We are not going to insist that an authentic wood-fired paella can be enjoyed any day and anywhere. However, we are aware that paella is traditionally a recipe that, due to its preparation time, has been reserved for holidays.
Because enjoying a paella is much more than eating it. It is the time before, during and after. For a person born in Valencia, a paella is reliving their childhood, remembering those who are no longer there. For others, a paella could mean their days of rest and the beach. The sound of the sea.
Wherever you are from, it is clear that paella can be an unforgettable experience. But where does the true paella ritual begin and end? There are many theories and today, we present ours to you.
Before putting the pan on the fire, there are many symbols and steps that are part of the ritual. Small pleasures that revolve around the traditional preparation of paella. We have them so internalized that sometimes we don't realize it, that's why we have to learn to look at them.
Before lighting the fire.
The paella ritual begins long before you start cooking.
For many it already begins at the moment we meet our people -it can be improvised or in advance through messages with the paella emoji- and the comboi that is generated around it.
Clarification: comboi is a Valencian word that we could translate as the joy that something causes you when you think of the joy that doing it will give you. Yes, that's how we Valencians are, we have a word to express the illusion that is yet to come.
The ritual begins with the involuntary and totally unconscious assignment of the roles that each person in the group adopts . One cooks -although everyone will try to leave their mark on cooking to a greater or lesser extent- and the rest are in charge of various tasks: going for firewood, preparing the ingredients, lighting the fire, preparing an aperitif, keeping the drink always cold, etc
Among all these functions, the person in charge of the fire is the one who has the greatest respect. And in the event that it is the cook who ignites and maintains the vegetable combustion, he is perceived as something similar to a God on Earth. In Valencia we call him Mestre Paeller.
Once the power of the flame is controlled, there is a mental dispersion of the group that makes evident the sole and absolute responsibility of the person in charge of the elaboration. However, the cook must keep the fire and the rest of the group at bay .
Occasionally, someone will leave the conversation to come closer and check that the paella is going well and the cook is doing the right thing. It is very likely that he will make a comment about it -"give it more heat", "it is bland", "you have added a lot of rice"-, especially when we are reaching the end of cooking -"there is a lack of water", "the rice is still hard ”, “it smells like burning” -, but fortunately they return to the group conversation at once. We must also recognize that the comments are accurate on some occasions, around 1% of the time.
Now do you understand why we say that Mestre Paeller is sent from Heaven?
Eating from the paella.
Keeping the rested paella away from impatience is crucial for the result. If necessary, we will establish a security cordon that prevents the anxious and curious from trying it out ahead of time.
Eating paella is an act of love and brotherhood, but if it is not done correctly it can cause blisters and resentment .
Always in the center of the table, placed equidistantly and accessible to all diners, the paella must be conceived as a box of trivial cheeses, where each one will eat their portion maintaining a border with their neighbors.
The people who eat the most will sit next to those with the least appetite. There are those who do not like the carob or any other ingredient, nothing happens. Those that you do not want and are in your portion, can be left in the center of the paella for others to enjoy. Of course, the ingredients that come out of the paella can no longer return to it, much less in the form of bones.
Preferably we should use the spoon, with a fork it is easier for the rice to fall and more difficult to scratch the surface of the paella in search of socarrat. To prevent the paella from turning, someone from the group will be in charge of taking the handle of the paella and holding it. The rest will ensure that your glass is never empty. You have to be aware that leaving the spoon inside is in very bad taste -as well as being unhygienic- and resting it on the paella means that the diner has given up.
We must not forget to congratulate the cook when the paella has turned out well . Even doing it multiple times throughout the meal, it's your go-to engine for the next and the next.
The endless after-dinner.
If there is something (more) that makes the Paella ritual special, it is that you don't know when it ends. Of course, after enjoying the paella, dessert is essential. Watermelon or melon are perfect dance partners. And some digestive to sit the food is not bad either.
In the meantime, someone will have been in charge of removing the paella filled with water so that the remains soften. Later someone will scrub it -not of their own free will, chance is usually the one that decides-, but it will never be the cook. It would be more.
Several spirits later the farewell will approach. Sometimes the end of one ritual can mark the beginning of the next. They say that when one cycle ends, another begins: when do we repeat?