Paella & Co.

Yesterday’s meal came with a question–”Con or sin bicho?” (“With or without a critter?”)

Tradition dictates that the end-of-course dinner at Gómez-Moreno is a paella-barbecue combo, and this year was no different. After attending last year’s fiesta, I knew I didn’t want to miss out; making paella is an excuse to socialize and relax after the hecticness of the school year.

Even though the poster invited us to come at 1:30 p.m., I arrived at 2 to find that the paella was still in the sofrito stage. After sauteing peppers, onions, and garlic in olive oil (aka sofrito), the rice and water are carefully added. It took quite a while for the rice to absorb all the water, but nobody minded the slow process. The teachers, having turned in their grades the previous day, were the most care-free I’d seen them in weeks.

Each year the paella-making baton is passed to a new teacher. This year’s chef added a black, soupy ingredient to the mix–can you guess what it was?

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Adding salt (no, that’s not the secret ingredient)

While waiting for the main event to heat up, we had an aperitif with staples like cheese, ham, olives, and potato chips. Barbecued meat was also served, including mini-hamburgers, chorizo, and kebab skewers with meat and vegetables. Where’s the sauce, you ask? You may be surprised to find that Spanish barbecues don’t include barbecue sauce.

Dry rub, what?!

A little after 3 we gathered in the library to see if this year’s chef was worth her salt. There are endless recipes for paella; this one contained shrimp, prawns, and bits of squid. Have you guessed what that dark ingredient was? It was squid ink, which, interestingly enough, comes frozen in plastic bags.

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Dinner is served! There were actually two paelleras, or paella dishes, of this size, which meant plenty of leftovers.

Many of the teachers asked me if I had tried tinta before–I hadn’t. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the taste of the ink wasn’t overpowering. In fact, I enjoyed it and will definitely have it again.

I also had a few questions for the teachers. First, I asked why there were so many containers of ali-oli scattered around the tables. What the heck were we supposed to put it on? It turns out that ali-oli, a sort of garlic mayonnaise, is often mixed in inky paella dishes. Half of the teachers swore by the stuff and the other half claimed that pure paella is best.

My last question was, “Is it typical to have paella and barbecue at the same time?” Even last year, this combination struck me as odd. The profes grinned and said, Nope, not at all, only at Gómez-Moreno.

Ah, the paella-barbecue anomaly–yet another reason I will miss my school and its quirks.

What’s your take on squid ink, have you tried it? If you haven’t, do you dare?

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