Hey Gang! I still find it amusing that I’m the one doing a lot of the family Food posts, but it really gives me insight into some amazing cuisine. Case in point, our Paella Class in Valencia. Long story short: This was a really fun experience for all of us, and I highly recommend it. Plus we will share the paella recipe with you!
If you’re not familiar with paella (pronounced pah AYE yah), it is the quintessential Valencian rice dish. For locals, it’s a lunch-only meal. Only the tourists eat it for dinner. Many regions of Spain have a paella speciality. Be it seafood, vegetarian, or mixed, paella is a very popular dish. As we’re in Valencia, we’ll stick to that paella recipe.
You want a good paella recipe? Well, it’s All About The Ingredients!
Now our paella class didn’t just start with cooking paella. It actually started at the local market. And not just any market, but the Mercado Central. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s not your average place to buy food. The building itself is a fantastic piece of architecture, and the variety of the food inside is amazing.
We met our hosts Jaime and Nacho. Chef Jaime provided us a tour of the market, and provided us the historical background of the area, and how the market was originally a regular location for the travelling street market. Inside, it’s like a cathedral for food lovers. There are stalls for spices, meats, breads, and fruits and vegetables to name a few.
Jaime spoke in Spanish, and Nacho did the translating. I was very pleased that I understood 90% of what Jaime said. With Nacho filling in the remaining 10%, I was able to understand everything.
What goes into Valencian Paella?
As part of the paella cooking class, we visited many stalls. Here’s a quick rundown of the ingredients in a typical Valencian paella:
- Chicken and Rabbit (both on the bone) cut into 40-60 gram pieces.
- Vegetables (two types of green beans) and Legumes (fresh lima beans and white beans). Tomatoes, and if in season, artichokes. (Ours did not include artichokes.)
- Rice (medium grain – not long). It needs to be almost spherical.
- Spices. The important ones are sweet paprika, sprigs of rosemary, and real saffron if it can be afforded/found. And of course, salt.
- Olive Oil
Sidenote about Saffron: Saffron…real saffron is crazy expensive! Each flower has 3 stigmas and they are hand cut from the flower. It takes about one acre (or roughly 100,000 flowers) to obtain 1 pound. Cost? Anywhere from $3000 – $5000 per pound!
One of the cool things about making paella, and going to the market is that vendors know how much of each ingredient you need to purchase. You can tell the meat guy you want some chicken and rabbit for paella for 6 people, and he’ll give you exactly what you need. Kinda cool, huh?
When do we eat?! Part I
With all of our ingredients purchased, it was time to head to the restaurant, and start cooking. A short 5-minute walk, and we were there, and we were invited to have a brief refreshment before we got down to work. We started chatting amongst ourselves, and the group consisted of Americans, and a lone Canadian.
With our drinks finished, it was time to don our official chef hats, aprons, and gloves and get down to business. Jaime introduced us to Chef Beni, with Nacho once again doing the translation. Right off the bat, you could tell Chef Beni was passionate about paella. He gave us some safety tips, made sure we were wearing our cooking accoutrement.
The cooking area was all setup with the right equipment, and the proper portions of spices, veggies, and meat. We started cooking the chicken in olive oil on a low heat. While that was cooking, Lars and I were getting the beans out of the pods while Heidi and Anya were prepping the green beans.
When do we eat?! Part II
Next up it was time to cook the rabbit. I’ll admit that I’m not a fan of cooking meat on the bone in this fashion, but Chef Beni and Nacho were adamant that you have to use the bones. “The flavor is in the bone!“. With the meat cooking, we had Lars and Anya cut and grate the tomatoes (no skins). We moved the meats to the outside of the pan, and added the green beans to the center, stirring regularly. Next was the lima/white beans followed by the grated tomato.
Our creation was starting to smell very good. Paella is not a dish to rush, so it’s not yet time to eat. Time for the spices. With the paprika, it was time to portion out the saffron, and crush it. They used a half-sheet of paper folded in half, and added a small amount of saffron to the crease. Then the paper was folded, and Anya used a pen to crush it. They do it this way to minimize the loss of such an expensive spice, and Anya did a great job. Once crushed, the saffron was added to the pan, and we’re still stirring.
