Tag Archives: El Palmar

Tribute to Paella in El Palmar, Part 1 of a Two Event Week.


Homenaje a Paella Valenciana2013 is the International Year of the Paella, not the dreadful tourist rubbish but the `real deal´Paella Valenciana, the original and the best!

During the year so far a number of events have taken place and today saw the village of El Palmar, (in the centre of the Albufera and home to the origins of Paella Valenciana and the rice-growing district South of Valencia) and more importantly its restaurants receive their window stickers which are the guarantee that they cook the real thing.

This is far more  important than just a guide to tourists spending their money.

We have to remember a number of factors come into play here.

Fresh healthy ingredients.

Fresh healthy ingredients.

Firstly the Mediterranean diet was declared part of  Human Heritage by UNESCO in 2011. There is probably no better example of the balanced diet than  Paella Valenciana, with its healthy lean white meat ( chicken and rabbit), olive oil, fresh vegetables and beans, rice ( DOP Valencia) which is the carbohydrate,  saffron and salt. It is a balanced meal in itself cooked with local, fresh ingredients.

Secondly the fact that those ingredients are local, produced by local farmers is an important part of the local economy.

Thirdly that they are cooked regularly by local families and  local restaurants is a source of pride  to the Community as a whole. It should be, surveys of tourists visiting Valencia show that more than 30% come for the gastronomy!

Finally it a social dish, like so much of Valencia´s cuisine, to be enjoyed with and amongst friends.

Paella, Cooked Over Wood!

Paella, Cooked Over Wood!

Yes there is controversy about what should or should not be in it, but serious paella Valenciana aficionados accept there are local variations and ingredients in different parts of the Community.

Today saw a number of groups come together to pay tribute to El Palmar´s restaurants who have stayed true to the tradition. 27 of them in total received their window stickers!

Interestingly the `Communidad de Paellas´ was amongst them. This is a group of  Valencians, exiled to Madrid, who produce some of the funniest video´s and slogans, following their relentless exposure of `arrocidades´ ( a brilliant Spanish word which essentially means atrocious rice dishes) which often masquerade as paella in the Capital city. You can follow their work on Facebook.

Paco Alonso.

Paco Alonso.

They and host Paco Alonso created Wikipaella.org, an initiative based in the social networks which promotes Valencian gastronomy and Paella in particular.

Also present were a number of bloggers active in the food world of Valencia, live streaming the cooking of the paellas and arroz al senyoret which were to become the official lunch later and which were cooked in the barraca which is the kitchen of El Redoli restaurant…..a long building with a paellero down one entire side!

The Community´s politicians could not miss this opportunity either!

Pepi Montoro and Sebastian Fernandez.

Pepi Montoro and Sebastian Fernandez.

Paco Alonso, gourmet, TV Journalist and blogger, contributor to National Newspapers, etc, whose brainchild the whole exercise and International Year of the Paella is, acted as compere, but the local Mayor of El Palmar and the Director of Tourism at the Valencian Governments´ Agriculture Department, Sebastián Fernandez,  were very keen to heap praise on the  initiative and offer their support, recognising the massive contribution the initiative is making to raising the profile of Valencia ( for good reasons) not just Nationally but Internationally as well as supporting the local economy. Sebastián later received a crash course in cooking paella from Pepi Montoro, a chef at El Redoli.

Of course the Platform for Gastronomic Information ( another Facebook group – PIG ) dedicated to protecting and promoting  Gastronomy in general ( and Valencia in particular) were well represented.

El Redoli.

El Redoli.

Once the presentations were over the assembled guests sat down to lunch in El Redoli, one of the local restaurants for a simple, healthy and very traditional meal, a Valencian salad of spring onion, local tomatos and olive oil; Esgarraet, a dish of piquillo peppers with salted cod in olive oil; Alli Pebre, a plate of stewed potatos and eel with a guindilla pepper and pimenton; main courses of Paella Valenciana, Arroz al Senyoret, which traditionally has prawns, squid and monkfish ( both cooked over wood) ; then melon and water melon accompanied by local cakes.

Wines were provided by sponsors Murviedro and Beer by Amstel.

And this was only part 1?

Oh yes, next Sunday is the 53rd International Paella Competition in nearby Sueca……we are all going to have to do it all over again!!!!!!

International Paella Competition!

International Paella Competition!

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Eel Island Stew….4th Concurso de Alli Pebre, El Palmar, 1 July 2013.


