For Christmas this past year I received one of the most amazing gifts ever from Tom – the chance to pick any 2-3 classes I wanted at the established, highly regarded L’Academie de Cuisine, a local culinary school with both professional and recreational class offerings. A few days after we exchanged gifts I spent the day pouring over the class listing trying to narrow down my options. I wanted to pick a class that was participatory and involved a cuisine or technique that I would never try on my own. I was immediately drawn to the Passion for Paella class for 2 reasons: 1) I had never had paella before and was pretty sure I was missing out on something amazing, and 2) like risotto, paella has a reputation for being difficult and I had to know if that reputation is truly deserved. For my second class I chose An Evening on the French Quarter because I was excited for our spring trip to New Orleans and knew that I would want to recreate some of the amazing flavors I was going to encounter. And, while it’s been 4 months since Christmas (the classes filled up fast, so I had to pick classes a few months out), I got to experience my first class this weekend and I took pictures just for you. There are from my iPhone though, so some of them are a bit fuzzier than usual 🙂
The Passion for Paella class started at 7pm with a short discussion about the the origins of paella, basic kitchen tips and safety when using an industrial kitchen, and an overview of how to prepare the various menu items. As student, the approximately 24 students would be making an appetizer course, a soup course, and one of 7 paellas. The dessert course, a sangria sorbet, was then made by the teacher and her staff, with students given an easy to follow recipe for making it at home.
Of course, the main dish for the evening was paella, and with so many versions to try each team was tasked with making one of the paella recipes. I picked the team that was making Paella alla Valencia, a traditional paella made for special occasions in Valencia, Spain. This traditional paella is made with a host vegetables – including artichokes, green beans, and tomatoes; garlic; saffron; paprika; rosemary; meat – including duck, chicken, or rabbit (we used chicken and rabbit), and some seafood – shrimp and mussels in our recipe.
The steps for making the paella are simple, although it will take some practice for me to get them just right. Once the aromatics are sautèed in olive oil, the rice is added and coated in the flavored oil. Like risotto, water or broth are added to the dish and the vegetables and spices are stirred in. Unlike risotto, though, that is the end of your stirring because you want a nice caramel, crispy layer of rice to form on the bottom of the pan. After about 10 minutes, your pre-browned chicken and rabbit are gently folded into the paella and it is left to cook until almost done. With 10 or so of cooking time left, the shrimp and mussels are pushed carefully into the top of the paella, cooked until the mussels begin to open. After about 10 minutes, you remove the pan from the heat and cover it for 5 minutes before serving.
In addition to my teams excellent rendition of Paella alla Valencia, there were at least 5 other paellas to sample:
In the end, this was one of the best ways I could imagine spending a Saturday evening. Experimenting with a new dish under the guidance of an expert makes me feel ready to try my hand at making paella for friends and family. Keep an eye out for pictures from my next class in the coming weeks!