CHEF JP’S SPANISH INQUISITION
WORDS AND IMAGES: CHEF JP LE ROUX
Sad to say, only spending 14 days in one of the culinary food capitals of the world doesn’t do justice to the detail, passion and bigger picture when it comes to Spanish food. But despite such a fleeting visit, I must admit that this cuisine will always be a firm favourite at my table.
When it comes to Spanish food, one of the most amazing things is that the country’s southern neighbour, France, has had a prolific influence on Spanish cooking. It comes as no surprise, then, that a lot of Spanish dishes have a distinct French flair.
The dishes I am going to share with you this time round are traditionally Spanish with a tad of my own French heritage. As we always discuss around the family dinner table, my great grandfather hailed from Marseilles and lived up to his surname (le Roux meaning the red) as he had fair skin and red hair. But, having landed in South Africa, he married a very fair Afrikaans woman who was a Blignaut – and the family tree has grown from there.
A recent family birthday celebration made me decide to go back to my roots with a Spanish feast. Suffice to say, Spanish food can be time-consuming to prepare so I ended up, quite literally, creating my very own Spanish Inquisition!
My first starter was a Grilled Marrow Bone which is prepared French style in garlic and butter and served with black garlic and onion tapane. This is often served tapas style on the stress of Madrid.
The other, a Mediterranean Skewer that talks to Portuguese influences to the west, is a combination of squid, chorizo and deep fried Kalamata olives, coated in Spanish olive oil. This, too, is versatile enough to be on any tapas menu and is a perfect street food snack.
JP’S MOORISH SPANISH PAELLA
Spanish cuisine has a Moorish influence which means that there Arabic and North African culture is very evident in the country’s history, culture and cuisine. This not only created the classic tapas style of eating (small bite size meals) but also introduced spices and aromatics such as cumin, coriander and, of course, saffron.
Paella is a rice dish that originally hailed from Valencia and has become not only one of the world’s most famous dishes, but the unofficial traditional dish of its home country.
It originally, made with rice, rabbit and snails – but, as food culture evolved, chicken, mussels, prawns and calamari have become the go to ingredients.
If you ask any executive chef, or the ones that I know across the globe, they all say that this is their favourite dish, but the only problem is that it is very intricate and time consuming. To turn it out quickly for a larger group of people, you need a full chef’s kitchen on board!
I made paella for 10 people on Monday for a birthday party and I did it by myself! It took four hours and plenty of blood, sweat and tears – but the happy smiley faces when I presented the paella plate, measuring 800mm in circumference, was amazing.
FROM THE PANTRY
1/4 cup of Spanish olive oil, somehow it just tastes better than extra virgin olive oil, and also, it is not an Italian dish.
2 red onions
red and yellow bell peppers, also symbolic of the colours of the flag
2 tablespoons of crushed garlic
2 tins of peeled Roma tomatoes
1/2 cup of dry white vino
1/2 cup frozen peas
3 cups Spanish rice, Arborio, alternatively you can use any long grain rice
400g skinless chicken fillets
400g half shell mussels, beards off
800g cleaned and deveined L1 prawns
400g Patagonian calamari (only this, NO substitutes)
3 cups chicken broth
For your aromatics:
2 bay leaves
50 g chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoons smoked paprika
50g sweet basil
and now for the most important ingredient, saffron … without it, you might as well order a pizza.
2 saffron threads
6 large lemons for garnish
As previously mentioned, it’s a case of all hands on deck. It’s a good thing that I can multitask.
This is how I go about it:
I start by preparing the rice and setting it aside.
then, in a large wok, I sweat, my onion and peppers in oil … there will be more sweating later … until translucent. Then, I add my paprika, basil, bay leaf, saffron, garlic and basil and stir gently for 5 minutes.
Next comes the vino and tomatoes before cooking for another 5 minutes.
I steamed my prawns and let them rest in the fridge overnight in some olive oil. The same for went for the calamari which I let rest in milk overnight. This makes the calamari tender and also removes the iodine and mercury …. clever chef, hey!
On the side, you can cook your rice, chicken and steam your cleaned unbearded mussels. Add your peas in the mix and quickly pan fry with your calamari, and prawns.
Now, we are ready to assemble your dish. Spread the rice evenly on to the dish. You can use a wooden spatula, or even gloves. Then pour over the broth and let the rice soak in the broth.
My paella dish measured 800 mm in diameter, so say no more. While the rice soaks up the broth, you can do a bit of deconstructive plating, add your parsley, lemons, salt and pepper and then serve immediately.
Take it from me, you will surprise and delight yourself and your 10 guests.
SPANISH STYLE CRÈME BRULEE
Heat you milk in a medium saucepan and add citrus peel, a vanilla pod and cinnamon stick and bring it to the boil. Be very meticulous, dissolve your corn starch in a little milk, slowly add your eggs and sugar and then stir continuously over a low heat until the mixture turns a pale yellow and has thickened. Remove the citrus, cinnamon, and vanilla pod and pour your mixture into ramekins. Let the custard cool. Cover them with cling wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours
Your final step is to add the balance of your sugar on top before caramelizing with a kitchen blow torch. When it starts to bubble, let it rest for a minute. Add some cinnamon sticks to stir through the custard, garnish with mint and enjoy.
Although it’s possible to get your hands on a good Spanish vino here (although I prefer ours to be honest), I decided to go the whole hog and served up a classic Spanish drink that is reminiscent of glorious sunny Mediterranean beaches – sangria. Mix together red vino, soda water and season fruit before adding a good old heavy pour of brandy.
Salute! I survived my own personal Spanish inquisition and I am sure that you will, too!
P.S. Although aromatic saffron actually hails from Persia, it was brought to Spain by the Moors in the eighth century. Today, almost three quarters of the world’s saffron is grown in the fields of Castilla y La Mancha in central Spain. But my particular problem is that my delightful little dachund is named after this special spice. I asked her if she minded that this was one of our blog’s most prized ingredients – and she readily gave permission for us to use it! 🙂