Sunday, 7 September 2008

Wind bound in Cala Prona


That day with the northerly Tramuntana pumping we knew we weren’t going anywhere. The people that I’d met on the small beach, Alex, Jaume, Carlos, Carmen and Ana called their respective workplaces or families to say that they were wind bound in Cala Prona.

As phones snapped shut the atmosphere in our little cove changed markedly. A Monday morning excuse had appeared, a perfect excuse, better than illness or vehicle problems, a legitimate reason to spend a relaxing day with friends in a beautiful cove; a day of beer and skittles on Fiddler’s Green. Though the only problem appeared to be a foreseeable shortage of beer around lunchtime. But fortunately OB’s stern locker had been restocked the day before in Cadaques. I had ten beers on board, a litre of wine and half a bottle of whiskey. They had a fridge. We were gong to be fine.

The wind had cleared the sky and we sat in the sun, sheltered from the breeze, chatting about boats and drinking beer. In preparing the trip I had allowed for a day of rest due to unfavourable weather and now, after five days of flat out cracking on I happily lay back on the shingle and gazed into the depths of blue above me.

Soon all thoughts turned to food. They had intended to cook paella the night before and had brought the sofregit (the all important base of slow cooked onion, garlic, tomato and in this case, being in the region of the Alt Empordà, sausage meat and rabbit) with them. They just lacked the fish ingredients.

The wind was fading, the grop had passed. A fishing trip was proposed and I eagerly joined Alex and Jaume in the launch. We drove out of the cove and round the rocks to a place where Jaume had fished since he was a boy and there we donned masks and snorkels and, diving into toothpaste blue waters, harvested mussels and crabs from the rocks. After half an hour we had two net bag’s full and returned to Cala Prona where preparations for the meal were underway.

It was the best paella I had ever eaten, the grop, the cove, the fishing and the company each adding a layer of priceless flavour.

A gust of wind woke me from a delicious siesta. The south easterly had returned. Alex, also rousing, went for a swim while I studied the sky and the sea. I could see Cap Cerbère clearly across nine miles of water. With my destination in sight and a favourable breeze I was overcome with perverse doubts about my ability to reach France. I knew, and my friends had confirmed, that days like these could be battles between northerly and southerly winds. Jaume had said that if clouds formed again bringing rain then the Tramuntana wouldn’t be far behind. But the south easterly, having been denied free reign all morning was blowing strongly—strongly enough, I hoped, to keep the Tramuntana at bay. But still I doubted.

Then Alex returned from his swim with a pair of sunglasses in his hand. ‘I found these on the sea floor. You lost yours. They’re a bit effeminate but you can have them.’ I tried them on. The lenses were dark, the fit was perfect and I could handle effeminate. I said my goodbyes untied OB and headed out for France.

4 comments:

alvaro said...

Ejem, ejem, sorry for this comment but I need to say it: true paella doesn't have onion

And nobody will convince me of another thing ;)

Ben said...

Hello Alvaro,
I’m reluctant to start a Paella discussion but, as I also have strong opinions on the subject, feel I have to say a few words.

Without wanting to sound like a pompous English pedant (but probably failing) I’d first question what is a ‘true’ paella. True is a tricky word in cuisine, in my experience (when talking about Spanish food) it usually refers to the version that the speaker ate as a child, or that his/her grandmother used to make. Many grandmothers are excellent cooks but too many also recommend that vegetables be cooked for 20 minutes and as such lose all credibility.

Many say that the Paella Valenciana is the only authentic paella but few agree on what exactly constitutes a Paella Valenciana. Valencian chef Llorenç Millo said ‘Paella has as many recipes as there are villages and nearly as many as there are cooks.’ And Colman Andrews editor of Saveur Magazine (Yes, I know he’s an American and as such, like me, can’t possibly know what he’s talking about.) spent three years studying the cuisine of the Països Catalans and went into this question in some depth finding that paella with rabbit and snails made the authentic dish. Llorenç Millo supports this view giving the recipe in his book la Taula i la Cuina (Diputació Provencial de Valencia 1984). The recipe features onion.

Most people, however, think of paella as being only a seafood dish and Millo’s recipe for Paella Valenciana de marisco (seafood) doesn’t include onion.

I would go on to say that Paella de Verduras, Arroz Negro and Arroz con Costra all do contain onion.

The term ‘paella’ in this blog post is used generically for the sake of simplicity. We didn’t in fact eat Paella Valenciana but Arròs a la Cassola, the excellent (and in my opinion superior) ampurdian rice dish, which does, depending on the chef, contain onion.

Un abrazo y buen provecho
Ben

alvaro said...

It was only a joke, it really doesn't matter for me. But I'm impressed! I can see you are very documented.

btw, a curiosity perhaps you don't know: formerly, the chicken was very expensive and only was used in the paella by rich people. Everybody could go to the mountain, hunt a rabbit and get some snails, so usually the paella was done using that ingredients.

There is an old Valencian story wich talks about it: a marriage who tries to deceive Jesus adding
chiken wings to a paella cooked with rabbit :)

Ben said...

And now rabbit is more expensive than chicken. As with many traditional dishes ingredients to hand formed the basis, but those ingredients are not so readily available now.

This is particularly true of dishes like suquet de peix, a simple meal cooked by fishermen onboard their boats using whatever they’d caught, is often one of the most expensive choices on today’s restaurant menus.

Dried and salted cod’s tripe (tripe de bacallà) and sea slugs (espardenyes) once, not surprisingly, considered unsaleable are now expensive delicacies. One traditional dish from the Delta del Ebro which luckily has not become popular or expensive is water rat paella. Another Delta speciality that still survives is moorhen paella, amusingly called paella de polla.