On Thursday 17 September, National Geographic Traveller teamed up with the Spanish Tourist Office to host Culture and Cuisine of Valencia, an online Travel Geeks focusing on the southern Spanish region — home to extraordinary architecture and a stunning coastline, and the birthplace of Spain’s most famous dish, paella. The panel of four experts included managing director of Ibérica restaurants, Marcos Fernandez; travel writer and Valencian resident Sarah Gordon; group head chef at Arros QD Richard De La Cruz; and Eva Fernandez from Visit Valencia. They shared their experiences of paella, the best attractions and insider tips to give the audience at home inspiration to plan a trip to Valencia.
Around the fire
The wood for the fire used to cook paella is considered an essential ingredient in the dish, said Richard De La Cruz. Whether pine or orange wood, the aroma and extracts are important to the flavour.
The definitive dish
There are hundreds of ‘true’ paella recipes, explained Richard De La Cruz. “In every small village, in every small town in Valencia, there will be a particular ingredient they use, and it’s all called paella.” Normally, though, what’s known as paella Valenciana typically contains chicken, rabbit, snails, artichoke and garrofon (similar to butter beans)
“I can tell you what paella isn’t,” said Marcos Fernandez. “It isn’t voluminous, it isn’t fluffy, it isn’t saffron coloured and it isn’t brimming generously with seafood. Paella is a dry rice dish, leaving space for the stock to evaporate and assimilate, and you need it to dry out. In Spain, we’ve been serving thickened wet rice dishes to tourists for far too long and therefore there’s a massive misconception of what paella is.”
Stock in trade
What goes in that precious stock was the subject of much discussion. “What you see in a paella is about a third of the ingredients,” explained Marcos. “What you don’t see is what you’ve used to make the stock.” Cutting corners and using stock cubes was not recommended: Richard De La Cruz’s version includes a veal and herb stock.
The panel all confirmed paella’s reputation as a social dish. “Whenever we need to celebrate anything, we always cook the paella,” said Eva Fernandez. “And we usually share it with friends, with family. Even the cooking process is part of the celebration — that’s part of the ceremony, cooking it and sharing it.” Sarah Gordon shared her experience of moving to Valencia and enjoying the dish with newfound friends. “If you’re meeting up on Sunday for lunch, you’re having rice. It comes out on a huge paella dish and it’s a huge shared experience.”
Watch the full discussion
If your destination or company would be interested in partnering on a future online Travel Geeks event, we’d love to discuss any ideas you might have, or help you come up with the best ways to work with us. Contact [email protected] or call 020 7253 9909.