Saturday, April 19, 2014
It's just rice
So there's a restaurant in Pinoso that's quite famous and it's famous for the local rice dish. I worked for a couple of years in a street very close to the restaurant. Time after time some big Audi or Porsche or Bentley would pull up alongside me, roll down the window and ask politely for the restaurant. My reply was word perfect I'd done it so often
This well known Pinoso restaurant is renowned amongst the locals for the unpleasantness of its owner and the outrageous price of its food. After all it's just rice. I've heard that said by Britons and Spaniards alike. I've never been. Too expensive for my wallet.
I need to take a moment here to make sure you're OK on this rice/arroz concept. Paella and rice are virtually synonymous. The big flat pan that rice is cooked in is called a paella and so the food cooked in it came to be called paella. In reality though paella/rice can vary significantly from the original Vesta recipe. In Valencia paellas seem to have a lot of seafood, chicken and veg. There's a rice, traditionally for Fridays, to comply with the once common "no meat on Friday" of good Catholics. It's made with cod and cauliflower. The rice cooked in fish stock has lots of names - in Cartagena it's called caldero. Down in Elche I think arroz con costra has loads of sausages and maybe chickpeas as well as the rice and the whole is topped off with an egg crust. Arroz negro is coloured with cuttlefish or squid ink. In Albacete they seem to like quite gooey rice, arroz meloso. And so it goes on. And on.
So around Pinoso our rice is thin, quite dry and with rabbit and snails. With my mum being here we've been to a lot of restaurants. Most of them cheap and cheerful. She wanted something better when we were in Culebrón. I took her and her pal Sheila to a restaurant called Elías in Chinorlet village very close to our house. Our welcome was very iffy and we were finally given a terrible table but once we were under way the service was excellent and the food a revelation.
Good wine is wasted on me. I'm of the "I like what I like" school. It's normally the same with food. But as I tucked into the traditional all i oli and tomato paste on toast I wondered if I could ever eat the normal supermarket all i oli again. I'd seen the cooks preparing it (If you don't know what all i oli is think of it as garlic mayonnaise) in the glass fronted kitchen as we waited for a table and I thought the whole rigmarole of rice cooking over wooden twigs and garlic being ground in a pestle and mortar was a bit pretentious. I have to admit though that it tasted fabulous. When the rice came it looked just as usual - not like the stuff you get in a ten Euro menú place - like the stuff from a decent mid range restaurant. It didn't taste like it though. I could actually taste the wood smoke that they go on about, the mix of tastes was just right, the rabbit and the snails (hunted not reared - yes they breed snails too!) were, well, just right too. It was a taste experience, a revelation. I now understand all the fuss about paella being the pièce de résistance of Spanish cuisine. Even my mum, who had suddenly declared that she didn't like rice after we had ordered the food but before it came, was won over.
Pinoso featured on a TV programme about the rice and other local foods in a programme called "Cooks without Stars." The man talking about Fondillon wine is Roberto from Culebrón. What a media star.