Ah, to be a student again, gathering knowledge like so many smooth seeds, ready to blossom at home.
When it’s a cooking class, the only homework is a trip to the market; the only exam, a take-home taste test.
This past spring, Barcelona launched a series of classes breaking down the how-tos of everything from Cornish game hens to the German Village spot’s signature dish, Paella. Led by Executive Chef Jacob Hough and pastry chef Stephanie Kincaid, with a rotating cast of sous chefs, the classes are set up like a theatre production, with Chef and company taking center stage and participants set up in a half moon of white-table-clothed community tables. Props include a large gilded mirror set up behind the team so the audience can see all the quick-as-lightening knife work and bubbling pans. Each class features a three-course meal, each paired with an appropriate wine.
Part demonstration, part feasting, the class is also a mini-history lesson and a treasure trove of tips. Hough explains to the class, who is busy mooning over a small plate of lemon-fried Brussels sprouts, that paella was originally a dish for the “less fortunate.”
“In Valencia, it was cooked over camp fires on thin pans using whatever vegetables and seafood – such as snails – that could be found.”
Participation is encouraged and the professionals and amateurs trade tips back and forth like trading cards. During the Brussels sprouts demonstration, a diner piped up, “Have you ever soaked your Brussels in buttermilk? It makes them more tender.” Twenty-five heads bow as notes are scribbled in the little recipe chapbook provided.
During the paella spot, Hough instructs that the chorizo be marinated in a quick mixture of red wine, brown sugar, and Spanish paprika to soften the edges of its inherent heat. He also gave a quick primer on “socarrat,” a complex term for the simple crust of crunchy rice that forms at the bottom of a pan of paella. Paella traditionally is served with said crusty bottom layer, he said, but Americans assume this means the dish is burnt because our taste buds aren’t accustomed to the flavor. The lesson is to trust in the socarrat, as it is an important part of the paella experience, adding a texture curveball and making the dish more interesting as a whole.
Classmates sip the carefully chosen wine as the night simmers on. Hough walks around, giving everyone a close-up look at the various steps of each dish. The smells of sweating onions and peppers dance in the air, the snap and crackle of meats hitting a hot pan echo, and the communal experience of learning and eating together hits its crescendo as strangers marvel and munch.
Chef explains that in Spain, paella is cooked in huge shallow, thin pans and lines are etched on its surface. Diners are then quick to claim their “section” of the dish. When finishing, Hough carefully places the clams and mussels, shells open in wide grins, and lays the piquillo peppers like lattice work, calling this attention to detail, “the fashion show of paella.” •
Makes one individual serving using a small paella pan, multiply the ingredients and pan size to make as many servings as needed.
5 oz. diced boneless
3 oz. ground chorizo
2 oz. sofrito
2 oz. roasted piquillo peppers
1 oz. peas
1 cup water
1/4 cup calasparra rice
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Add rice to a paella pan with a splash of vegetable oil and toast lightly over medium heat. Add sofrito, water, and chicken to the pan.
At this point, Hough noted, stir the paella one time. Although it goes against our collective common sense, letting the rice cook in this manner allows for the socarrat effect to take place. Also, paella is one of the most personalized dishes around, so home cooks can add or take away any of the proteins, or go all veg if that’s a thing.
Simmer until the water is almost gone. Add seafood, peas, and peppers. Place in oven for 10 minutes until all ingredients are cooked through.
1/4 Spanish onion, diced
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
1 green bell pepper,
seeded and diced
1 poblano pepper,
seeded and diced
1 tsp garlic, chopped
1 tbsp salt
1 1/2 tsp black pepper
1 pinch saffron
2 cans diced tomatoes
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 tsp jalapeno powder
1/4 tsp serrano powder
1 tsp Spanish paprika
1 tsp smoked paprika
50/50 vegetable/Spanish olive oil blend
Sofrito, Hough explained, is one of the mother sauces of Spanish cuisine and can be used to flavor practically anything, added flair to chicken, eggs, or veggies. Also, prior to starting the sofrito, steep the saffron threads in a bit of white wine. This helps to break down the expensive spice so all its flavor can be unleashed into the sauce.
Slowly cook the onion, jalapeno, bell peppers, and poblano in oil over medium heat until lightly caramelized, approximately 20-25 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer for 30 minutes. Using an immersion blender, puree until smooth.
To indulge both your inner chef and lifelong learner, Barcelona will host its next batch of classes this fall. Follow the restaurant on Facebook to keep in the know.