As paella caterers, we are always in search of the authentic paella. When we lived in La Alberca, in Murcia we went to the annual paella competition in the town square. From this we gleaned that to cook the authentic paella you had to be male (the paellero), cook on a fire with branches from lemon trees, never stir the rice once all the ingredients are added and to have a fight at the end of it.
This isn’t too far a cry from the preparation of the traditional Sunday lunch which is typically cooked outdoors by the head of a household, usually in a more convivial atmosphere than the testosterone fuelled competition of the town square.
This is in contrast to the paellera – the woman – who makes all the preparations indoors. This might all sound terribly macho, but I think there are parallels we can draw in the UK whenever you give a man a bag of charcoal, a packet of sausages and a pair of tongs.
As paella caterers cooking our paellas in the UK on a gas burner without lemon branches, I don’t think the judges from La Alberca would be impressed. However, we do get everything else right: we cook on paella pans imported from Spain, crucial for getting the socarrat just right. Socarrat is the lovely crunchy layer that forms at the bottom, golden or just a little burnt, depending on your taste.
To get this just right, you have to get the ratio of stock to rice perfect. The bigger the pan, the trickier the cooking becomes as you have to make sure the rice round the edge of the pan is cooked as well as the rice on the centre.
Our ingredients are also imported from Spain: our chorizo, saffron and pimenton dulce all from the amazing Brindisa, who supply Spanish paella caterers all over the UK.