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mountain paella with bernat



My good friend Bernat is from Barcelona and introduced us to "mountain paella." Apparently the better known seafood paella is actually an adaptation from this meat based original. Either kind of paella is still a traditional favorite and is often prepared for Sunday lunch, when families gather for a relaxed but festive meal.


Bernat is not only a great friend, he is also a great cook, and frequently when we spend time together it is in the kitchen cooking and eating together. I love learning about the foods from his culture and seeing how he makes them -- his father is a baker and often when he is cooking something he quotes tips his father has passed down to him.


While Bernat made this paella (actually 2 since as usual we had a crowd gathered) I took meticulous notes. Much of what I found interesting was seeing the kind of things that are not always included in recipes because either they are too complicated to explain neatly, or because they are little tricks that are not crucial. I will include as many of these tidbits as I can...for example, notice the newspaper on the floor in front of the stove! When you are browning everything the oil splatters a lot so many Spaniards lay down paper so you don't end up with a slippery greasy floor.


First, a few general notes. There is a reason that paella is served at Sunday lunch -- it takes quite some time to prepare, and although it is not difficult, you need to give it a lot of attention. Bernat and I took at least 2 hours to prepare this one. You also need a paella pan and a good gas burner. Paella pans are different than other skillets - they are very thin and flat and you are constantly moving the ingredients around the pan, first seeking out the hot spot when you are browning, and then moving the browned bits to the edges when you need to clear space for the next ingredient. For that reason the large surface area is really crucial. The pans we used measured 14 inches in diameter and each made enough paella to feed 4 adults. If your burner is too small you will need a diffuser which is the same size as you pan to place under it and spread the heat. According to bernat an electric stove will not do.


In my photos you will occasionally see 2 pans of paella - as I said, we made 2 to feed a crowd but the recipe below is for 1 paella serving 4 adults.




2 whole chicken legs 

3/4 pound spareribs

1 head garlic

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1 fennel bulb, stems and fronds removed, cut into 1/2 inch thick wedges

1 cup drained butter beans

2 tomatoes


1 quart chicken stock

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/3 cups bomba rice (source)

1 sprig rosemary


Use a cleaver to cut chicken legs into 4-5 pieces and ribs into 1 inch lengths. Break apart garlic bulb removing excess papery skins but leaving on a thin layer -- this helps prevent the garlic from burning. Heat pealla pan over medium high heat and add oil. Add meat and brown on all sides, turning with tongs as needed. Add garlic cloves when meat is partially browned, being careful not to let the garlic burn. If the garlic started getting quite brown Bernat would put in on top of a piece of meat to prevent it from getting to dark and becoming bitter. You will notice that some areas of the pan are hotter than others to you will rotate things in and out of these spots as needed. 



Once all the meat is browned move it to the edges of the pan, forming a ring, and add the fennel to the center to brown. Again, keep an eye on the garlic. 


When the fennel is softened and lightly browned move it to the edges of the pan and add the butter beans. Once the beans have some color they too get moved to the edges. Using a box grater, grate the tomatoes into the cleared center of the pan.




Allow to simmer and reduce until you can see the bottom of the pan when you run a spatula across the center of the tomatoes. Add the spice packet and stir vigorously for a few seconds, until aromatic, and them immediately add the stock.


Now you can rearrange all the ingredients so they are evenly distributed in the pan. At this point take note of how high on the pan the liquid is. Add 1 cup of water and salt and allow to reduce until you are back to that level.


Sprinkle the rice over the surface and use a spatula to help it settle to the bottom. Once you have submerged all of the rice add a sprig of rosemary and do not touch the paella again for 20 minutes.


The liquid should be boiling gently...if it is boiling out of control turn down the heat a little. If the pan or burner is uneven then rotate the entire pan on the burner without disturbing the contents. If it seems that the liquid in reducing to quickly turn down the heat so the rice has time to cook. 




After 20 minutes the paella will appear dry -- all the liquid will have evaporated or been absorbed. Turn off the heat and wrap the pan with newspaper to cover completely, being careful not to burn your hands, and let rest for 10 minutes. 




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Reader Comments (3)

Hey hey, this is serious, this paella looks amazing, how was the taste?
And Bernat is from a little village called Pineda de Mar, on the noth coat near Barcelona city

Albert Buscató
(the cousin)

August 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlbert

Hi Albert! The paella tasted amazing...we devoured every last grain of rice! Hope to see you soon and meet Maria. Amy

August 24, 2011 | Unregistered Commentereclectic mom

I am sure Amy, he is a very good cook. Next time ask him to make the clams and the mussels he cooked for us and Randall in Formentera in July. Kisses.

August 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlbert

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