor. The saffron is crushed and soaked in a small amount of hot water for 15 minutes or so to release the flavor. If the fava beans are not fresh they must be pre-boiled.
Chef Vidal & Chef Andres
There you have it! You can watch the video for ingredients and technique, but you had to be there to feel the heat and have the aromatic smoke (traditionally from orange wood) tickle your nose and burn your eyes, as beads of sweat dripped off you, all the while watching the intensity of Chef Vidal – and his smile when perfection was achieved.
Mercado Little Spain https://www.littlespain.com/