A few nights ago I was playing Desert Island Dishes with a Spaniard, an Irish woman and an Israeli. This game is a spin off of Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs and consists, rather obviously, of choosing the meals you would want to have should you be marooned on a desert island.
One of the popular choices was Pata Negra and tomato toast. I was furious because it had already been my go and I had idiotically not thought of it. Pata Negra? On a desert island? A must of course. How could I have been so stupid to not think of it?
Some sort of pasta was on everyone’s list but the one that caused the most consternation was paella. Both Jesús and Mary were outraged that it should be included and it came out that they did not like paella. Holy shit. You hear some weird shit on this island but that had to be the most outlandish thing I had heard to date. I quizzed them as to why. Sludgy, overpriced and synthetic were some of the complaints.
Then I understood where their foolishness had stemmed from. They had never had a good paella. And they have a point – it is far easier to get a crap paella than a good one. You gotta know where to go. (Here are three options: Sa Nansa, Pou Des Lleo and Can Pujol. After that you’re on you own).
It is sad but true that there are a lot of very, very bad ones and it is all to do with laziness and corner cutting. Producing a good paella is actually very simple. You just have to want to.
Choose La Bomba type rice, Calasparra being reputedly the best (€6 in Ibiza, 2 pounds in London, you gotta love Ibiza).
Use saffron, not that food colouring stuff in little speed sachets with a picture of an aeroplane on it. (Saffon is the most expensive food in the world working out at €4000 a kilo but one gram serves 10 people so I reckon it is 40 cents well spent.)
But really the most important thing, THE THING, is the stock. You gotta use great stock and that too, thanks to the availability of monkfish heads here in Ibiza, is simple to make.
Fish Stock for Paella, Fideau and Arroz Abanda
1 onion (peeled and roughly chopped)
1 carrot (peeled and roughly chopped)
½ head celery (roughly chopped)
1 head garlic (cut in half across its equator)
1 green pepper (deseeded and roughly chopped)
3 tomatoes (roughly chopped)
1 monkfish head (ask the monger to peel off the black skin and hack it up)
½ bottle of white wine
Pour a goodly amount of olive oil into nice, big, heavy bottomed pan and place on a low-ish heat. Put in the vegetables, except the tomatoes, and a pinch of salt (no more) and stir it up (Bob). Put a lid on it and cook until vegetables are broken down and giving up their liquor. Around 40 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook for a further 20 minutes.
Add the monkish and wine and cook for 15 minutes. Add the water, bring to the boil and skim all the scum off the streets, sorry, top. Put heat to low and simmer for 1 hour minimum*, topping up if needed. Strain it and you are done.
*It is said that fish stock should not be cooked for more than 20 minutes but this is heavy boned fish and we need the gelatine and to do this we gotta cook that mother good.