This is another fully hardcore dish. They say it is the original paella, devised by field hands in the province of Valencia making use of ingredients that were readily available – snails and rabbits. Who knows and frankly, who cares? It is a nice story and that is really all that counts.
Because there is something so full on about these two ingredients being placed together in the same dish I wanted to up the ante and make it really strong. Firstly I chopped loads of garlic and dried chilli and fried them in a nice pool of olive oil till crisp and the garlic golden. The oil was then drained* and used as the base for the sofrito into which I added……..yes, you got it……….loads more chilli and garlic. As soon as it began to sizzle I added masses of rosemary and pimenton, stirred it and added some chopped onion and very small diced carrot. I never add these two ingredients to paellas but I wanted to see what would happen today, more of which later. When all this was good and sweated, I added a tin of tomatoes (another ingredient I rarely add to the paella, generally favouring grated fresh tomato) and cooked it down until reduced to a wet paste consistency.
I now put the paella pan on the ring and heated yet more olive oil. Into this I tipped the seasoned rabbit and fried that segregated mother till golden. When it was good and brown I added the snail, masses more rosemary and a few bay leaves.
Whilst this was going on I asked Lucrezia and Fanny to whip me up an allioli. I allowed them to use my pestle and working together they mounted this thick yellow sauce with great ease.
I added the rice and toasted that until vaguely translucent, then poured in the sofrito. When this was all good and mixed up, I added the stock and 2 dessert spoons of allioli and mixed it up some more. I checked the seasoning, shook it around a bit and cooked it on medium till the liquid had all but evaporated. I now turned up the heat (to 11) and and cooked out the rest of the liquid waiting for that crisp frying sound that indicates 2 things: the rice is ready and the socarrat has been acheived. The socarrat is the slightly blackened, crisp ricey bit stuck to the pan; one of God’s greatest gifts to man.
The result was good. Very good. But very very strong, particularly if eaten with copious allioli. The infused oil added a powerful undertone of heat and potency to the rice but the snails and rabbit themselves were sweet and smokey due to the pimenton. The onion however was a mistake. The rice was too soft and this was due to the excess liquid that the onion brings the party. No good. No more onion. The carrot, strangely, worked really well and I will repeat it at some point. Maybe.
On the whole this dish just added further proof to my iron clad belief that paella is on of the greatest dishes available to mankind. One day it will rise out of the mire of being nothing but a tourist attraction.
*If you have them to hand, toast some almonds in a pan with a bit of olive oil and salt and once cooled add discarded crispy bits. You will be glad you did.