World Dinner Club

World Dinner Club
World Dinner Club

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Paella Pilgrimage

I’ve always enjoyed paella and often struggled to make this quintessential Spanish dish at home to meet my own expectations. While in Spain earlier this month, I went to one of its great institutions.  After a morning at the enormous Prado museum, I went to the fabled La Barracca in Madrid, which is a veritable temple to saffron-infused rice.  Short of heading to Vallencia, this is one of the best places in Spain for paella. We ordered a first course of soup followed by the house mixed paella (the classic from Vallencia with rabbit was considered briefly, but we passed), to be washed down with a bottle of Rioja.  The bottle for the two of us was quite essential; as all good things in Spain take time and what could be better than a legendary lunch?  

The waiter came by with a large breadbasket and seemed disappointed that we chose only a roll each and not a few pieces of bread.  That may in fact have been the worthwhile choice as a small dish of creamy aioli surfaced that we quickly found we wanted to slather to excess on our bread.  Soup appeared on our table: gazpacho for me and Sopa de Ajo, a hearty Castilian bread and garlic soup for S. My gazpacho was quite perfect.  The texture was silky thanks to love and Spanish olive oil and the flavors slightly piquant, but balanced and refreshing.  S’s soup was a peasant dish that was prepared with respect for the simple and honest ingredients.  It had great texture from the soggy bread and the cloudy poached eggs and we both found it fairly filling.

After the soup bowls were cleared and another glass of wine sipped, our waiter emerging triumphantly with our Paella La Barracca. The paella was stunningly bright and had a rich mix of chicken, shrimp, razor clams, pork, and mussels.  The paella dish was presented to our and then carefully plated table-side so that we each got a mix of everything. I dug in with gusto and liked the slightly chewy sweetness of the clams along with the juiciness of the shrimp and pork.  The chicken was dry and unlike the rice-baked perfection of the other ingredients.  The bright, saffron mounds on my plate were dotted with shreds of pimenton that seemed so perfectly patriotic (these are the colors of Spain’s flag after all).  Hopefully, this is just a happy coincidence.  

Eager for more clams and happy that I was wearing loose trousers, I turned to see what was left on the serving side table.  I was in luck.  There was more seafood.  A minute later our hero appeared; having spied me ogling the paella pan and heaped the rest of the dish onto my plate.  Another gradual savoring of sweetness of rice and seafood and another glass of white, before we had to throw in the towel. Barely able to walk, we had to politely refuse dessert and stumbled outside into the heat of mid afternoon Madrid, a city which sensibly recognizes the value of a siesta under such trying circumstances.  

1 comment:

  1. No Reservations: Tony dives into Spain's freshest seafood

    Tony heads into a local bar to orders some of the world's finest seafood. The taverna's owner also cans his seafood, some of the world's greatest and most expensive.