A paella is the actual pan in which the rice is cooked- so paella isn’t paella unless it is made in a paella! It is very important that the proper technique is followed when cooking the rice and one of the biggest factors in making authentic paella is heat regulation.
Traditionally, paellas were cooked over a wood fire with whatever ingredients were on hand. The fire is everything; it is so important to the success or failure of the final dish. We make a big fire of oak and grapevine wood to sear all the meat and sauté the vegetables. We keep the fire hot when we put the liquid in so that the stock can boil in order to extract and meld all the flavors together.
Once the rice is added and distributed evenly around the pan, paella is never stirred. As the rice, meat and vegetables cook, they create a barrier on the top of the liquid which helps to seal in the heat and cook the rice evenly. Ideally, no other big wood will be put on the fire after the rice is added. The fire should be hot enough that the stock will continue to simmer evenly as the rice cooks and absorbs all the liquid. As the last of the liquid is absorbed, the rice at the bottom of the paella will start to stick and brown, forming the “soccarat.” We often need to encourage this by flaring the fire with vine clippings. The “crunchy bits,” as we like to call them, are worth the added effort.
It’s all about the rice!
No matter what else goes into a paella, the rice is always the star. That is why it is so important to use the right rice. The rice is the one ingredient that we do not source locally. We take a purist’s view on importing the rice, since it is so integral to the integrity of the dish. We use Bomba rice from Valencia, Spain. It is a medium grain rice that is able to absorb up to 3 times its volume in stock without getting overcooked. For this reason, it is a great carrier of flavor.
The flavor that gets absorbed into the rice comes from the meats, vegetables and seasonings that we use. Whenever possible, we use local and organic ingredients. We are in regular contact with most of our growers and ranchers, such as Hudson Ranch, Hog Island oyster Co. and Fatted Calf Charcuterie as we build sustainable food practices with all our purveyors. We have also started to grow a lot of our own vegetables for the paella which has added another layer of authenticity and love.