Photos By Armando Gallardo, Words By Julie Espinosa
Spain has given the world some fabulously colorful dishes that encompass what their culture is all about. Jamón Ibérico, Gazpacho and Tortilla de patatas are some of those, but if we had to pick the most iconic, and in my opinion the most delicious, of them all, Paella takes the grand prize. And if one wants the best Spanish restaurant in the district, everybody knows to look no further than Jaleo by Chef José Andrés.
This is why when we received an invitation to preview the 12th Annual Paella Festival we knew we were in for a treat.
We were treated to the 8 different paellas that will be featured at the festival, all of which had unique personalities. Each maintained the fundamentals while showcasing the creativity of Executive Chef Ramón Martínez.
Arroz con verduras de temporada was our first paella- a colorful blend of seasonal veggies mixed in short-grained bomba rice. This dish had such a wholesome taste that it made this meat-lover contemplate life as a vegetarian.
Our second paella was ‘the mother of all paellas’, the Paella Valencia. After this, I was certainly reminded of my love of meat. Concocted out of chicken, rabbit, saffron, lima beans, green beans and God-knows-what other deliciousness, this paella really had it all. The final product was paella nirvana at its best, portion after portion.
Arroz caldoso de bogabante was next, a lobster paella with a soupy consistency. The bogavante is the European (clawed) lobster with its distinctive fan-shape tail, which is most notably found in cold waters in many parts of the world. This paella was cleverly juicier than the others- it was a seafood paella party in our palates.
Next, we were entertained by newbies and experts drinking from a porron, an exquisite glass pitcher which usually holds wine. Here, it was filled with ‘Mascletá’- a drink made out of brandy, lemon juice, saffron syrup, plums and egg whites which will also be offered during the festival.
Afraid of breaking it, we didn’t get to play with the porron, but Executive Chef Ramón was kind enough to show us that he isn’t just skilled at cooking but also drinking from it like a champ.
What followed had to be my favorite paella of all: the Arroz negro con calamar fresco y alioli de membrillo. The presentation of this black rice paella could have not been more spectacular- dozens of fresh squid looking like ballet dancers waiting to be devoured with just the perfect amount of alioli paste. This was a flavor experience I will never forget. If only my mother could cook like this, I might have stuck around for a bit longer after high school. Then again, my mom was never a big fan of seafood. After trying this delicious paella in which the rice was colored with squid ink and flavored with all kinds of seafood juices, I must tell her she doesn’t know what she’s missing.
What followed was a paella in which Chef Ramón allowed himself to really play around with the concept of what this traditional dish should look like. Paellas are known for one main ingredient, rice, so when we were told the next paella included pasta, we were a bit skeptical. Boy, were we wrong. The thin noodles turned out to be the perfect ingredient to shake things out while maintaining the top quality that the Chef had us used to by now. They gave the Fideuà an unfamiliar, but certainly welcome, crunchy texture. Add in some iberico pork ribs and artichokes, and you will definitely appreciate the creativity and unscripted freedom of this Chef.
The next three paellas-Meloso de Rabo de toro con tirabeques y guisnates frescos, arroz con carabineros and Meloso de rabo de toro con tirabeques y guisantes frescos were as delicious as the previous ones. We won’t go into too much detail- you can experience all of them for yourself beginning next week at Jaleo.
The 12th Annual Paella Festival runs from October 6th until October 19th at all Jaleo locations. The paellas will range from $40 to $80 dollars. As for the Mascletá, it will be offered for 14 dollars- quite a deal.
If you want to try them all, we suggest the kick-off party that will feature paella stations and unique cocktails for $25 at Jaleo Bethesda from 6 to 9pm on Monday, October 6th. Not only will you get to treat yourself to some heavenly food, but $5 of each ticket will be donated to José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen, a humanitarian organization focusing on smart solutions to end hunger and poverty.
Up for a Paella DIY challenge? here’s the recipe for the ‘Paella de Verduras’ that Chef Ramón was kind enough to share with us. We recommend that you try Chef Ramón’s first, so you know what this Spanish nirvana should taste like. Olé!
Paella de Verduras
Serves 4 to 6
For the alioli:
Makes 1 cup
1 small egg
1 cup Spanish extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar or fresh lemon juice
Sea salt, to taste
Add the egg, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the garlic clove, and the vinegar or lemon juice to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.
Process the ingredients at high speed until the garlic is fully puréed and the mixture becomes a loose paste. While processing, slowly begin to add the remaining olive oil drop by drop. If the mixture appears too thick, add 1 teaspoon of water to loosen the sauce. Continue adding the oil and the sauce becomes rich and creamy and light yellow in color. Season with salt, to taste.
For the sofrito:
Makes 3 cups
10 ripe plum tomatoes, sliced in half
1 ½ cups Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
4 small Spanish onions, finely chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pimentón, or Spanish smoked paprika
3 bay leaves
Place a grater over a mixing bowl and grate the open side of the tomatoes down to their skins. Discard the skins.
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onions, sugar, and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and golden brown, or caramelized, about 45 minutes. Add a ½ teaspoon of water to the onions if they begin to burn.
Stir in the tomato purée, the pimentón, and the bay leaves and cook over medium heat until the tomatoes have broken down and deepened in color, and the oil has separated from the sauce, about 20 minutes. Discard the bay leaves and store the sauce in the refrigerator, covered, until ready to use.
For the paella:
¼ cup Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
1 bunch spring onions, thinly sliced
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
3 cups spinach
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 ripe plum tomatoes, diced
¼ cup sofrito
1 cup dry white wine
Pinch of saffron
3 cups flat mineral or filtered water
1 cup Spanish Bomba or Calasparra rice
Sea salt, to taste
Fresh thyme sprigs, for garnish
Alioli, for serving
Heat the olive oil in a 13-inch paella pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté until soft and lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add the asparagus and garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Stir in the plum tomatoes and the sofrito and cook for 1 minute. Pour in the white wine and let it reduce by ½, about 2 minutes.
Crumble the saffron into the pan and pour in the mineral water. Increase the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil. Let the mixture boil for 2-3 minutes, then add the rice and peas and stir until well combined. Reduce the heat to medium-high, season with salt, to taste, and cook for 4 minutes. Do not stir the rice again, as this can cause it to cook unevenly.
After 4 minutes, reduce the heat to low and cook for another 7 minutes. Remove the paella from the heat, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let rest for 5 minutes. Garnish with fresh thyme sprigs and serve with the alioli.