In Search of Paella in Spain – Part 2

Moving from the small, seaside city of Castellon, I was entertained by the Old World charm of Valencia, and the youthful vibrancy of Barcelona. But with one thing still on my mind: Paella!  The locals say that the best paella is always found at restaurants along the beach.  So while in Valencia, I headed to the beach, with it’s beautiful silky, sand, and sun tanned bodied, and found the restaurant of my quest; “Restaurante La Pepica“.  This restaurant is an establishement to say the least, being located there for more than 100 years, and being visited by such celebrities such as Ernest Hemmingway!  They must know what they are doing with paella, and I was right.

Although Paella Valenciana, made with chicken and rabbit, is the namesake for Valencia, I was on the beach, and needed to try seafood, so I ordered Paella Mariscos.  The paella came, with the rice forming a thin layer in the pan.  I could see that the edges of the pan had bits of “burnt” rice, which is crunchy and one of my favourite parts of a rice dish.  The paella was made simply, topped with prawns, then mixed in the rice were fish, shrimp and squid.  The rice was al dente, but I think that this is normal, as I’ve tried 7 paellas to date and all but 1 were al dente.

Paella mariscos and a glass of rosado wine

Paella mariscos and a glass of rosado wine

Squeezing lemon on the dish allowed the citrus flavours to brighten the earthiness from the spices in the rice, and make the seafood come alive.  This was the perfect paella while I have been in Spain.  To enjoy with this paella, I of course had a bottle of wine; a local rosado from the Valencia region.  It was made from Cabernet Sauvignon, which is quite surprising, but it was very tasty with sour cherries and strawberry flavours and a very smooth round mouthfeel.  A perfect pairing.  If you ever go to Valencia, Spain, visit Restaurante La Pepica, and raise a toast to Ernest Hemmingway!

La Pepica Ensalada Valenciana

Variations on Ensalada Valenciana

Classic dishes, as I have found out, may have many variations.  For example, Paella and Ensalada Valenciana (Valencian Salad). Both dishes originate from Valencia, Spain, but all are made in different ways by different restaurants.  So it was an adventure each time I ordered one of these dishes.

For this article, I would like to show you two versions of Ensalada Valenciana, and also to give you a recipe I found on a Spanish recipe website.  Both salads were an appetizer before the main course.  The first salad was from a small cafe on the side street to my hotel.  The salad came with:

  • lettuce
  • sliced onions
  • sliced tomatoes
  • green olives
  • olive oil to taste
  • salt to taste
First Ensalada Valenciana with olive oil and salt in the background

First Ensalada Valenciana with olive oil and salt in the background

A simple salad, similar to what I could get in Vancouver.  The only “Valencian” or Mediterranean specific ingredient to me would be the green olives.

The second salad was from La Pepica, an institution on the Valencia Beach, having been in business for more than 100 years.  Their salad contained:

  • lettuce
  • sliced tomatoes
  • julienned carrots
  • black and green olives
  • sliced hard boiled egg
  • flaked tuna
  • pickled unripe figs ( I think )
  • olive oil to taste
  • salt to taste

This was a very tasty salad. In particular I liked the pickled unripe figs.  At first glance they look like small green olives with a stem, but on closer look, you see patterning on the skin, and when you bite in, it is filled with hundreds of tiny seeds; no single large seed.  The pickled figs are quite addictive, sour, similar to a green pickle, but has some other vegetal flavour I cannot place.  All I can do is recommend to try them when you are in Spain, or pick up a bottle from a Mediterranean grocery store.  Each bite of the salad has different flavours and textures, from the tuna to the tomatoes, eggs, and more.  Recommended.

La Pepica Ensalada Valenciana

La Pepica Ensalada Valenciana

And to round out this article, I tried to see which of the two above dishes served to me was the more authentic version.  I searched many recipe websites, trying to concentrate on Spanish websites, as I felt that these websites would be have their recipes uploaded from cooks in Spain.  Again, I found many variations, but I think the La Pepica one would be the better variation.

A close recipe I found had the following ingredients for 2 people:

  • lettuce
  • a tomato salad
  • a boiled egg
  • a can of tuna
  • olives
  • asparagus
  • onion
  • anchovies in oil
  • virgin olive oil
  • salt

(http://www.gandiaturistica.com/ensalada-valenciana.htm)

Whatever variation you prefer, please try to make an Ensalada Valenciana this summer as a nice start to a summer dinner (and pair it with a Rosado wine), or try it at a restaurant in Spain if you are lucky enough to travel there.  Enjoy!

In Search of Paella in Spain – Part 1

You probably knew that paella was invented in Spain, but did you know that it originates from the city of Valencia?  Also did you know that sausage, chorizo, is not an ingredient in traditional paella?  Did you know that there are many different styles of paella; with some using seafood, rabbit, rice or noodles?

Come along and read about my experience with paella freshly made today for me, and others, at a conference I am attending in Castellon de la Plana, just a short train ride from Valencia.

Two paellas were made today; one vegetarian, and the other a mixture of two types of meat.  The meat one I was told is traditionally / commonly made with chicken and rabbit.  A very large paella pan was heated over a wood fire.  Vegetables and the meat were cooked in the pan, and spices added.  After a while rice was added followed by broth, then the whole dish simmered until the liquid was absorbed by the rice.  I did not get to see all the spices that were added, but saffron is always one of the ingredients to the best of my knowledge.  Before this trip I had never eaten rabbit, but now I will have had rabbit in two different dishes.  It does taste like chicken, but has a finer texture than chicken.

I sat with a lady from Valencia who told me that this paella was quite good.  I am not too sure I agree.  I think it needed a bit more flavour for me, so in Part 2, I will hunt for the ultimate paella when I am in Valencia.  In the meantime, check out the pictures of the cooking process for this paella, and think about relaxing in Spain with a glass of Tempranillo from Rioja.  Enjoy.

Paella - cooking the rabbit and chicken

Paella – cooking the rabbit and chicken

Paella - the veggie version getting stirred

Paella – the veggie version getting stirred

 

Paella - ready to add the rice and broth

Paella – ready to add the rice and broth

Paella - finished cooking

Paella – finished cooking

Paella - enroute to my stomach

Paella – enroute to my stomach

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