Paella reaches its zen, its apotheosis, its perfect togetherness when the stock has just been absorbed; when the edge begins to crisp; when the rice (still al dente) forms a layer golden with saffron and variously embedded with vegetables, seafood and meat.
Paella, the pride of the Valencia region of Spain, also ranks among the globe’s greatest dishes. And among the trickiest to prepare at home. Paella is finicky; it’s the pinot noir of the pan.
But on March 27, to celebrate National Paella Day, chef John Simmons is leading a virtual paella class in which folks purchase a paella kit in advance, then prepare the dish in their kitchens. The kit contains all ingredients and equipment, including a proper paella pan.
Simmons, chef-owner of the Firefly tapas restaurants, plans to open a third Firefly in 2023 in northwest Vegas, 20 years after he debuted the first Firefly on Paradise Road.
But back to the paella class, which grew out of efforts to keep his restaurants in business during the pandemic.
“Over COVID, I did a few of these demo things to get sales through,” Simmons said. “To keep people interested in the restaurant, to keep the cooks working, to keep the engine moving.”
Saving on shopping
Before cooking even starts, paella presents challenges for home cooks because special equipment and ingredients are required, including the classic pan (wide, shallow, two-handled), thirsty Valencia rice (to soak up the stock), Bilbao sausage spiked with paprika, the right chilis and pricey saffron.
“You can’t just use a sauté pan with the rounded edges,” Simmons said. “You could use arborio rice instead of Valencia rice, but it’s not the same. If you went and bought all these ingredients individually, it would cost three times as much (as the kit).
“When you have the pan and the rice and you learn how to make paella, now you can make paella forever. It’s like selling someone a fish or teaching them to fish. “
At first, paella deceives. It seems the Valencia rice will never absorb all the stock called for. But the rice does so easily while also holding its shape.
Paella isn’t risotto; you don’t stir it. Refraining from stirring, Simmons said, helps produce soccarata delicate crisp layer of rice in the bottom of the pan that is essential to paella.
“The hardest thing is, there’s not a set recipe. Absorption differs. There are different evaporation rates, ”he said. “Paella must be nurtured.”
Although the chef is demonstrating traditional paella using traditional ingredients in the class, the dish won’t be completely classic, he said. For one, his version includes ground Mexican-style chorizo “that gives up all that orange spicy grease that infuses into the rice.”
What to do with leftovers
The $ 95 paella kits must be ordered by March 25 and picked up March 27 at the Buffalo Drive Firefly. For the class, participants also can purchase Firefly tapas and Firefly sangria, which is made in white, red and Cava styles using fresh fruits macerated for three days in the Firefly sangria room.
The kits yield enough paella to serve four hungry people, Simmons said. “And then you have leftovers. The next morning, you can make paella patties and pan-fry them for breakfast. It’s the best thing in the world. “
Contact Johnathan L. Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-848-0979. Follow @ItsJLW on Twitter.