A chef is a most interesting breed indeed. You simply engage a chef in a conversation and you get an outpouring of passion that's unmistakable. This shot of Chef Jose Arato has passion written all over it - it's unmistakable. Chef Jose is the driving force of Pimenton (the name is Spanish paprika), a gourmet and specialty Spanish and Mediterranean food store. Also offered are classes in one of Jose's specialties - Spanish Paella.
I'd been wanting to take this class for quite a while and finally all the stars were aligned and I attended a class in the Art of Making Spanish Paella. This dish is not so intuitive; there's a process to making an incredible paella.
I expected to learn something. That was my only expectation. What I got was a full package. When I arrived, I was greeted by a very warm and hospitable man in a green and red chef's garb. At first I thought - Oh..it's Santa Clause, but then I figured out that the colours are a theme of the colours of peppers. Jose (as he's preferred to be called; as opposed to Chef) had a full table of appetizers ready for us;
We learned about the different sizes of paella pans; the configuration and the importance of having even heat when cooking your paella.
2 cloves garlic, peeled
3 tablespoons parsley, chopped coarsely
Pinch saffron, infused
4 chicken breasts cut up
2 squid, cleaned, cut into rings
16 small clams, soaked to remove sand
16 shrimp, shelled and deveined
Spanish Oil as needed
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 red pepper, finely chopped
Sofrito * see recipe below
3 cups Bomba rice
6 1/2 cup Chicken or Fish broth, hot
1 tablespoon salt (or more as needed)
1/2 cup green beans
1/2 cup frozen peas
2 sweet roasted red peppers
2 dozen mussels, steamed
Lemon wedges for garnish
1. Place 1/2 cup of stock in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, and add the saffron and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside. This step is only necessary if your saffron is not dried enough.
2. In a mortar and pestle or small food processor, mash the garlic, parsley and some course salt to a paste. Set aside
3. Heat 6 tablespoons of oil in a paella pan and add the shrimp. Cook briefly and then add the clams and squid. Remove from paella pan. Add more oil if necessary, as dry paella can result if there isn't enough oil. Add the onions, pepper and when these are soft but not brown. It’s time to add the sofrito, and the garlic/parsley & saffron mixtures. Add enough stock to come up the rivets of the paella pan. Bring to a boil. Squeeze the lemon and season the paella at this point.
I asked about the rice used for paella and was quickly met with the answer "Bomba rice is the ONLY rice for good paella". The reason - this rice, grown without pesticides absorbs 30% more of the broth while having a lower starch content.
Just before adding the rice, chef seasoned the paella with a goodly amount of salt. It's what makes the flavour pop. This is probably the one area we didn't agree on. The amount of sodium can be a killer and my preference would be to use a whole lot less salt. I found the flavour as rich before the addition of salt.
Add the rice in one line and then stir to mix with the stock. Allow to boil hard for 8 minutes.
Boil overs are part of cooking, right? Jose seems totally unaffected and takes it all in good humour.
4. After 8 minutes, add the green beans, peas and nestle the shrimp on top. DO NOT STIR, as this releases the starch in the rice. Continue cooking at a high roll for another 2-3 minutes or until the rice is no longer soupy but enough liquid remains to continue to cook the rice. Now, turn the heat to low. Place the mussels on the top of the rice and arrange strips of roasted red peppers on top of paella. If your paella bottom does not fit properly on the stove burner, continue cooking in a pre-heated 350F oven for another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven when the rice still looks a bit wet. Cover with foil and let the paella rest for 5 minutes. Garnish with lemon wedges and parsley and serve from paella pan.
Sofrito (an aromatic tomato based sauce that forms the base of many Spanish dishes)
1 garlic clove
1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1. In a saucepan, heat the oil; add the chopped onion and garlic. Fry gently until fragrant, about 6 minutes.
2. Add crushed tomatoes, sugar and salt. Cook at medium heat until some of the liquids has evaporated. Blend with a hand blender. Freezes well.
The sofrito base, along with the infused saffron and lemon take this dish to a whole new level of taste.
How Gorgeous is This???
and lets not forget about this delicious gluten free almond cake. The dessert was for sure above and beyond but absolutely appreciated. Chef Jose began his culinary journey as a pastry chef and he certainly keeps himself in shape. This was the second pastry I've tasted from Pimenton. So good and I wouldn't think about picking up one of his cakes or pies, particularly for those with special food needs.
When not running Pimenton, you can find Jose cooking at Evergreen Brick Works Farmer's Market , catering large and small events and participating in community events. You can see the joy of feeding people on his face. This has to be a labour of love; why else would you get up at the crack of dawn, cook and bake in the shop all day, teach a class at night until 10 or 11 p.m. and then cater and attend events on weekends. Only a labour of love could motivate one to work so many hours and still keep that warmth and humour alive.
If you're in the Toronto area and are looking for fine specialty foods, a good caterer or a really fun Paella cooking class - give Chef Jose a call. You'll walk away having learned something new and feeling like you got your money's worth.