I always find that after I’ve been away and done a lot of eating out, then when I get home I want to do a lot of cooking. I went to a restaurant in New York called Barraca (its name is a nod towards Lorca’s theatre group, apparently), and there on the menu were various paellas, including Negra, De Fideua, de Tierra, and Valenciana. Not only that, the menu proclaimed a “Paella Manifesto.”
In general I’m not fond of restaurants that have manifestos, and I absolutely don’t want them to have a mission statement, but this paella manifesto seemed sensible enough – it’s gotta be made from scratch, including the stock, got to use the right kind of rice from Valencia, and it should never be stirred during the cooking process.
The Valenciana was the one that really caught my eye since it contained snails, rabbit and chicken (also string beans – which I didn’t much care about). And it all sounded good but it was $28 per person, and although there are days when I’d happily pay that, I started doing the calculation; chicken is not pricey, a whole rabbit can be had in my local supermarket for about $10, snails doesn’t cost much per head (and I actually had some in the freezer). So the Loved One and I eschewed the paella and shared some tapas – pulpo, jamon Serrano and patata brava - which weren’t cheap either, but it wasn’t really about cheapness, it was the feeling - paella-wise - of “I can do that.”
And when I got home, I did; after my own fashion. I’m sure I broke many of the manifesto rules – I certainly didn’t use a paella pan, and although I did use Spanish rice, it didn’t come from Valencia. But my stock was indeed made from scratch, and I didn’t stir the dish as it cooked. And I did use some real saffron, which I always think is a complete bust since it never gives you the color you want it to. Like a great many chefs before me, I felt I had to stick in some turmeric: the Barraca manifesto is silent on the subject. (Actually I once had a paella in Algeciras - which admittedly is some way from Valencia - that was as yellow as a sunflower, and left your fingers the same color after you’d eaten it. Maybe they had their own manifesto.)
Anyway, my home-made paella looked like this – not all that authentic perhaps, but an honorable effort, by my standards. Next time I’ll probably leave out the mushrooms.
I didn’t actually see anybody eating paella in the Barraca restaurant in New York, but I just went to their website and there they have an image of a “three pan paella.” It’s not the Valenciana: I think it’s the De Mariscos. It was not at all what I’d have expected. I think I’d have been disappointed.