I do like a good paella, though I have been told a fair few times that what I cook and call paella, isn’t paella.
That I get, I am not trying to cook an authentic Spanish version of paella, but one that we like and find tasty. I have been cooking this dish for a fair few years, but got told once by a Spanish person that what I was cooking wasn’t authentic paella, which is correct, so I normally describe this as a Spanish inspired rice dish.
To make this paella I took my large paella pan added a splash of olive oil.I thenadded some pancetta, diced onion and sliced red pepper. This is then cooked off slightly before I added some mushrooms. Once the onions are softened I add the paella rice and stir it into the onions and peppers. I added a paella mix from Waitrose, but you could, of course, use your own spices, herbs and saffron. I then added some stock.
This is then left to cook, without stirring, definitely without stirring.
In a separate pan I cook the sliced cooking chorizo and add this to the paella when it is nearly cooked. I do a similar thing with the butterflied prawns.
I then finish off with finely chopped parsley and some lemon.
Having spent another wonderful week in sunny Calpe on the Costa Blanca I was reminded that last year I hadn’t blogged about the challenges I faced. This is one of the reasons I blog, it’s more for me than other people. I think part of the reason I didn’t blog, was at the time we saw this as a one off place to visit and we didn’t intend to return, as we were going to go somewhere new. Last year when I went to Calpe though I did manage to cook some tasty food in the apartment kitchen, due to some “missing” items, I found it challenging. This year I faced similar challenges, however even though I don’t expect to return to Calpe, I am going to note down the issues, as I am sure it will still be useful for visits to other destinations.
My previous experience of self-catering apartments was from the Greek Ionian islands and Cyprus. This was before children, so it was me and my other half. We rarely used the self-catering facilities for cooking, as we would eat out a bit, but it was useful to have a hob, a fridge and a few utensils and crockery. The “kitchen” in the apartments I experience were very minimal and not really sufficient for anything more than snacks and hot drinks. Also the local shopping environment wasn’t exactly great for self-catering, with very small supermarkets.
When we booked our Calpe holiday last year, due to dietary requirements (gluten free) we wanted to ensure we had not only a self-catering kitchen, but a decent enough kitchen for actual real cooking. The apartments at the Esmeralda Suites in Calpe from the brochure images (and Trip Adviser) actually looked okay and much better than what I was use to on previous self-catering holidays abroad.
This is a brochure image of the kitchen and no we did not get that rack of knives!
So though I did cook and prepare a lot of meals in the kitchen there were some things I wish I had brought with me (and in some cases) weren’t possible to purchase locally.
The main challenge for me was kitchen knives. Now checking a few airline sites it is possible to carry kitchen knives in hold luggage (obviously not in carry on luggage in the cabin). There was a knife provided, but this was very blunt and the handle was cracked. In the end I had to go out to the local supermarket and purchase a replacement. I left the replacement for future guests. What I do wish I had was a proper bread knife. We did buy fresh bread, but it was challenging to cut, even with the new knife. If you like me enjoy fresh salads, having a decent kitchen knife to slice tomatoes or cucumber is essential.
There was a single chopping board, which meant continually washing it up as food was prepared. I have a fair few boards at home and on other (UK) holidays have often taken a chopping board with me.
The washing of the chopping board wouldn’t have been so bad if there had been a washing up bowl for the sink. Now I know this is a very British thing to do, but if you have a sink of washing up water, where do you put other liquids, such as when you drain pasta?
Talking of draining pasta, how do you do drain pasta or vegetables without a sieve or a colander? The kitchen came with a slotted spoon which I used instead.
Though we didn’t use any cans, without a can opener, it would have been a challenge. I was tempted to purchase some of the canned beans that you find in Spain, but they would have come home as there was no opener.
The other thing I found challenging was not having a pair of scissors, doing something as simple as opening a pack of pasta or coffee with just a blunt knife wasn’t fun!
One item that I usually have in the kitchen which was also missing was a pair of tongs, I did struggle now and then to move food from the pan to plates or to turn things in the oven.
The oven was also a challenge, as there was a drip tray and a rack, but no roasting or baking trays. I was resigned to “making” trays out of foil. I did find towards the end of the holiday disposable foil trays that would have been useful.
I did take some stuff with me such as non-stick foil, cling film, food bags, as well as some seasoning and other ingredients. These are available in Spain, but I didn’t want to spend money on things we had at home already.
So here is my list of things I would take with me if I ever return to Calpe.
Spare chopping board
One of the regular stalls at the weekly Temple Quay meeting, but also the Wednesday street food market on Wine Street usually has a really large queue, so I often avoid it, due to time constraints. It usually serves beef chilli, stroganoff and paella. I have no idea of the stall name, as there isn’t one on the stall.
Having a little more time and quite liking the idea of the paella, I decided to join the queue. It did move quite quickly as the staff were quick and efficient at serving.
The paella was cooked on a large paella dish and contained chorizo, chicken, mussels, prawns and squid and was £6.00 a serving. The portion was provide in a plastic takeaway container and was given a garnish of fresh coriander and lemon.
