Last weekend I escaped from the computer and attended a course on rice organised by the local town hall. Our teacher knew everything you could ever hope to learn about rice… and I don’t just mean cooking it. I think he must have been born with a paella pan in his hand.
Alicante and Valencia are synonymous with rice dishes, and having lived here for so long it is incredible that before doing this course, I hadn’t thought much about rice at all. The fact is, that there are 40,000 varieties of rice around the world, not to mention wild rice and not all types of rice are good for all dishes (some absorb flavours, and others don’t).
We started with a talk on the different types of rice available on the supermarket shelves. Our teacher, Evaristo, poured different types of rice into plastic cups for us to look at and smell. It was amazing to see the difference in the colour, aroma and quality of the different grains. Some of the rice smelled almost rancid, while others, like the Thai jasmine and basmati varieties, smelt very pleasant.
Of course, being in Valencia, the focus was on the local rice varieties used to make paella and other local specialities. When asked what kind of rice we bought, we all said “Fallera” (a Spanish brand) or bomba (a pearly round rice). However, we learned that rather than worrying about the trademark, the most important factor is that it is better to spend a few extra euros and to buy ‘extra’ or ‘premium’ quality rice. To make impeccable rice dishes, all grains should all be of the same origin (buy a D.O rice), with as few impurities as possible, and the grains should be intact and not broken. There is a huge difference between buying a premium rice and a cut-price cheap package from your knock-down supermarket shelf, and if you are investing a fortune in posh ingredients, you won’t want your creation to go wrong because you’ve saved a few cents on the rice.
After learning a lot of theory, all very interesting, each pair of students was handed a big plastic box containing a lot of familiar, and less familiar ingredients. Then, Masterchef style, we were sent into the kitchen to knock up two rice dishes on our own. I was not paired with an experienced Spanish housewife who had been cooking rice all her life, but with a very nice German girl. Despite our rookie status, we managed to make a rather fantastic paella and I made some fideau, which is a noodle paella and which, in my opinion, was the best dish of the day!
I can’t wait to try these skills at home… if my husband lets me near the paella pan!