The pretty little village of El Palmar sits on an Island in the Albufera lake, a nature reserve to the South of Valencia. Here, protected from the sea, by a strip of land and connected by canals the local fishermen and restauranteurs of the town live cheek by jowl with the local wildlife. At weekends in particular much of Valencia descends on the town for a meal in one of the many restaurants which specialise in traditional Valencian paella, seafood rice dishes, seafood in general and alli pebre, the local eel and potato dish.

The lake is famous for its birds but its two fishy stars are the eels and the `lissa´, a type of mullet, which is used as both  an alternative to salted cod in esgarret and fried as pescaditos when small.

Alli PebreSetting aside the rice-growing traditions of the area and paella the next most important dish is the alli pebre and El Palmar has its own local recipe. The ingredients are not many! For a meal for four people typically you would expect a kilo of eels, 10cl of Olive oil, a head of garlic, 1/2 a kilo of potatos, pimenton dulce, 1/2 a litre of water and half a guindilla, the local chilli pepper, plus salt.

Typical Barraca in Town.

Here it is the flavour of the eel that is most prized by the locals. For a dish which is essentially a stew, cooked in a lidded iron pot called a `perola´ over a wood fire, no thickening agents ( such as a picada of almonds or breadcrumbs) are allowed unlike other parts of Spain.

Nor is the method of cooking surprising. The oil is heated, the crushed garlic added and when it has taken the flavour the pimenton is added. Then most of the water is added and brought to the boil before the potatos go in. Once these are roughly half-cooked, the chopped eels are added and everything is simmered for around 15-20 minutes with the salt and the guindilla being added very much at the whim of the cook, depending on how `picante´ he or she wants the stew to be! This is the individual secret together with the amount of water which may be retained to obtain a slightly thicker stock. The dish is left to sit for five minutes before serving.

This year was the fourth time a competition had been held in the village to decide the best Alli Pebre restaurant for the coming year.

Some twenty-five restaurants from the town´s association and other Valencian localities ( such as Granero of Serra who won the recent Fidueà de Gandia competition) entered this year and the jury, consisting of top restauranteurs, chefs and food critics had the pleasant task of tasting all of them. Juan Carlos Galbis Olivares of L´Alcudìa headed the jury and he explained to me that this simple dish is not easy to cook properly! For example if you add too much pimenton the colour will be too dark and its flavour will dominate both the eels and the garlic. The jury essentially check that the stock is neither too thin nor too thick, that the eels are cooked perfectly to the point that when eaten the flesh springs from the bone intact and tender and is not a mush. Clearly the potatos must be  firm and not collapsing but the rest is essentially a matter of taste.

Ingredients!

Ingredients!

So, imagine this little town with its square cordoned off, the cooking stations set up and the townspeople and the visitors, not to mention the press now swarming around awaiting the action and the inevitable meal afterwards! The tables are laid, the platform for the prize giving erected and expectation is high. Fortunately this well organised fair was supported by Cruz Campo beers, BOCOPA wines and coca-cola so no-one went thirsty whilst waiting! Also the winning restaurant from last year, El Redoli, provided a free Alli Pebre so that the visitors ( those not invited to the formal dinner) could also try the dish.

Ironically cooking the dish takes rather less time than the judging process! Each of the perolas was whisked to the Cañas y Barras bar where the jury sat and deliberated and the press pack swarmed! Eventually the results were available and we all sat down to the meal and the formal announcements. Dishes of tomatos and olives, esgarret, tortilla ( from one of the neighbouring restauranteurs) and  clotxinas preceded the alli pebre which was followed by cakes washed down with mistela. Simple, traditional and very,very good!

The results of this years competition were announced by Sylvia Soria cases, radio presenter of  `El Forcat´ and in 3rd place was Granero of Serra. 2nd were restaurant L´Andana of El Palmar and third 2nd time winners El Redoli also of El Palmar.

Suddenly an evening which had started at about 6.30pm had ended and at around midnight the square was all quiet again….awaiting the following days tourist buses and diners! The atmosphere had been so friendly on a warm summers evening it was difficult to believe it was all over for another year!

Alli Pebre.

Alli Pebre.

Paella Valencia…The argument continues and the PIGs Enjoy The Real Thing in El Palmar.


Paella Valencia and 23 Gastronauts!

 

Paella Valencià, the Queen of paellas  has often  been a source of controversy as well as the most hotly debated here in Spain as to what should, or should not, be in it.

