IN avid pursuit of the ‘When in Rome’ notion, I recently took it upon myself to make a paella.
How hard could it be? A bit of rice, a bit of fish, a bit of this and a bit of that, y listo! Right?
One cookbook assured me it was all about choosing the correct rice, lashings of saffron and seafood, while another emphasised the importance of investing your soul into the making of the dish, so rich, vivid and full of texture.
My gastronomic experiment included two bonafide Mallorquin guests, who arrived expectantly and on time – unsuspecting of the menu del dia at Casa Marshall.
Had this been a Spanish-targeted publication, I am sure this declaration would be met with gasps of horror at the sheer insolence of a foreigner attempting such an important dish; practically a national heritage. But, then, we live in the era of fusion cuisine, where the height of culinary fashion in New York is Nacho Sushi – every restaurant worth its salt is combining things once deemed impossible. Jalapeño ice cream anyone?
Much like Jamie Oliver on a mission, I set about whipping up this feast – a little late, but it all looked straight-forward. Unlike the Naked Chef, my blunt refusal to measure or weigh anything has led to many a failed soufflé and pie in the past, but come savoury food, that was usually not an issue. But after 20 minutes of stirring the rice showed no sign of yielding to the broth, so I chucked some white wine in. Then some more – and a bit of olive oil; always does the trick.
My guests, who watched the drama unfold, were clutching their welcome drinks with white knuckles, eyes slightly wide. Kids were chanting ‘is it ready yet?’ every three minutes. But the bloody rice was still as tough as Beef Jerky and I was in no mood for a dental emergency. It also looked aneamic, so I added some chopped tomatoes and dill, which turned out to be the only herb lurking in my fridge.
The fact that my daughter learned a poem about the Paella Valenciana to recite at her end of term concert should, of course, have alerted me to the fact that some things – alongside sleeping dogs – are better left alone. Even the recipe was lyrical the dish itself must be practically sacrosanct, which made my cooking efforts on this occasion positively blasphemous.
Well over an hour later, we finally took our seats to what was admittedly a very colourful concoction: A fusion of paella, risotto and garden path gravel. My guests graciously chewed away, nodding encouragingly as I apologised profusely. Seconds were unilaterally declined. The kids had long since given up the wait in favour of several rounds of toast – they were the lucky ones.
Maybe some things don’t need ‘fusing’ after all; the original remains the best. And alongside the idiom, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ I suggest an addition for the benefit of my new fellow countrymen; ‘Hands off our paella.’
Ultimately, when in Rome, there are times when you should actually not do as the Romans – or the Mallorquin to be precise. Just save yourself a lot of pain and cook a Shepherd’s pie. Or, better still, order out.