|Tapas and Paella class at Extra Virgin Fine Foods, Alexander Street, Crows Nest|
While flying off to Spain is a very appealing option, cooking classes in the commercial kitchen at Extra Virgin Fine Foods offers the opportunity to learn to make paella and tapas, as well as tasting your own handiwork.
|Ingredients available for purchase|
Owner Mauricio Moreno talks us through the Valencian origins of paella, although all regions of Spain claim it and have their own spin on, arguably, the country's national dish. The first paella was likely a rabbit and snail version from Valencia.
Chef Vincent Giardin runs us through the recipe, which is rather complex but thankfully, a lot of the preparation has been done for the class, with key components, like the veal stock and sofrito paste, available for purchase from the restaurant or online.
The first is chorizo, that spicy cured pork sausage that Sydney loves as much as pork belly and salt and pepper squid these days.
Extra Virgin Fine Foods uses, and sells, a clever by-product of all their chorizo tapas dishes: oil in which chorizo has been cooked, imparting spicing and pork fat that adds a depth of flavour to a range of dishes, including the paella.
|Semi cooked seafood for paella topping|
|Extra Virgin Fine Foods' own house-made sofrito paste|
|Cooking sofrito in the pan|
|Mixing the sofrito into the rice|
Choice of rice is important as it contributes much to the end texture of the paella: fluffy, separate grains are the goal, rather than stodgy or hard.
Paella rice is meant to have some bite to it and is ultimately a dry dish, unlike wet and creamy Italian risotto. Indeed, if you're to get the much desired soccarat crust of crunchy rice on the bottom of the pan, all the liquid needs to be absorbed into the rice.
The spicy, smoked variety of paprika is used for seasoning although you need a fair few pinches to get a spice kick of any sort. We tasted and seasoned with salt and paprika at several points in the cooking process.
|Cooking rice and stock|
A differing point, or two, is that you can add all the stock in one go (if it fits) and instead of constantly stirring the rice, you leave it be and just push and nudge it every now and then, to ensure the stock is spread around evenly.
This action contributes to the different textures of risotto and paella: the former is creamy as the starches in the rice break down with all the stirring; the latter remains as separate grains that hold themselves as they're not overly disturbed in the cooking process.
|Paella rice and stock going in the oven|
|Balls of goat's cheese|
|Demonstration of a tapas|
Everyone in the class gets to make their own with the components that are prepared by the kitchen with so much care.
|Putting toppings on the paella|
There's a bit of an art to garnishing with the toppings, although there's nothing wrong with just tipping the entire bowl of pre-cooked toppings, and all their juices, on top of the pan of rice.
|Toppings on the paella|
|Chef Vincent Giardin|
Do not stir or push the rice at this point, lest you break the crust, but you can check on it and that it's not burning by lifting the edges with a spatula.
|Garnished with piquillo peppers|
|Grilling lemons for garnish|
|Goat's cheese, onion jam and serrano ham tapas|
The goat's cheese tapas was excellent, with the sweet onion jam partnering well with the very good goat's cheese and crunchy bread and ham components. It's easy to see why its a restaurant favourite.
|Chorizo served with a chimichurri style sauce|
|Paella - ready to eat|
|Seafood and chorizo paella|
I have a feeling the chorizo oil and complex sofrito paste might have had a lot to do with the end result, but also the perfectly cooked squid and mussels, and just cooked grains of rice.
Our paella had a bit of soccarat in the centre of the dish, which probably means it could have taken a minute or two more on the stove; but nonetheless, two of us almost polished off the entire pan taking seconds, thirds and fourth servings.
Book your class online at Extra Virgin Fine Foods and see more photos on my Facebook page.
Food, booze and shoes attended the Tapas and Paella class as a guest of Extra Virgin Fine Foods, with thanks to Helen Lear.