Traditional paella is cooked over an open fire using a paella pan. There’s a knack to it. You need certain skills to get the right taste and texture and to develop the socarrat; that crispy layer of toasted rice at the bottom of the pan. This is why paella, for This Girl, has always been something I order at a restaurant, not cook.
So when I saw a short paella class advertised for only $15 at the West Moonah Community House I jumped at the chance. In only a few hours I could see if this was something I could cook at home.
Our teacher was Jose Navarro, formerly of Don Jose Restaurant in Lenah Valley. Jose showed us how we can make a version of paella at home using the pans we already have and without an open fire. Of course if you have gas you’ll get a better result but Jose used an electric frypan and was still able to create a little bit of the socarrat for us to try.
I discovered that paella isn’t technically difficult, in fact, it’s easier than risotto. There is no stirring involved once you put the stock in but you do need to be on your guard to make sure you don’t overcook the rice. The secret, as I find with all cooking, is to be organised; have everything ready before you start.
A few weeks after the course This Girl decided to give Jose’s recipe a go at home. There can be a fair amount of prep involved in making paella, but that’s because I bought fresh mussels that needed to be cleaned and de-bearded, prawns that needed to be cleaned and a squid that needed to be prepared. Jose used marina mix in our demo and this makes it more affordable and quicker. The most expensive part was the saffron, I purchased a tiny container for $12and used about ¼ of the threads for the paella.
Ok, I said no stirring right? This Girl had a fear of burning the rice so I did sacrifice the socarrat by stirring way too much, which in turn activated the starch and produced a risotto-like texture.
It didn’t turn out as a traditional paella but it was tasty. I have promised to serve it up at an annual family get-together at the end of this year so I have a bit of practice to do! Hopefully with six months trial and effort I’ll brave enough to leave the rice alone and let the socarrat form.
Below is the recipe Jose gave us.
The West Moonah Community House is a hive of activity, they offer a huge range of activities including cooking demonstrations, yoga classes, a walking group and community lunches. They have also joined forces with the Goodwood Community Centre to form the First Choice Food Co-op offering fresh, affordable fruit and vegetables to the local community. To find your local Community House or Centre, check out Neighbourhood Houses Tasmania.