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Jul 23 2018

Spanish Rice: The Secret Is In The Grain

Rice comes in ever more varieties and the market is doing its very best to bring them to consumers. Rice, in all its different varieties, is seeing a revival.

 Spanish rice

Text: Ana Montes /©Gourmets Magazine

Traditional, varied, creative and highly appreciated, rice grains (home grown or from other climes) are always welcome. Rice dishes are becoming more popular on menus, there are myriad different varieties in the stores and numerous recipes available because, as adepts of the culinary arts know well, rice “goes with everything”. It is unanimous: rice is in fashion and is making a comeback. Paella is now partnered by creamy rice, soupy rice dishes and risottos, and, it must be said, few of these dishes are cooked slowly any more, as the rice is toasted in butter to combine flavors.

Signature creamy rice

We are particularly taken with creamy rice that is even served at the bar of establishments such as Tablafina in the NH Nacional Hotel in Madrid where Jesualdo Bermejo serves one dish with vegetables, wild mushrooms and oxtail. At Florida Retiro restaurant in Madrid, chef Joaquín Felipe serves his Iberian game creamy rice with Mahón cheese pomade, which, he insists, is a classic. For many chefs, the best signature rice dishes are creamy rice dishes because they allow more aromas and products to be included and are less time- and measure-dependent than high-precision dry rice dishes. Although the secret of a good rice dish is a good broth.

Stocks, broths and sauces

Spanish rice fields in the Delta del Ebro

Raimon Moreno (El Almacén, Valencia) teaches techniques for cooking rice stocks at Food & Fun, the Valencian school that also teaches local students. “Cooking with a pressure cooker on a low heat and three basic stocks (roast chicken wings and breast, meat and fish) gives us infinite possibilities to strengthen flavors alternating between whole pieces of meat or poultry and chopped pieces (except for vegetables that must always be chopped) and roasting or pan-cooking the meat, bones or scraps we will use for the stock, before bringing to the boil, and continuing to cook slowly”.

This time-saving technique does not replace the traditional stock simmered in a pan for many hours, explains this disciple of Michelin-starred chef Ricard Camarena, whose book “Caldos” (Ed. Montagud) unlocks the flavors of a good stock.

Our experts consider the produce in Spain, where new varieties of rice have been developed, such as Valencian "Albufera" rice, with designations of origin like Calasparra and Valencia rice, a cross between the round-grain and Senia variety that soaks up the flavor. There are many ideas coming through, such as flavoring round-grain Delta del Ebro rice like Carpier with barbecue smoke, or the rice grown in Madrid used by Chef Jesús Almagro flavored with beech wood smoke and mixed with mojama fish roe, beetroot and parmesan.
 

Authentic grains
 

Spanish rice

According to José Torregrosa, rice selector for Casa Ruiz (Hermosilla, 88, Madrid) who stocks as many as 16 varieties in his four bulk grocery stores, “there are many types of treated rice coming onto the market that have little value and do not cook well”. Round-grain and wholegrain rice (including black rice) are most in demand. 

But more than the grain being "whole", for many experts it is more important that it is organic: i.e. not treated with pesticides, herbicides or nitrates as the water where the rice is grown determines its purity and nutrients (such as Riet Vell, grown clean in the Delta del Ebro national park).

They also think that wholegrain rice is being grown for a purpose it cannot achieve: as a replacement for paella rice, when its husk stops flavors from being absorbed like round-grain rice does.  These “other paellas” can be cooked with the round wholegrain rice used by Néstor Calvo, who runs a course on wholegrain rice at La Magdalena de Proust (Regueros, 8, Madrid). To make these paellas tastier he proposes lightly frying the uncooked rice with garlic to seal it after soaking for 20 minutes. For other these of rice ”it is best to season the cooking water with thyme, rosemary, cinnamon, cardamom and other herbs like oregano to infuse the grains with more flavor".

Article originally published on Club de Gourmets Magazine

It is unanimous: rice is in fashion and is making a comeback. Paella is now partnered by creamy rice, soupy rice dishes and risottos, and, it must be said, few of these dishes are cooked slowly any more, as the rice is toasted in butter to combine flavors.
 

Ana Montes/©Gourmets Magazine
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