I had quite high expectations about this dish, but alas I was to be somewhat disappointed.
The yellow of the dish came from turmeric, rather than the much more expensive saffron. I wasn’t too surprised by this, as this happens quite often. Even so I did like the flavour of the dish and felt it was very tasty. The dish though, I felt lacked enough of the core ingredients. It had one piece of chicken, two small prawns, a few pieces of squid, but plenty of mussels!
My main disappointment as a result is about value for money, was the dish worth the money I paid for it. I didn’t think it was worth the price and I don’t think I would try the dish or the stall again.
I do quite like cooking paella, and though I’ve not talked about it for a while on the blog, it has made regular appearances on the dining table. One thing I have been thinking about for a while was buying a paella pan to cook it in. I have been using a regular frying pan, but the idea behind using a special paella pan, was to ensure a more authentic dish. This would be achieved by having a broader pan, the resulting paella would be shallower than using the regular frying pan. It would also ensure that I didn’t need to stir the paella, which I have been told now is something you don’t do with paella. So when I was out shopping in Bristol recently I treated myself to a new 40cm paella pan.
For my most recent paella and using the new pan for the first time, I took some diced onion, pepper, mushrooms and courgette. In addition I also threw in some diced chorizo to the pan. After heating a splash of olive oil in the pan, I fried the vegetables and chorizo until they were soft.
I use a variety of methods when adding flavour, from making my own seasoning mix using saffron and paprika, to using shop bought seasoning mixes or pastes. For this paella I used the Marks & Spencer’s paella paste, this contains saffron, but also gives the paella a rich fruity flavour. The paste was added to the pan and mixed with the cooked vegetables.
I then added the paella rice. It makes sense to use the right kind of rice when cooking paella, to ensure you get the right texture. This was coated with the rest of the ingredients and then I added some white wine, before adding the stock to cover all the ingredients.
This was then left to cook over a simmering heat for 30-40 minutes, and I didn’t stir. Though after 25 minutes I did add a little more stock to the pan.
In separate pans I cooked the chorizo and the squid. The chorizo I used was the cooking chorizo, sliced into 4-5mm slices. This was cooked off in a medium pan with a little olive oil. They certainly sweat oil out and this combined with the paprika can stain, so be careful. For this paella I used regular squid, this was scored with a sharp knife before been cooked just before serving in a hot frying pan.
The dish was then constructed, the cooked squid and chorizo was placed on top with chunks of lemon, then served.
The catering students and staff at Gloucestershire College did an outstanding event last week. Every year the college staff get together in an annual barbecue. Now for a lot of people a big event like this means well done burgers, cheap sausages and if you’re lucky a chicken drumstick, still raw in the middle…
Well this staff event was totally different. There were three food stands. The first wasn’t really a barbecue, but was paella. This was a really well cooked paella with huge kings prawns. This was really nice and very tasty, even if it was a but messy shelling the prawns. There was a vegetarian alternative for those that didn’t want to eat fish. I should say (for regular readers of the blog) that it appeared they had stirred their paella…
The barbecue stand had a nice choice of vegetarian kebabs, satay chicken and barbecued pork ribs. The ribs were perfect, the meat fell off the bone and was beautifully tender. So good you could use a knife and fork, so need to get sticky fingers. I didn’t try the chicken as when I arrived at the stand they had run out and were cooking a new batch. The vegetarian kebab was perfectly cooked and the halloumi cheese that was on there alongside the vegetables was delicious.
My favourite stand though was the Moroccan lamb wrap. They had spit roasted a whole lamb and this was served in a wrap with houmous, yoghurt, sliced courgette and chilli. Absolutely delicious. For those that didn’t eat lamb there was a really nice looking butternut squash alternative.
This was outstanding high quality food for a superb event. It was an extra special event this year as our Principal is retiring.
In my most recent blog post on cooking paella I talked about using a different method that I had seen on the television. I did manage to try it out and, yes it did work exactly as planned.
I cooked the vegetables first and then added the rice and the stock, stirred once and then left it.
I was concerned about how it would turn out and was so, oh so tempted to give it a stir now and again… but I didn’t.
So what of the result?
Well the paella was a lot dryer than my usual recipe and I did feel it lacked some flavour compared to previous versions I had cooked. I am guessing though it was more “authentic” and how a paella should be. One of these days I will need to get to Spain and have a proper paella to compare.
So there I was watching Simon Hopkinson Cooks on More4 and he was cooking paella. The way in which he cooked his dish is different from the way in which I have cooked mine What he did was cook the core ingredients first in the paella pan, then add the fish stock before finally adding the rice. He gave the rice a single stir before leaving it.
I knew that you should try avoiding stirring, but once and then leave it wasn’t something I had done before. Unlike a risotto where you want to break down the starch to make a creamy sauce, you want the rice in a paella to remain whole, hence avoiding stirring. Similarly I added stock as I was cooking the rice, rather than all at once.