Last year the Valencian Government, at the behest of a group of restauranters who had created the Platform for the Defence of Valencian Paella, declared a Denominación d´Origen to protect its identity as well as protecting some tourists from some of the worst atrocities masquerading as Paella. I posted about this in my blog (Ricardo´s Valencian Blog, see archives October 2011) detailing the permitted ingredients and the way in which it should be made.

The debate has not closed. As I highlighted then every family in Valencia has its own recipe and there are genuine regional variations reflecting the use of local ingredients.

There are also some permitted alternatives. All of this goes in the end towards Paella Valencià being something created by or reflecting the soul of the cook as eminent journalist Paco Alonso  put it.

Has it worked?  Well , sadly not. This week Paco has dedicated his blog and his columns in National newspapers to highlighting what he calls ` arrocidades ´ or atrocities. Those of us who follow the debate have seen photographs of Valencian Paella (sic) from Cuba with fruit , fish and sausages included ( all outside the DO permitted list) and this week Tesco, a UK supermarket chain, has launched a Paella Sandwich only to be followed by a well known  chain, Pizza Hut, creating a paella pizza and launching it in Poland with a poster campaign including a bullfighter.

Restaurante El Rek in El Palmar.

At least in Spain and Valencia in particular there are no problems now? You may think so but you would be wrong. Carmencita, sells an instant paella  mix…..just add water and cook ( you know the sort! ) Even on the streets of Valencia commercial paellas are sold masquerading as the real thing whilst being made up of a variety of non-permitted ingredients.

To give Paco his due he has founded a group of gastronauts using Facebook as its base and yesterday, 21 April, the Platform for Gastronomic Information (PIG) descended by appointment on `El Rek´ in El Palmar for a workshop on paella and a meal to be followed by a boat trip on the Albufera lagoon.

Let me explain for those who do not know Valencia. El Palmar is an old fishing village in the Albufera National Park. Today it consists of almost entirely restaurants and on Sundays in particular half of Valencia descends on the town to eat its favourite meal. It also receives coach loads of tourists almost every day so you might expect there to be plenty of opportunity for sharp practice!

I think not! The paella police are very active here and any straying from the norm would be pounced upon. Perhaps the only sharp practice is that restaurants can charge a bit more here because of their popularity!

El Rek is a one of the larger restaurants with space for 411 diners inside. Lola Bru Benaches  runs this establishment and yes, even yesterday when 23 PIGs attended the master class given by champion cocinera  Amparo , coachloads of Austrian tourists and families celebrating weddings or new born babies filled the restaurant to groaning point!

You might think restaurants would quiver with fear when faced with such a motley crew of experts, journalists, bloggers, a lawyer, business owners and food-writers who have Valencian gastronomy firmly inscribed on their collective psyche! No…Lola was confident enough to leave her champion chef outside in the car-park with us to slowly cook a Valencian Paella and describe what she was doing as she went along. As the San Miguels flowed and the cameras clicked no special secrets were divulged but to all of us it was clear that quality ingredients were the key, slow cooking so that the meat was tender and so that all the flavours, including saffron, were fully integrated into and absorbed by the rice ( bomba) .

Amparo browns the meat.

Once the rice had been added we moved to our allocated table and enjoyed some classic tapas whist waiting for the `tour de force´. For the record Esgarret, ( salt cod and peppers ) with smoked tuna slices was followed by Alli Pebre, eel and potato stew ( Amparo is a champion cook of this local speciality too!) soon disappeared to be followed by the paella…..a wonderful  example of the real thing to which snails had been added!

The rice had fully absorbed the flavor of the three vegetables, the chicken and rabbit and was separating nicely. This was one of the best paellas I had enjoyed.

No meal is complete without a dessert! Plates of sliced Valencian oranges with cointreau were followed by Coca ( or bizcocho) , a lemon flavoured cake and rollitos ( biscuits) with anis and the inevitable mistela…..a sweet muscatel wine  fortified with  alcohol, and finally coffee.

It is not difficult to see why this restaurant is so popular! It should be on everyones  itinerary for a traditional Valencian lunch including paella!

Paco Alonso directs operations!

Finally the gastro tour and paella inspection over, the assembled PIGs embarked, bravely given the wind, on a trip in a long boat through the canals, the reed beds and out onto the lake with its views of Valencia and inevitable wildlife such as herons and ducks.

I fail to see why it is necessary to create new versions of Valencian Paella! The real thing cooked well is one of the gastronomic wonders of the world!

 

 

 

 

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