Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Mercado Little Spain NYC
10 Hudson Yards,
New York, NY 10001
Valencia is the birthplace of Paella, a rice and meat/seafood/vegetable dish that is available in myriads of regional variations around Spain.
In a previous article I had given a recipe for Paella Catalana, one of the variations I tasted at the Boca Grande restaurant in Barcelona (see Rice in this section).
This Paella Valenciana was prepared for us by Paella Master Rafael Vidal at the Leña Restaurant in the recently opened Mercado Little Spain NYC. The Mercado is a José Andrés-owned collection of restaurants and Spanish product stores in Hudson Yards, a large new development on Manhattan’s West Side, and the entire project is a love letter to the gastronomy of Spain, featuring traditional Spanish specialties such as tapas, seafood dishes, very good wines and sherries, Iberico and Serrano jamón, empanadas, all kinds of Spanish cheeses, churros and chocolate and, of course, paella.
The paella is made in a large, traditional paellera pan over an open wood fire (I’m sure the NYC Fire Department had a fit certifying a restaurant kitchen with a number of open fires). The wide-open kitchen is where one can see the dishes being prepared, right next to the dining area. The traditional cooking method involves an open fire (wood or charcoal embers) that imparts sufficient heat and considerable smokiness to the dish. The dish that we tried had “socarrat” to die for – socarrat is the caramelized mixture of rice starch, vegetable and meat juices that forms at the bottom of the paellera, when the dish is correctly made.
Being a Valenciana version, our paella was made with chicken (the classic version uses a mixture of chicken and rabbit pieces), fresh green bean strips, fava or giant beans, quartered artichokes, fresh rosemary sprigs, smoky paprika, ground saffron and short-grained Bomba rice. If Bomba is not available, Italian Vialone Nano can be used as an adequate substitute.
The pan is placed over a very hot fire and sprinkled with extra virgin Spanish olive oil. Meat is cut into pieces (in this case chicken without rabbit) and dropped into the hot oil without seasonings of any kind, to keep the meat juices sealed in. Chef Vidal constantly stirred the chicken adding additional oil as needed to brown the meat evenly and insure it does not stick to the pan. Frozen flat green beans, sometimes referred to as butter beans, and quartered fresh frozen artichokes, flown in from Spain, are added along with tomato sauce without pulp and sufficient water to cook the rice – 2 ½ cups of liquid for each cup of rice. Saffron is ground in mortar and pestle and then ground paprika is added and stirred to make a spice mix. Add the spices to the liquid. Then add dried giant white beans that have been soaked overnight in water and fresh sprigs of rosemary, and when the mixture boils, stir everything together then add salt and pepper to taste.
Into the boiling liquid, meat and vegetable mixture add the rice being careful to distribute it over the entire pan; do not stir again until the liquid is completely absorbed and the bottom of the pan is caramelized. Stirring releases the rice starch and it will not properly caramelize.
It should take about 15 to 18 minutes on the high heat for the dish to cook properly and then all you have to do is eat and enjoy.
Thank you Chef Vidal for an exceptional and authentic Paella!
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