PAELLA, FROM VALENCIA TO RED BANK

paella 3Alberto Garcia working his paella pan. (Photo by Jim Willis. Click to enlarge)

By JIM WILLIS

morsels mediumIn a backyard in downtown Red Bank, Alberto Garcia watches over two fragrant pans of simmering paella, carefully bringing the saffron-seasoned rice, chicken and seafood to tender perfection.

Garcia, who hails from Madrid, tells PieHole he remembers first having paella when he was a young boy vacationing in Valencia, a beach town in Spain renowned for its food.


paella 1 PieHole samples a bit of the prized socarrat. (Photo by Jim Willis. Click to enlarge)

“It’s one of the main dishes in Valencia,” he says.  “In Valencia, they cook the paella many different ways. It’s always a rice dish, but you can have it with chorizo or seafood, or even vegetarian.”

He recalls an especially interesting paella made with just rice and black squid ink that he had in Madrid shortly after marrying his wife, Jennifer, originally from Colts Neck. The two returned in 2002 to Red Bank, where they now run a marketing company together.

Garcia says that he enjoys making the dish because he wants to show his friends and family “the real paella.”

“I make it here to bring back my own memories about where I came from, and to share my roots and culture with my friends and family,” says Garcia.

To accommodate the large-diameter, flat pan that gives the dish its name, Garcia cooks over a charcoal grill. This provides a more genuine flavor, he said. But he cautions novice paella makers that being able to control the intensity of the heat will make it easier to pull off a successful paella.

“In Valencia,” he says, “the authentic paella is made over a wood fire, and because you cannot control the heat of the fire so well, you will burn some small pieces on the bottom.”

The just-barely caramelized bits of rice called socarrat are a delicacy among paella aficionados. “That part is the best, because it is crispy and tasty,” says Garcia.

PieHole can attest to the deliciousness of Garcia’s paella. Like most foods that are cooked at home with passion and tradition, Garcia’s paella – with its scallops and shrimp, tender chicken and fragrant saffron –  was better than any we’ve had in a restaurant.