We added a bunch of water to the mix, and turned the heat up to get a good boil going. Some salt was added, and before the rice was added, Lars made a bit of a trough that the rice could be in the diameter of the pan, and then made a line of rice from one side to the other that was visible through the liquid. And the big thing that the best chefs (and moms too) say about rice? Don’t mess with it!
Sure enough, Chef Beni said the same thing, and then he went around to all of our pans, and gently swished the rice around without touching it. Then in go the sprigs of rosemary and snails.
A Paella Chant
In order to make sure the Paella Gods were satisfied with our cooking skills, the entire class joined hands around the work area, sang a song with a lot of “Hey!” and raising of hands while we moved around the paella pans. I have no idea what we were singing, but it was pretty funny. Check out the video.
So rather than watch the boiling mixture, it was time for a bit of a break for more drinks, and some Spanish tortillas and mussels for appetizers. We started talking a bit more to our fellow chefs to get to know them. We were a very diverse crew!
The Final Touches
With our 20 minute break, we came back to our paella pans, and things were looking (and smelling) good. Real good. The rosemary had been removed, and a significant portion of the water had boiled off.
At this point, there was some touch up to do. Basically it came down to arranging all of the meats so they were evenly distributed throughout the paella. After all, the way the paella looks, is fairly important.
All of the paellas were close to being done. Just to make sure the paella knew we wanted it to be good, Chef Beni came around to each of our pans, and we pointed at the pans and told the paella:
“Paella, paella! Sal buena, sal buena!”
It was good for another chuckle.
When do we eat?! Part III
For pretty much any rice dish, I love that crispy, crunchy edge on the outside of the pan. Paella is no different, and they have a name for it, socarrat. That’s what we’re looking for, and it’s tricky to obtain.
By now, almost all of the water has boiled off. And there comes a point where when you waft your hand from the paella to your nose, you can smell it. It’s a toasty smell, and it is divine! One by one, each of the paella pans was getting there.
With Chef Beni and Nacho checking the pans, the first one was ready. With the toasty smell very prominent, Chef Beni went to each pan, and with our fellow chefs, counted down from 10 (in Spanish of course!).
“Diez, nueve, ocho, siete, seis, cinco, cuatro, tres, dos, uno, ZERO!”
With that, the heat to the pan was stopped, and the paella was done. Finished. One by one (there were 4 teams/pans), Chef Beni did the countdown. Ours was the last, and then it was time to take pictures with our creations. Doesn’t it look fantastic?!
When do we eat?! Finale
Right now! Once we moved our pans to the table, it was time to dig in. How did it taste? Superfantaculous! It was that good. I tried everything in the paella. The rabbit, snails, and of course the chicken, and all of the veggies. My mother probably wouldn’t believe me, but I have photographic proof.
Between the four of us, I’d say we polished off 90% of our paella. Not to brag, but it really was delicious. After we were full, it was time to receive our Paella Diplomas! Hooray!
I can’t even begin to describe how much fun this was. I enjoyed the format of the class, from purchasing the meats, vegetables, and spices in Mercado Central, preparing and cooking the ingredients, to eating it, the entire class was superb.
The class had excellent pacing, and working with Chef Jaime, Chef Beni, and Nacho was a pleasure. You can tell they’re excited about paella, and culture of Valencia. I also want to give a shout out to the rest of the staff there, Chef Sonia, Mary, and José.
The kids had a good time as well, and we stuffed ourselves silly. This is definitely a family-friendly activity suitable for all but the youngest children. As parting gifts, we get to keep our chef hats and aprons, so that is a nice touch. They also took a bunch of pictures to make sure everyone can relive the memories.
Many thanks to Escuela Arroces y Paellas Valenciana. We at Wagoners Abroad get to chalk up another great cultural adventure.
Paella Recipe, Cooking Class and School Info
- Website: Escuela Arroces y Paellas Valenciana
- Paella recipe: How to make paella
- Address: 2 locations
Carrer dels Juristes 12-46001 Valencia (Spain)
Carrer del Bisbe In Jeroni 8 baix – 46003 Valencia (Spain)
- Telephone: +34 963 153 856
- E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Schedule: Everyday from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Cick here to read more about our 8 week European Road Trip through Spain and France.
Disclosure: Our experience was provided by Escuela Arroces y Paellas Vallenciana and the Valencia Tourism board all opinions are our own.