The forecast today was for showers and there was a little rain overnight, but the day was fine.
The search for a great breakfast place in Seville continues without success. We have not found a go-to place in the years we have been visiting. The place that came closest—with its English Breakfast for Patricia—has gone out of business since our last visit 2 years ago. But there are literally dozens of small places within walking distance, so we will keep trying. We tried Luca’s City Cafe this morning and, while it was OK, it wasn’t a keeper. One of the things that the breakfast places have in common is that they all serve fresh-squeezed orange juice. Everyplace we go in Spain the OJ is so good in the restaurants that there is no point in buying it in the stores. Maybe we’ll look for a place that serves churros tomorrow.
And since we are talking about food, let’s talk about our big event for this Monday: Patricia and I took a cooking class. I can almost hear some of you thinking “Steven? Cooking class?” but we agreed I would go with her.
We had a 20 minute walk through a number of small back streets to get to our class. The majority of the streets in this area could be classified as “small back streets” but that doesn’t slow down the cars, motorcycles, scooters, and bicycles that have little or no regard for pedestrians. On the way I saw what I thought was an unusual front to a church.
I arranged the class through airbnb, which now offers what they call “experiences.” This qualified. The course was taught in the Mercado de Abastos in Triana. “Abastos” are stalls where the usual kinds of fresh foods are found. There are more than 70 stalls at this market selling fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, flowers (OK, not a food), and wine (a food according to some). The market is right next to the Guadalquivir river where, many years ago, fishermen held a day market to sell the day’s catch. Gradually that turned into a permanent market and in the 1980s the new Triana Market, which is enclosed and covered, is a very busy place. It is busy not only with local shoppers and suppliers, but also with visitors (tourists) who clog up the aisles. A useful phrase to know is “Estoy buscando” (I am looking) to ward off stall keepers who want to sell you something.
Inside the mercado is a cooking school called Taller Andaluz de Cocina (“Andalucía Cooking Shop” more or less). Today’s class was full with 15 students, mostly couples. The 3.5 hour class was given in English although a little Spanish was tossed around. The class began with a 45 minute walk through the market where our guide, Inez, stopped at several of the stalls to talk about locally produced food. I really didn’t grasp how varied the agriculture of Andalucía is until today. We learned about fruits and vegetables, legumes, cheeses (is cheese part of agriculture?), meats and so on? Did you know that the shape of a Spanish sausage tells you whether it is cured (straight shape) or un-cured (crudo, raw). I didn’t until today. We even talked about some of the spices that are produced in the area. There are, of course, product from other parts of Spain, but the focus at this market is on southern Spain. Because it was Monday, the fish stalls were closed: no fresh fish to sell.
Teaching 15 people how to cook new dishes must be a challenge, but Victor Dominic (“Dom”) did a great job. Each of us had a work area at a long table with room for 8 “stations” on each side with a large stove in the middle. Knives, cutting boards, and utensils were in place and cleaned and restocked as needed. The ingredients for the first 2 parts of our Spanish meal were laid out before us: bread, tomatoes, garlic, salt, olive oil, paprika, spinach, eggs, and garbanzo beans (chickpeas). Our first two dishes were salmorejo (a cold tomato soup) and a cooked spinach and garbanzo concoction. Once completed this dishes were set aside and the main dish preparation began.
The main course was paella. We got good instruction on what paella was and where it came from originally—Valencia. We learned that “authentic” paella does not ever, ever, ever contain seafood. Dom was emphatic about this. However, I was surprised to learn that authentic paella (pie-a-ya) can include escargot. The meats can include chicken, rabbit, and duck. We used chicken. We learned how to prep the ingredients and then how to heat the large pan (from which paella gets its name). Managing the heat seems to be the name of the game in making paella. Dom showed us how to cut up the chicken. I didn’t try it, but Patricia says she learned something about how to cut up the drumstick.
Then, the ingredients have to go in in a certain order and be kept in the right part of the pan to maintain proper cooking temperature. The chicken bones had been used to make stock and the stock has to be introduced into the pan at just the right rate. [“Just the right rate” and “just the right amount” seem to be cooking terms for “I don’t know. Just watch and learn.”]
Now comes the critical part. The short grained rice that is used is measured in an interesting process. The amount used depends critically on the diameter of the pan. So the hueuristic (rule of thumb) is that you pour the rice in a band as wide as a ribbon from one side of the pan to another. Then you stir once, and only once, so the rice spreads out to cover the bottom of the pan. It takes 18 minutes (not “about” 18 minutes, either) to finish cooking with applications of stock as needed so that the rice “sings” in the last 2 minutes.
The paella is tested 3 ways. First, one tips the pan at a 45 degree angle. If the liquid has been reduced enough and the rice has browned and stuck to the bottom of the pan (not burned, of course) the paella will remain in place. Second, when the rice and ingredients are turned over in the pan, the rice should browned and a little crusty. That is called ¨socarrat¨and means caramelized and toasted. Third, you taste it.
And now you know why I don’t cook very often: much of the process seems to rely on—surprise—knowing what you are doing and being willing to experiment. I’m happier adding exactly this amount and cooking at precisely this temperature for exactly this long.
Now it was time to actually try our meal. Not everyone had tried the dishes before and some of the tastes are acquired. Not everyone liked the salmorejo or the spinach/garbanzo tapa. There seemed to be general agreement that the paella was pretty good. While we were eating, Dom prepared our desert. He mixed spearmint, lemon sorbet, and sparkling wine (cava) in a blender to a nice smooth consistency. Desert was pretty good too.
We met interesting people taking the class. Americans, English, and even a man from Japan who is a waiter in a Spanish restaurant there. For me, the day was a success.
We chose to stay in tonight. We decided that we could get by with chocolate and cookies.