If you find yourself in Valencia, learn how to make Paella!

Posted by Jennie

Although recognized worldwide as a Spanish dish, Paella is strictly a regional dish, originating from the region of Valencia. No other region in Spain will even claim to make it better than the Valencians do.

It was the Arabs that brought with them and planted the three varieties of of rice used for Paella: Bomba, Senia and Bahia. They started growing the rice in the Albufera, the wetlands of Valencia. It was in this environment that the farmers who worked in the fields invented a stew of rice combined with local products.

Paella takes its name from the large flat pan it was cooked in, the paellera. To appreciate the art of cooking Paella, you must see it up close. In Valencia, several baraccas or traditional farm houses offer the pleasure of this experience.

Baracca Toni Montoliu is one such place. Located in the Huerta Valenciana or the green belt that surrounds the city, this cooking school and restaurant is owned by the charismatic Toni Montoliu. Toni is a full-blooded Valencian and his sprawling farm with its wonderfully preserved baraccas is where his family has lived and worked the land for over five generations.

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A typical baracca or Valencian farm house

Toni is an advocate of the farm to table movement and everything that goes into his Paella comes from his farm. In rapid fire Spanish, Toni points to each of the ingredients: Bomba rice, chicken, rabbit, snails, good olive oil, 3 kinds of beans, Garrafon, Tavella and Ferradura, tomato puree, a clove of garlic, paprika, saffron threads, salt and a sprig of rosemary.

The Paella lesson happens in an outdoor kitchen beneath barren winter trees. After pouring wine for everyone gathered, Toni lights a fire with wood from his orange trees. He will use no other because the vapors coming from this kind of wood add to the flavor of his Paella. The fire begins fast and furious, as Toni locks in the flavors of the chicken and rabbit meat, he lessens the intensity of the flames and allows the meat to cook through. With more adjustments to the flame, he pushes the meat to the side, puts in the beans, garlic, tomato puree, paprika and about a pitcher of water. When the water comes to a boil he adds the rice, snails and saffron threads.

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Garrafon Beans, Tomato Puree, Bomba Rice, Chicken and Rabbit

As he preforms what looks like a mystical ritual he is jovial and talks to everyone around the fire in nonstop Spanish. He adjusts the flame so that the vapor actually envelopes the giant Paellera. Satisfied, and without skipping a beat, he grabs an empty pail and gestures those watching the demonstration to follow him. He explains that it’s now time to head to the farm while waiting for the Paella to cook. He invites us all to harvest fresh greens. We all bend down amid rows of greens and begin to pluck some leaves. After filling the bucket with some lettuce, cabbage and broccoli, Toni gestures that we should head back. He knows exactly when it is time to return to the simmering dish, without the aid of a watch.

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Do not disturb the cooking process. No stirring allowed.

True enough, the liquid and all the flavors have been absorbed by the rice. There is no stirring that happens from the time the rice is put in. The rice is allowed to sit and absorb the flavors undisturbed. The smell is heavenly and the Paella looks delicious. Toni now kills the fire and for a final touch adds a huge sprig of fresh rosemary. We are seated in a long table outdoors, the temperature has dropped but another round of homemade beer warms our insides.

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One big Paella!

The Paellera is about three feet in diameter and it takes two people to carry it. It is placed in the center of the table and we are all given spoons. We dig in and eat it in the traditional way, straight from the pan! Each smoky mouthful is a delight, from the juicy meat of the rabbit and chicken, to the earthy taste of the snails, the crunch of the beans, the fat morsels of saffron and paprika flavored rice to the “socarrat” or crispy rice base that has everyone digging in for more.

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On location for FoodPrints

Valencia was part of our 10-day trip to Spain upon the invitation of the Spain Tourism Board to trace the roots of Filipino-Spanish cuisine. The 2 part special aired on Lifestyle Network’s FoodPrints.

Baracca Toni Montilou is about 40 minutes by car from downtown Valencia. It is a destination lunch place but you can also come here to learn how to make Paella from Toni Montilou himself. He will gladly show you around his farm in the middle of an orange orchard and take you inside his well preserved baraccas. 

Baracca Toni Montilou/ barracatonimontoliu@gmail.com