I don’t like the way he did the mussels, but that’s not a crucial part of the recipe. He placed them in the dish pointed upwards and then finished the paella in the oven. I can see the benefits of finishing it off in the oven, but not so sure about the mussels.
When he finished his paella he dressed it with a dressing of olive oil, parsley and garlic. I like the idea of the dressing and will certainly try that on my paella.
So the next time I cook paella I am going to change from my usual method and try something different.
One of the reasons I write this blog is to remind me of places I have eaten and dishes I have cooked. One thing I have noted is how much I cook paella, so much so that I took a break from cooking it. I have made it recently, to go with a seafood platter, we liked it so much that I cooked almost the same meal again!
The key I have found with a decent paella is good rice and a decent stock. I have found though that the paella seasoning from Tesco is a good compromise if you don’t have any saffron.
In a large frying pan, heat some olive oil. I really keep thinking I should really invest in a proper large paella pan. It’s okay using my current frying pan, but I think it ‘s a little too deep. Using a larger shallower paella pan would make for a more authentic paella and get it cooked just right. Into the hot pan I added some cubed pancetta to which after it cooked, I added some vegetables. This time I did extra vegetables, so I took some diced onion, pepper, courgette, mushrooms and aubergine. This I cooked in the pan until it had softened. I then added the paella rice. I also added the paella seasoning mix to the pan, this contains saffron, as well as some dried tomato, onion and spices. It adds a depth of flavour and that authentic yellow colour. If you want a deeper yellow you need to add more saffron. This was all mixed with the oil, pancetta and vegetables.
I boosted the heat up and added a large splash of white wine. I then added stock to the pan so it covered the rice. As the dish cooked I added more stock.
I did stir now and again, but not too much. With a risotto you want to stir a lot to break down the rice a bit and create a creamy sauce. With paella you want to avoid that, but also get the paella to stick slightly to the bottom of the pan.
Just before serving I added some lemon segments and some griddled seafood. I am sure that some would say I should cook the squid and prawns in the paella, however I have found that they can overcook, becoming tasteless and rubbery. I now cook the squid and prawns separately, using a griddle normally and then place on top of the paella. If I am using chorizo I will do something similar.
I was very pleased with the end result and it was liked by everyone at the table.
For New Year’s Eve we decided to have a fish and seafood platter. It was an opportunity to cook and eat some great food. However one problem, as you may recall New Year’s Eve is not only part of Christmas, it’s also a Monday. As a result it was virtually impossible to find any fresh fish or seafood. Generally the fishing fleets don’t go out at weekends and I suspect that they certainly wouldn’t go out over a weekend during the festive season. As a result we went with frozen seafood, not my first choice, but with what we wanted it was better than nothing.
We got some frozen king prawns, scallops and squid from Sainsbury’s as part of their Taste the Difference range. One of the key things to do when using frozen seafood is to defrost and defrost safely. If you cook frozen seafood from frozen, generally what happens is that you overcook it and it becomes very rubbery. You need to take care when defrosting to avoid food poisoning. The best way to defost is in the fridge, but this takes time. If you do defrost at room temperature, make sure you move the seafood to the fridge once it has defrosted.
The prawns I cooked on my griddle, whilst the scallops were cooked very quickly on a hot flat frying pan, as were the squid rings.
The scallops were perfect and I was really pleased with how I cooked them. They were browned on each side, but were only just done on the inside. As a result they were melt in the mouth tender, and full of flavour. The prawns were very good, and served with some lemon were delicious. I was less impressed with the squid rings. In the past when I have cooked squid, I have bought frozen whole squid from Tesco and cut it into pieces of squid. I much prefer using this way of preparing squid, usually scoring one side to ensure even cooking and browing of the edges. The squid from Sainsbury’s comes ready sliced into rings. It cooked fine, but it lacked the depth of flavour I have had in the past with squid from Tesco. Why didn’t I get my squid from Tesco, well they’ve seemed to have stopped selling it.
Alongside this plate of seafood I also grilled some giant tiger prawns in their shells. These were placed under a really hot grill, after they were fully defrosted and brushed with some olive oil. The main reason for these prawns is twofold, one is the visual impact, secondly was flavour. They were delicious, though of course were quite messy to peel.
We also had some dressed crab, these were small crab shells filled with a crab pate and white crab meat. They looked really nice, but lacked the depth of flavour I would liked to have. This was served with some fresh crusty bread.
Another successful dish was some clams. I got a pack of frozen Big and Juicy clams from the Big Prawn Company which I mananged to buy at Waitrose.
Again the key was to ensue they were properly defrosted before cooking, well they’re cooked already, all they really needed was heating up. I did this in a pan with some freshly chopped garlic and parsley. I thought they were delicious and very good value at £3.29. I think they would also work with linguine if wanted pasta and seafood.
We also cooked some salmon, this was roasted in the oven with a little olive oil.
Overall this was a delicious meal, we served it with some fresh salad and I also made a paella.