The experience around paella can be any experience if we cook it with any pan. I'm not exaggerating. Imagine how important the container is, that the dish bears the same name: paella. This metal contraption with two large handles and a flat surface that favors, like no other, the perfect cooking of rice and turns its tasting into a liturgy.
Let's go by parts. First, the cooking.
The paella is the ideal pan for cooking Valencian-style rice, that is, with the dry, loose and tasty grain. There are two types of paellas: those of polished steel -popularly called "iron paellas"- and those of enameled steel . The first are the traditional ones and are most used by professionals. The second ones have a layer of enamel that facilitates their conservation -unlike those made of iron, they should not be greased with oil to avoid oxidation- and prolongs their duration, which is why they are the ones that have the greatest presence in homes. But both share the technology and design to favor contact with the fire and transmit heat evenly across the entire surface.
THE SIZE OF THE PAELLA MATTERS. AND A LOT
It is key to use a paella of the appropriate size for the number of servings that we are going to cook. If we use one that is too small, the rice will pile up and all the grains will not cook equally, the bottom ones will burn so that the top ones are not raw or vice versa. It is pure logic: uniform cooking requires rice that is spread as far as possible on the surface and for that we must be generous with the size of the paella. For two portions with a diameter greater than 34 cm, for four portions of 42 cm and when in doubt, always the largest.
Second part, but not less important, eat -of- the paella.
Paella is not just the device for cooking rice. It is also the container where to eat it. Much has been said about tasting this choral dish, capable of generating fellowship and confrontation at the table in equal parts. But no one has done it as flawlessly as Paco Alonso, co-founder of Wikipaella. His are the following lines that make up the famous "Manual for eating paella":
1.- Paella is like a box of portioned cheeses. From the angled edge towards the center, scrupulously respecting the neighbor's cut. It is convenient to maintain the "cavallonet", a boundary of separation, an impassable wall as long as possible.
2.- Diners must be distributed around the paella in an equidistant and accessible way.
3.- It is not convenient for people who are big eaters to be together, they should be placed among those who have less appetite.
4.- The most appropriate cutlery for eating paella is the spoon. The fork is cheesy.
5.- If a diner wishes to squeeze a few drops of lemon, it is his right, but he must have the approval of his neighbors, whom he will try not to splash. Lemon was used in the past to degrease fingers or clean soot.
6.- The meal begins after the mandatory rest of the rice, and the solemn proclamation of the patriarch, or person of higher social rank: "Come on, it's gela l'arròs!" (Tr.: Come on, the rice is getting cold!)
7 - If the paella is good, praise the cook continuously every two tablespoons, throughout the meal. Some frequently used phrases are: “Cada gra d'arròs val vint duros” (Tr.: Each grain of rice is worth 60 euro cents), “T'ha eixit ben senceret l'arròs” (Tr.: It has come out the rice is fine), “Shit in the mare that is going to give birth, això està rebó” (Tr.: I am glad that your mother taught you to cook paella in such an exquisite way). There are many more expressions as popular as these.
8.- The chunks, vegetables and pieces of meat that do not appeal to the diner, can be delicately placed in the center of the paella so that another can enjoy it.
9.- If a piece of meat comes out of the paella, it cannot return to it, under no circumstances, much less in the form of bones.
10.- If someone invades the space of another diner, and it is the first time, you may perceive a small gesture of disapproval accompanied by the monosyllable "Xé!" followed by “fes el favor”. If you repeat your transgressive behavior, you could be reprimanded more intensely under the following terms. "Eres poc fill de puta" (Tr .: You are a bit of a scoundrel). Although it may seem like an affront, in Valencià it is synonymous with cordial treatment and camaraderie.
11.- It is understood that a diner gives up when he rests the spoon on the edge of the cauldron, or says: "Estic fart, ja no puc més!" (Tr.: I'm fed up, I can't take it anymore). At that time, your space can be occupied by your immediate neighbors, always polite, tearing down the cavallonet and breaking the succulent border, but without destroying everything.
12.- It is in very bad taste to turn the paella to access other points where there is still rice. The only one who could do that was Joan Monleón.
13.- If the paella dances due to lack of stability, and a volunteer offers to hold the handle to prevent it from moving. It will keep your glass always full of drink.
14.- When the spoon touches the metal bottom and the longed-for “Socarraet” appears, you have to remain calm and distribute the black gold equally so as not to end up “com el ball de Torrent”.
15.- The meal ends when the diners leave or there is nothing left in the cauldron, an indisputable sign that the paella was good.
Cooking and tasting are part of the paella ritual. An experience that we know when it begins -when we meet our people around it- but never when it ends. This unique experience, which is repeated in the houses of Valencia every Sunday, would not be possible without that metallic device called paella.