I got to do the coolest thing today! A dear friend recently celebrated a birthday, and her gift from her very creative and thoughtful husband was a class with her fam and friends at a local Spanish restaurant, Taberna del Alabardero. In the Taberna's kitchen and under the tutelage of its Executive Chef, we spent four hours learning the craft of making authentic paella. In fact, we made three different stocks - vegetable, seafood and chicken - so that we could cook four different paellas! As an additional treat, the restaurant's sommelier, Gustavo, shared a great wine with us, a 2010 tempranillo by Volver. (Update: DC-area folks, this wine is available at MacArthur Beverages on MacArthur Blvd!) The whole experience was fantastic, and I was in heaven.
Chef Romero, born and raised in Madrid, taught us about the varieties of rice best for making paella (he prefers calasparra, a short-grain, super-absorbent Spanish rice, but arborio will do) and about the importance of using an olive oil low in acidity (0.4%) for paella so that the flavor of the oil plays no more than a supporting role. Unsurprisingly, he feels strongly that the quality of the broth used is the best possible, read: homemade. His reduces at a rapid boil for 3-4 hours resulting in a super-flavorful, concentrated stock. You should have seen the color of the chicken broth. I'm using stock and broth interchangeably here, as we tend to do in the States, but for paella, broth is the liquid element while stock is the non-rice, non-liquid base, sort of like a sofrito.
Ultimately, we made an out-of-this-world vegetable paella, one focused on chicken and Spanish sausage, a seafood mix and another with squid ink (though because it's illegal to import squid ink into the U.S., we used cuttlefish ink). We tasted some delicious Spanish oils, and Chef Romero topped things off with a mushroom/manchego paella that was phenomenal: think risotto dates paella plus a little more cream and cheese. Yow!
I loved being in the professional kitchen and getting to noodle around the pots and pans, sniff ingredients, taste everything and ask as many questions as possible. I'm hoping to head back to Taberna del Alabardero for dinner soon.