Park City Home: 10 Tips for a Spanish Celebration
Make paella the star of your dinner party and soak up the applause
As spring creeps slowly onward, you might want to speed up its arrival with an evening in Spain. There’s nothing like a glass of rioja and a saffron platter of paella to conjure the whitewashed walls and orange blossoms of Barcelona.
Barcelona-born Oscar Cabezas guides us on this virtual journey. Chef Oscar heads the teams at four acclaimed Telefèric Barcelona restaurants, including the legendary original in his Catalonian hometown, and a pair of booming California spots in Walnut Creek and Palo Alto. As paella is the Telefèric group’s calling card, Cabezas shared his tips for creating a party starring Spain’s national dish. There’s only one thing left to say: “¡Ole!”
1 Commit to your theme
Theming an entire party around an entrée is an unusual plan, but in the case of paella, it makes sense. “Paella for us is a very iconic plate that represents the way we like to socialize: eating and being surrounded by friends and family,” says Cabezas. Traditionally made with seafood, meat, rice, and fragrant stock, it’s served family-style from the pan in which it’s cooked, which is also called a paella. Cabezas can’t imagine a better dish for a celebration. “It’s Spanish, it’s social, and who doesn’t like rice?”
2 Don’t skimp
Cabezas maintains that paella is a versatile dish that can be prepared at any time of year, as long as you choose the right ingredients. That starts with a short-grain rice such as bomba (if you can’t find it locally, order it online). Next, use the best seafood, poultry, or beef available. The vegetables and spices used to create the sofrito are equally important. The stock, he says “is the information you give the rice. It’s rich stuff.” While the Telefèric restaurants make theirs from scratch, the chef says home cooks can keep it practical with a packaged stock, as long as they enhance it. “My mom always uses premade stocks, but she knows how to fix it, using tomato paste, rosemary, thyme, and saffron.” The correct ratio, he says, is two-parts stock to one-part rice.
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3 Buy a paella pan
If you’re going to go to the trouble of making paella, invest in a paella pan. Cabezas is a big believer in creativity in the kitchen, but says this is one place you can’t wing it. “The material is iron, and becomes conditioned as we cook in it. It spreads the heat in a very uniform way. I’ve tried using a cast iron skillet and it just doesn’t work.” You’ll need the right heat source for that pan as well, to prevent the rice from burning. If your stovetop burners aren’t large enough, an outdoor grill will work.
4 Keep your numbers in check
For home cooks, the size of the pan and the heat source will dictate how large a group you can feed. Cabezas says paella for six is a doable number – any larger and you may end up burning the rice.
5 Go rogue
While traditional paella incorporates seafood, poultry, and meat, it’s just a starting point. Telefèric’s most famous dish is an indulgent lobster paella. In a pinch, Cabezas produced a decent paella at home with miso soup. You could even go vegetarian, as long as you use vegetables that will hold up to 30 minutes in boiling broth. “Green beans, cauliflower, and coarse red bell peppers – plus tomato of course – work well.” Avoid veggies like quick-cooking snowpeas and ones that turn mushy, like eggplant.
6 Start with a pintxo
Pintxos or tapas are usually eaten in street bars, an excuse to have a drink and a bite with friends. For a party at home, Cabezas suggests serving two tiny tastes that will create an appetite: patatas bravas (fried potatoes with a spicy sauce) and the famous pintxo Gilda, a skewer of anchovy, olive, and Basque pepper, which Cabezas almost hums when describing as “a little bit of spice, a little salt, a little vinegar.”
7 Match your wine to the dish
Although sangria is often considered the go-to drink for paella, Cabezas says that it’s primarily a summer beverage. Instead, he uses the dish’s main ingredient as his wine guide. For seafood paella, something with a little acidity and perhaps a green apple note. For meats, rioja or ribera. And with vegetarian, he likes a Fino sherry. Regardless of what you pour, the toast is the same: “¡Salut!”
8 Finish strong
The classic end to a paella feast is churros, but Cabezas says that deep-frying pastry at home isn’t anyone’s idea of a relaxed evening. He suggests thinking about torrijas — Spanish French toast — which you can make a day or more ahead of time. Or take it easy and scoop up some dulce de leche ice cream. You won’t hear any complaints.
9 Set the mood with music
As a jazz fan, Cabezas says Miles Davis’s “Sketches from Spain” is a favorite recording, with lots of flamenco influence. And he loves hometown girl Rosalía’s contemporary blend of flamenco, pop, and R&B.
10 Bring on the beach
There’s a saying in Barcelona, “If the sea doesn’t come to me, I’m going to the sea.” With that in mind, Cabezas loves the idea of creating a seaside atmosphere by laying down plastic sheets and bringing in sand, candles, and seashells. Messy? Without a doubt. Memorable? Ditto. “When we create food, when we create a party, we want everyone to talk about it, we want everyone to remember.”
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