According to Luis Valenzuela, co-owner and chef of Carmen Cocina Española, paella is as unique to a Spanish cook as his fingerprint. We took a closer look at his paella de la montaña.
Pan of steel
Paella is named for the vessel it’s cooked in: The paelleras used at Carmen are 30 centimetres across and hold more than enough rice to feed two (or even three). Carmen’s kitchen has the capacity to make 15 paella at one time, and on a busy night will turn out as many as 50. Each dish takes three-quarters of an hour to cook, so consider some tapas and Cava while you wait.
Go with the grain
Sofrito—the mixture of sautéed veggies that’s cooked down to a jam-like consistency—forms the paella base, and in this recipe includes onions, garlic, snowpeas, mushrooms, and a full-bodied red wine. Valenzuela’s favourite part of the paella process is adding the rice to the bubbling stew: He says there’s something “romantic” about the feel of the grains slipping through his fingers. He also believes the best rice for the dish is bomba, which has excellent grain integrity (it keeps its shape and won’t go soft), but also retains all the tasty juices.
Crust is a must
Valenzuela describes the socarrat—the chewy, almost burnt layer of rice at the bottom; don’t use a non-stick pan—as “the one thing that unifies paella” and “the most prized part of the dish.” After the paella is removed from the heat, it’s covered for at least two minutes, allowing the flavours to steep and the crust to soften. There’s no rule that says you have to eat this part last, but that’s the usual order of events—just be sure to use the wooden spoon provided so as not to ruin the paellera.
Snails on ’shrooms
A chef Valenzuela worked for in Toledo, Spain, would take him hunting in the nearby woods, where they’d often spot hares, artichokes, mushrooms, and snails. When Valenzuela sat down to create his own paellas, this particular recipe was a “very natural decision”—in goes one rabbit leg, three artichokes, five escargots, and a whackload of ’shrooms.
I’m just mad about…
Saffron is a crucial but crazy-expensive element of paella. One gram of the valuable, tweezer-plucked crocus “threads” can cost up to $20, and one gram doesn’t go very far. To keep the cost down, Carmen’s kitchen makes a saffron tea and pours it into the paella. There are cheaper alternatives out there, but Valenzuela says he “refuses to use generic saffron” and will continue to experiment with the good stuff instead.
$30 (for two, easily). 922 Queen St. W., 416-535-0404.