June 22, 2010
I just spent a weekend in Sigüenza, a charming medeival town in northern Castilla La Mancha surrounded by incredible countryside and beautiful trails, not that the town´s tourist office has ever heard of them. There is also an incredibly restored castle that has been turned into a four star Parador, a national, publicly owned chain of hotels located in restored monasteries and other historic monuments. Unfortunately, the hotel staff at Sigüenza´s Parador had the personality of monuments - just as stiff and just as cold.
Fortunately, there were other more agreeable and delicious places to dine in Sigüenza, including Gurugú de la Plazuela, a lovely, family-owned restaurant that occupies a beautiful stone building on a corner overlooking a plaza, with the green hills of La Mancha just beyond. A specialty here are the wild mushrooms, of which there is an ample selection of around ten differnet varieties, each prepared in a way that best suits their individual characteristics, but mostly just sauteed with a little olive oil and garlic or onion. If you are less than fungally savvy, there is an option of trying three different kinds of mushrooms, selected by the friendly waiter´s aunt and uncle depending on the season. Another specialty is the rabo de toro, bull´s tail that is slowly cooked into a tender stew with red wine, carrots, onions, garlic and cloves, among other things. Unfortunately, I kept forgetting to take photos of my food before eating, all I ended up with was a photo of a plate with a pile of bones, a poor example of the deliciousness that was the dish.
Gurugú de la Plazuela
Travesaña Alta, 17 (Plazuela de la Cárcel)
June 1, 2010
There is some debate as to whether this delectableness was actually paella or arroz a banda, as the authentic Valencian rice-maker Boris would have us believe (similar to paella but only cooked with all of the delicious things, which are then removed before serving).
This debate became heated in nature only in that it took place under a hot Ibiza sun, and drawn out only by the copious glasses of wine and full bellies that had caused our brains to gloriously dim. As far as this article is concerned, I preferred to willingly accept the arroz a banda assertion, given that its author had just produced one of the most delicious rices that I have ever tasted.
The journey began on a surreal note when the DHL delivery man showed up with the perfect sized paella pan for 14 people. It seems they take their rices very seriously here.
Boris then spent the next hour sitting on a dusty driveway in front of an old stone shed, scrubbing out the pan with lemon juice while the occasional lagartito gracefully scurried past. The pan was finally positioned just right over a gas grill, which was moved, and then moved again, until ending up out of breeze's reach at the top of a staircase so that the gas flames would lick the pan uniformly and the rice cook evenly. I believe I was in the swimming pool while this went on, but please don´t tell the chef that.
The first step is to make the sofrito, sauteeing a head of garlic with some grated tomato, fresh diced sepia (squid), and whole, unpeeled langostinos (or shrimp if available). Then add the fish stock and a bit of sweet paprika (which shouldn't be burned or it turns bitter), saffron (either in threads or powder), and ñora, a type of pepper that has been dried in the sun. It must first be soaked and then opened, and the soft insides scraped away from the hard outer shell.
Then finally add the short-grained paella rice, which Boris poured in the form of a cross before spreading it out in all directions so as to achieve even disbursement. I have never had much of a hand with rice, either using too much or too little water, or making way to much or little for the quantity of hungry people, but he seems to be blessed with the opposite skills, and when the rice was cooked he served it to all 14 people, one at a time, and completely fearlessly - a Robin Hood of rice if you will. He tried to share some of this wisdom with me, and even told me how to measure the proportions, but I can't even trust myself to do the math. All I know is that 4 liters of stock and 2 kilos of rice, will serve 14 people the most delicious arroz a banda they have likely ever tried, especially when Boris is making it. The flavor was at once rich and delicate, the texture of the rice perfect, the chef delightfully calm, and the servings more than generous although I imagine we all would have gladly eaten more.
Serve with alioli, freshly squeezed lemons, and a beautiful wooden table, surrounded by lovely people and buganvilla - preferably in Ibiza.
(gracias a Juan por las fotos)