After seeing the Tour de France in the Pyrenees we traveled to Begur on the Costa Brava for a quiet and relaxing week of sunshine and some sand. Since paella can be considered beach food it seemed appropriate to make some while we were within sight of the Mediterranean. But first, we had to do some grocery shopping.
When Cheryl and I go on longer vacations in Europe we like to rent out villas/apartments as we find it can be more cost effective than staying in a hotel every night and eating out for every meal. I also get to cook with different ingredients and products (and Cheryl gets to eat them). It can be a challenge cooking in a foreign country (Celsius instead of Fahrenheit; metric system) but food is food and fire is fire. You adapt, and one big thing you need to adapt to is language.
Over the years I’ve learned a few things about grocery shopping in places where you may not know the language well. Pointing works just fine of course, but it helps to know a few words. The first time we ever tackled grocery shopping on foreign soil was during our honeymoon. We were in Sardinia and even though I could speak some Italian and knew food words, the grocery store was a bit intimidating. First of all it was a very different dialect and secondly, we were shopping on Saturday along with everyone else on vacation in the area. Chaos abounded (in my eyes of course, for Italians this was probably business as usual). I took one look at the deli counter where all the cheeses and meats were and bailed as it was a mass of Italians talking a million miles (or kilometers) an hour. Eventually we came back later in the week when it wasn’t as busy and had great success. However, I was caught when I tried to order something as ¼ kilogram, like I’d normally order a ¼ pound. Nope, order in grams, as in 250 grams. I won’t ever forget that now.
Ok, back to Begur. I had recently re-read an old article on learning a foreign language which says learn everyday words and use them, as classes can teach you vocabulary but it takes longer to master conversation. Since none of us speak Spanish (or Catalan) I knew we had to get some basics down before tackling grocery shopping so I did a quick look-up of food words and wrote them down on the back of the shopping list. No sense trying to remember all of them and muffing them up. Armed with this info, my finger, and past experiences, we headed to the store. Knowing just even a few words made it pretty easy.
For our paella we picked up a whole chicken (which I broke down, used the legs and wings), some great looking long flat green beans, some red peppers, and bomba rice. Unfortunately there wasn’t a paella pan in the villa so I figured I’d just use a large pan (don’t judge!). However, when roaming the aisles of the store I found a section with some inexpensive paella pans (grocery store was next to a campground). A “4 servings” paella pan was 5 Euros so we grabbed one and it was also ended up being a perfect size to fit in my backpack and bring home. The pan and the remainder of the bomba rice made nice souvenirs from the trip. The paella recipe used was from a cooking class we took in Barcelona, also while on our honeymoon. Lots of lessons from that first trip as a married couple!
Paella Valencia Style (serves 4, recipe from Cook & Taste in Barcelona)
- 500 gr chicken (about 18 oz; 1 ¼ pounds) I deboned the legs and thighs and sliced the meat, kept the wings whole
- 150 gr green beans, chopped (about 5 oz; ⅓ pound)
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 2-3 cloves garlic, crushed minced
- 1 tomato, peeled, chopped
- 6 Tbs olive oil
- 400 gr paella rice, “bomba” (about 14 oz)
- 1.1 Liters of chicken stock, heated (about 4.4 C)
- 8-10 saffron threads for color
- salt and pepper to taste
In a paella pan, over medium high heat, heat the oil and brown the chicken. When browned push the chicken to the side of the pan.
Add the tomato and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the garlic and cook until tomatoes are half cooked. Next add the beans and peppers.
When the tomato starts to burn add the rice and fry for a few minutes.
Add the heated stock, saffron, and arrange the chicken and vegetables.
DO NOT TOUCH THE RICE FROM THIS POINT FORWARD! This is very difficult of course.
Over medium high heat cook for about 8 minutes, rotating the pan every so often so as to evenly distribute heat.
Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 10 more minutes. Season to taste.
Let paella stand for 5 minutes before serving.