Squid and Paella Challenge

A new favorite dish!

We ate paella multiple times while in Spain, but our favorite pan was the very first one we tried at El Rall in Valencia. The restaurant sits in an old Medieval neighborhood square with several cafe tables in the center. The restaurant has two locations adjacent to one another. Beside having the best paella in Spain, and maybe the world, it also serves fantastic Iberico ham.

Our second encounter with paella was a nice reminder of how paella was intended to be eaten, with large groups. While in Barcelona, we come across a Spanish cooking class called Travel Bound that is geared towards the young backpackers traveling through Europe. This trip was a little like a backpacking adventure for us, except we could afford first class accommodations on the AVE (a minor splurge but worth the price) and didn’t need to stay in hostels, although our room in Barcelona was a small step up from one.

All great meals are shared!

The Australian girls we dined with were great company. Their youthful ambitions of traveling throughout Europe and living in London was refreshing to hear. It just reminded us of how short and potentially wonderful life really is. We wish our Aussie friends all the best on the remainder of their big adventures!

We didn’t know what to expect with our squid purchase. We’ve never cooked it before but decided we needed to try. The bag of squid at the market was more than we needed so we decided to forgo the rest of the seafood and “bunny” meat you might find in traditional paella recipes. We have enough experience with this classic dish to know there are very few rules when it comes to what “should” be added to the paella. We bet there are as many paella recipes out there as their are Spanish households cooking them.

Once you have the basics, add whatever inspires you!

This recipe is a combination of the Simple Paella recipe from 1080 Recipes by Simone and Ines Ortega and Las recetas de Garcima, a flyer included with the paella pan we purchased in Valencia, Spain. Our recipe takes traditional Valencian Bomba rice and saffron, along with what we had on hand and what we could purchase from our local farmer’s market. Just remember, if you can’t find all the ingredients for a dish, improvise. We hope you enjoy our first version of paella.

Our very first Paella San Francisco!

Squid Paella

olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 small – medium firm tomatoes, chopped (or 1/2 can of 14 ounces tomatoes without juice)
1 bell pepper, chopped (any color)
1/2 pound fresh green beans trimmed and cut into inch long segment
1 pound fresh squid, cleaned and cut (about.com has a great cleaning tutorial)*
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 garlic cloves
1 sprig fresh parsley
large pinch saffron threads
1 1/4 cup Bomba rice (or other short grain rice)
1/3 cup frozen peas

Clean the squid and place on ice in the fridge.
In a paella pan or large sauté pan, over medium high heat, add 2 tablespoons olive oil until glistening. Add the onion and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes and allow to cook for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add to a blender with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Blend together until smooth. Set aside.

Return the pan to the stove top over medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil until glistening then add the bell pepper and green beans. Sauté the vegetables for 3-5 minutes until slightly wilted. Add the squid and paprika. Cook about 5 more minutes or until starting to dry out.

In the meantime, place the garlic, saffron, parsley, and a pinch of salt in a mortar and pound together, or use a mini prep food processor.

Add the rice to the sauté pan and stir for a couple of minutes, making sure the rice does not stick to the pan. Add enough hot water to the tomato and onion mixture to fill 3 cups, taste and season with salt. Add to the rice and stir. Add the garlic saffron mixture and gently stir. Cook on the stove top over medium heat for 10 minutes. Sprinkle the peas over the top then transfer to the oven for 10-15 minutes more.

Once the paella is out of the oven there are two options. For a crispy bottom, allow the paella dish to rest for 5 minutes before serving. If you would like the bottom to be easier to release and the rice softer, allow the paella to rest on a wet towel for 5 minutes before serving.

Paella and Valencia – Hot!

A few of our favorite pictures of Valencia

Our first stop in Spain took us to Valencia, Spain’s third largest city. Few of the people we surveyed in preparation for our trip had much to say about Valencia. Friends who have traveled to Spain focus their adoration on either of Spain’s two urban hubs – Madrid and Barcelona. Too bad! We loved our time in Valencia and would recommend it to anyone planning to spend time along Spain’s Mediterranean coast.

The biggest food market in Spain. So much food, so little time.

The cab ride from the train station to the hotel was quick. We checked in, unloaded our things and headed out to grab a bite to eat in the Placa de la Reina. First stop, the pintxos bar La Taberna de la Reina on the square where we found all kinds of delicious bites of meat, fish and cheese atop slices of baguette. These ubiquitous morsels can be found all over Spain, and while the main event was yet to come in San Sebastian, we thought it worth a visit to get a sense of how it works before we find ourselves in the serious pintxos bars later in our journey (more on pintxos to come).

An array of tapas.

Feeling sated, we wandered the ancient narrow streets in Valencia’s old city center around the cathedral where we found innumerable cafes, tourist trinkets, and massive colorful graffiti-covered stone walls. All that walking worked up an appetite so we scouted about to find our next bite and happened upon Boatella Tapas, a tapas bar and cerveceria across the street from the Mercado Central, Valencia’s fresh food hub and one of the largest food markets in Europe. The tiny corner bar has a small counter and seating area indoors and a few tables set out on the sidewalk. Atop the bar inside is an array of platters with piles of various fish, some fried, some roasted, all incredibly fresh and delicious. Our eyes were bigger than our stomachs and Steve’s Spanish language skills were just good enough to get the servers attention but not quite good enough to explain that we simply wanted a mixed plate of various items from the bar. The “medium” plate of food he thought he was ordering ended up being several medium sized plates of each of the things he pointed at on the bar. We had a big plate of fried whole small fish, a plate of grilled squid salad, a plate of fried shrimp in their shells, a full plate of padron peppers and a nice big plate of chicharones. There was no way we were going to eat it all!

Valencia has the best paella in Spain.

Paella is a Valencian specialty. The rice most commonly used for paella, Bomba rice, grows in rice paddies near Valencia and the sea provides all the delicious squid, muscles and langoustines needed for a traditional pan of saffron scented rice. We had the best paella of our visit at Restaurant El Rall, a great little place tucked away in one of Valencia’s many medieval squares. While we waited for our paella for two, we noshed on a favorite Spanish blood sausage that had been topped with a dollop of pureed ham and cheese then toasted under the broiler. They were delicious. The paella was exquisite and we were careful to delicately scrape our servings from the top, avoiding disturbing the bottom of the pan so that the rice could continue to cook and ultimately crisp up. That crunchy, brown rice at the end is the best part of the paella. Ours was perfect!

The best tapas in Valencia. It was worth the bike ride to find this place.

Perhaps our most memorable meal in Valencia, lunch at Bodega Montana, was satisfying in every way. The bodega has a great atmosphere with its marble bar and several barrels lining the walls from which wine and sherry is dispensed. We stuffed ourselves with an assortment of perfectly executed tapas. Standouts included the marinated tuna, the anchovy stuffed green olives, the bacalao (salted cod) potato puree and the fried stuffed red peppers. But that wasn’t enough. We also snacked on slices of Manchego cheese and thin slices of Iberico ham – perhaps the best we’ve ever tasted. As with many of our meals in Spain, we washed it all down with glasses of rosé and beer.

Hot chocolate and churros. A must try when in Spain.

We took a break from traditional Spanish food on our last night in Valencia, settling instead for Italian at La Papardella, just a couple of blocks off the placa near the cathedral. But this was not our last meal in Valencia. Before cabbing to the train station on departure day, we got up at 6 a.m. and headed over to the L’Orxateria next to the main entrance of the Mercat for churros and chocolate. The outdoor temperature at that hour was just cool enough to make this decadent breakfast of fried pastry and thick hot chocolate the perfect sendoff.

Next stop: Barcelona!