Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Fri June 03 2016

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  • Rosalind Cummings-Yeates | June 3, 2016 11:00 PM ET

    It’s All In The Pan: A Valencia Paella Cooking Class

    It’s All In The Pan: A Valencia Paella Cooking Class

    Photos by Rosalind Cummings-Yeates

    Valencia is an enchanting city noted for the beauty of its 16th century buildings as well as the ultra-modern structures by star architect and hometown boy Santiago Calatrava. But I discovered beauty of a different form during my recent visit to this Spanish port city, namely the rich details of creating authentic paella. Although this complex dish decorates the menus of restaurants around the globe, it was invented in Valencia  and I quickly learned that no place does it better.

    READ MORE: Parador Paradise: Unique Lodging in Valencia, Madrid and Granada

    I figured that Escuela de Arroces Y Paella’s paella class would be like most cooking classes and confined to a kitchen but we actually started the class at the historic Mercado Central. The bustling market dates to the 1920s and is Spain’s largest fresh food market as well as one of the largest in Europe. I gaped at the soaring interior layout and the maze of over 450 stalls but Chef Beny expertly guided us along to select the ingredients for our paella. “This is one of the temples of Valencia,” he explained proudly.

    The aisles were filled with locals doing their daily shopping and it was easy to be distracted by all the fresh displays (I was very tempted by the luscious Valencia oranges) but we were there to check out the wide, green garrafon beans, rosemary, saffron, paprika, chicken, snails and rabbit!  I wasn’t too keen on the last two ingredients, although snails and rabbit are required for real Valenciana paella, Chef Beny graciously left them out for my serving.

    I learned that the size of the meat pieces are especially important since it takes two hours to properly cook paella. Generally, two pieces of each kind of meat is included per person and all the vendors instinctively knew the amount of ingredients needed for a paella.

    The saffron was next, and the chef explained that the expensive spice comes from the thread of the saffron flower and each flower only produces two or three threads. It takes thousands of flowers to produce an ounce of saffron. Lastly, we scooped up paprika from Murcia to add a sweet and smoky flavor. Traditionally, paella is cooked over an open fire using fresh orange wood, which lends the dish a wonderful smokiness but restaurants don’t allow that, so the paprika supplies the smokiness.

    We strolled out of the market and headed to the school a few blocks away to cook up our paella. Paella means “frying pan” in Spanish and the large, flat pans were set up for us in kitchen stations. Donning paper toques and aprons, we chopped and sliced the vegetables with Chef Beny checking to see that we made the right sized pieces. Pouring virgin olive oil into the pan, we stir fried the vegetables and meat pieces until they were nicely browned. Chef Beny instructed us to push all of the ingredients to the sides so they he could pour in the water for the rice. The rice is always short and paella should never be stirred or else you wind up with risotto.

    READ MORE: The Numerous Ninots at Valencia’s Fallas Museum

    While the paella cooked, we sipped Spanish wine and nibbled on traditional appetizers including croquetas and grilled vegetables. The school also serves as a restaurant so I was giddy when the patrons got a view of our perfectly golden paella. Authentic paella is eaten right out of the pan, with plates reserved only for bones. Savoring the intense flavors of the dish, I realized that I had never really experienced true paella and now that I had a five-hour up close connection, I was spoiled forever.

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Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Far-Sighted Field Notes

Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Rosalind Cummings-Yeates is a journalist, author and blogger who specializes in travel and culture topics. She loves guiding readers through the richness of various cultures and discovering the essence of a destination. Her travel and culture blog, Farsighted Fly Girl, offers travel insights through the music, food, art and history of various countries and cultures. Join her on the journey at www.Rosalindcummingsyeates.
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