- Bute St Seafoodie
Paella de Bogavante
Updated: Dec 3, 2020
Question: "Where in Valencia should I go to the eat the best paella?"
Answer: "My grandmother's house."
Conversation in Valencia between me and a friend of a friend (2015)
I've been toying with the idea of posting a recipe for a paella or other Spanish rice dish (other rice dishes are available, see Arroz Meloso de Centollo, for example) for ages - it's been on my to-do list more or less since I started the blog. But there have been three obstacles, or deterrents, if you can call them that. The first is that the "seafood paella" we have become so universally accustomed to expect is not really something you would find anyone Spanish eating. The second is that probably the closest thing to it, a "paella a la marinera" (which you don't find very often in restaurants not targeting the custom of tourists), is typified by some species of shellfish not native to the UK (although interestingly, langoustines are very common in seafood paellas, and these are very commonly imported from Scotland). And third, paella is a very emotive subject, even between neighbouring Spaniards. See the quote above for an example of the theme.
However, I was invited to participate in a Eurovision-themed Zoom party a couple of weekends ago and, having been designated to represent Spain, I duly set about developing my illusion of patriotism or, shall we say, my disfraz. We needn't dwell on the cheap and gaudy matador outfit devotedly crafted in China and worn to project my character visually, rather focus on the lobster paella that simply had to be made for the occasion.
The fact of the matter is is that in Spain a paella tends to be a quite narrowly-focused dish rather than an indiscriminate amalgamation of any fish, flesh or flora you can think of, inattentively jumbled in amongst some rice. Of course the rice is a critical component (and even there you'll find a chamber of debate), but equally, very much at the centre of attention are the stock and a rather small selection of focal ingredients.
The rice is of course the textural and bulk element to the dish, cooked so the centre is creamy but the husk retains an element of bite. But of absolutely vital importance is the socarrat, the caramelised, sticky crust formed in the base of the pan and which diners sharing the meal (and paella is traditionally eaten collectively straight from the pan using wooden spoons) are inclined to fight over. I am not qualified to say which rice is the best to use, but then again is anyone actually? I find we hear most often about bomba or calasparra, but the one recommended to me by a Valenciana "auntie", whose culinary expertise I hold in ultimate regard, is by La Fallera and is grown in the paddy fields of La Albufera, an area of Valencia I have visited many times and whose charm I can vouch for.
When it comes to the flavour, it's all about the stock, or caldo as it is called in Spanish. Just as it is with the broth, 汤, le bouillon, 上湯, il brodo etc. in other cuisines of the world. Garlic, saffron and paprika are more or less the only flavourings added to the paella once the stock has been made, and these are only included in rather small quantities, so a well-flavoured stock is key. Incidentally, we can be inclined to picture a paella as quite a yellow-coloured dish. What quantity (hence, cost) of saffron could achieve such a strength of colour? And with that quantity would the strength of flavour of saffron not be rather over-bearing? In fact the majority of paellas you will find in restaurants use an ingredient called colorante, literally "colourant", which imparts a very intense colour from a very small quantity and is made from literally nothing natural except for salt and cornflour. In fact it even warns that the other two ingredients can cause negative effects on the behaviour and attention of children. Perhaps it's worth spending that little extra on saffron?
Now for what I called the "focal ingredients" above. At the end of the day it would be hard to be scientific about what goes into a paella, since the name itself is that of the cooking vessel. However, I can say with experience that very typically you will find:
Paella de mariscos - shellfish
Paella de cangrejo - crab
Paella de langosta - spiny lobster
Paella de bogavante - lobster
Paella de verduras - vegetables
Paella de pollo y conejo (y caracoles) - chicken, rabbit (and snails)
Notice how most of these focus on a single ingredient or, at least, class of ingredient. The last on the list is a minefield of debate unto itself in that it will often be listed on a menu as "Paella Valenciana" which suggests that it is the real, original and founding member of the family. But you will find many willing to dispute that, even in Valencia, to the bitter end.
Two reasons why I was finally minded to get on and make a paella and share it in a post (other than the fact that I was tasked with embodying the spirit of Spain for participation in this "Eurovision" event) were that, first, lobster paella is a genuinely Spanish dish (though note that paella de langosta is on the list above - "claw-less lobsters" again - more expensive than lobster again - see Astice alla Catalana). Second, lobster prices are presently as low as they go in the year and there were loads on sale on the market at the time (and since!).
