The day we learned about paella a valencian cooking class




Even to the casual observer, it is clear why Valencia is the home of paella.
In faded chalk and across restaurant flyers, this city invites all who cross its threshold to sample the area's most famous dish. Yet, as we are to learn, a restaurant is not where true Valencians choose to eat paella, nor just another dinner.
No, what is contained within this famous steel dish is speaks of much more than simply a meal to feed hunger, and there are traditions far older than us that lie behind every aspect of paella. The preparation, the cooking and, eventually, the eating is full of intricacies that a visitor cannot possibly be privy to without a teacher. What began as a simple one-pot farm workers dish, has evolved to become a celebration of family and friendship, a meal that lasts an entire day.
Mi Paella en el Huerto is a cooking class housed in a beautifully restored old farmhouse 25 minutes outside of the city. Run by Rafael, a true paella expert and and surrounded by fields of trees and a tangible citrus scent, it provides not only an idyllic backdrop but a real glimpse into the traditions of 'Dia de la Paella'.
Truly then, where better to not only taste an authentic paella, but to learn to cook it?

Unfortunately for a cooking class, the making of a paella is not a team sport. Even amongst a room of Valencians, there is only one chef.
In fact, Rafael tells us that the quickest way to ruin a friendship is to share the cooking.
No, one person alone should be responsible for the paella. One person who knows just when a little more water is needed, at what point to add the rice and when the stock is ready.
So, what do the rest do? With a grin, Rafael says, 'We drink'!
The ingredients that make up a paella are not unusual or difficult to source (traditionally it should contain rabbit and chicken, easily found in the countryside), in fact, they are ingredients that we cook with on a weekly basis.
We have eaten a number of truly underwhelming paella dishes over the years, often amounting to little more than quick cook rice and vegetables or, as it turns out, completely inauthentic chorizo and prawn. Very rarely do you encounter that beautifully crisp, slightly (but deliciously!) burnt crust that is the mark of a well-made paella. It seems that most of us can't resist giving everything a good stir - a cardinal sin, Rafael points out, when we query why the rice remains untouched in the pan.
Several hours after we arrived at Mi Paella, Rafael announced that the paella dish was done. As we took our first mouthful with a spoon, eating straight from the pan, a smile crept across our faces. Years of experience, and generations of Valencian history had created a dish quite unlike anything we has tasted before.
It was superb. A perfect paella in the most authentic of surroundings.

MI PAELLA EN EL HUERTO

Morning and afternoon classes are possible, each lasting around 4 hours.
The farmhouse within which the class is held is located approximately 25-minutes outside of Valencia - if you don not have your own transport, Mi Paella can arrange pick-up from your hotel.
Although traditional paella is not vegetarian, it can be adapted for non-meat eaters (as it was for us).