But on a path to be so delicately trod, I am very lucky to be able to be guided by a book, given to me by my Spanish "auntie", called "El libro de la paella y de los arroces" by Lourdes March, which, just as implied by its title, reads as a highly authoritative text on all things rice - types, dishes, recipes, cooking times, tips, tricks, cultivation etc. In the cooking of a paella or other arroz I veer little and cautiously from these footprints of my trusted leader.
I should assert that no Spaniard would eat a paella in the evening. It is enjoyed uniquely as a main course for lunch and is not accompanied by anything except wine. My favourite wine to drink with a paella is a dry Spanish "rosado". There is one in particular I would have no hesitation to recommend - I just can't remember its name and I came across it in the type of restaurant that wouldn't have its wine list online. I will have it again and when I do, I will update this post. In the meantime, !Ole!
In going about this recipe I am doing little but following the translation of the recipe for "Arroz con langosta o con langostinos (en paella)" by Lourdes March. However, much as I am not green to ends lobsters may meet in other people's kitchens, such end do they meet in as humane a way as possible in my own. The recipe therefore works on the basis of a boiled lobster being a starting ingredient and leaves alone the subject of how that lobster became a boiled one. I am also making the assumption that the stock has been pre-prepared and is a fine one at that. This means that we can make the only real diversion from the method in the original recipe which is to put the lobster through as little cooking as possible in the creation of the final dish - a departure from the trodden path I think we should feel comfortable to take.
I'm not entirely sure why, but the recipe specifically prescribes the use of white pepper in the seasoning. I have no problem at all with that and have followed loyally, though remain curious as to the motivation.
As with the recipe for Arroz Meloso de Centollo, I must be clear that the cooking times are given for the rice type I have used - La Fallera. Accordingly some judgement may be required but, if tested, as directed, after 18 minutes, the rice will not be over-cooked and the additional time to allow should be discernible at this point.
Sra. March clearly instructs that the correct diameter of a paella dish to serve 2-3 should be 30cm. My rather basic possession is a couple of centimetres smaller than that but cooks a paella for two quite satisfactorily. It's just that, when it's as good as this, I end up eating it all myself.
Paella de Bogavante
Ingredients (Serves 2)
500-600g lobster, cooked
2 tsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 medium/large tomato, peeled, deseeded and very finely chopped
¼-½ tsp paprika, smoked, sweet, hot, as preferred
A pinch of saffron and/or a pinch of colorante (optional, see recipe intro)
550-600ml best quality lobster (or fish or shellfish) stock, hot
200g paella rice (see recipe intro)
Salt and freshly ground white pepper (or black pepper)
Lemon wedges, to serve
To prepare the lobster, first remove the claws. Split the head and body in half lengthways then separate the head parts from the tail parts and cut the tail parts into 2 or 3 pieces each. Separate the claws from the "arms" and give the claws a couple of bashes with a rolling pin or the back of a heavy knife to crack the shell so that most of it can be removed. If preferred the claw meat can be removed entirely from the shell. Give the "arm" pieces a bash or two to make accessing the meat easier. Keep the lobster pieces aside and if any liquid has been released from the lobster in the process, add it to the stock.
Heat the oil and garlic in the paella dish and sweat the garlic for 30 seconds or so, without colouring, then add the tomato and the paprika. Cook briefly to allow the tomatoes to break down then add the saffron and/or colorante, 500ml of the hot stock and a grinding of pepper. Turn the heat up high and bring to the boil.
Taste the liquid for seasoning and adjust with salt to preference (be brave and add a pinch or two more than you might normally). Distribute the rice evenly throughout the pan and return to the boil. Cook, undisturbed, on a "lively fire" for 10 minutes.
Press the lobster pieces, flesh side down into the rice, and cook for a further 8 minutes, gradually lowering the heat over the course of this time. If, at any point, you feel the rice is getting too dry, just drizzle in a little more stock but do not disturb the rice.
When the 8 minutes are up, test a small quantity of rice to check how cooked it is. It may be done, but more likely will require 2-5 minutes more. If so you can put a sheet of foil over the pan to help retain some steam.
Once cooked, remove from the heat and leave, covered with foil for 5 minutes after which it is ready to serve.
"El libro de la paella y de los arroces", Lourdes March (1985), 6th Edition, pp. 124: https://www.amazon.co.uk/El-libro-paella-los-arroces/dp/8491047549
Arroz Meloso de Centollo, Bute St Seafoodie
D. O. Arroz de Valencia, La Fallera, accessed 25 May 2020
Astice alla Catalana, Bute St Seafoodie