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Aløft

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Prepare to enter a picture of the countryside framed by note-perfect Australiana but painted in bold, elegant and unsentimental strokes. Over 10 or more courses, Dan Hunter celebrates his region with dishes that are formally daring (Crunchy prawn heads! Creamy oyster soft-serve! Sea urchin and chicory bread pudding!), yet rich in flavour and substance. The menu could benefit from an edit, but the plates are tightly composed - and what could you cut? Certainly not the limpid broth bathing fronds of abalone and calamari, nor the clever arrangement of lobster played off against charred waxy fingerlings under a swatch of milk skin. The adventure is significantly the richer for the cool gloss of the dining room, some of the most engaging service in the nation and wine pairings that roam with an easy-going confidence. Maturing and relaxing without surrendering a drop of its ambition, Brae is more compelling than ever.

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Panning for gold


You'll need

2 litres (8 cups) chicken stock 2 tsp saffron threads, toasted 2 tbsp olive oil 1.4 kg corn-fed chicken or farmed white rabbit, cut into 8 pieces 2 chorizo, cut into 2cm pieces 2 onions, finely chopped 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced 1 red capsicum, thinly sliced 6 vine-ripened tomatoes, peeled, seeded and finely chopped 400 gm (2 cups) Calasparra rice (see note) 2 tsp Spanish smoked sweet paprika 1 tbsp rosemary leaves, coarsely chopped 300 gm podded green peas 300 gm baby green beans, trimmed

Method

  • 01
  • Combine chicken stock and saffron in a large saucepan and bring to the boil, then simmer over medium-high heat for 5 minutes or until saffron has infused and coloured the stock.
  • 02
  • Heat olive oil in a 38cm caldero (paella pan) or frying pan, add chicken and chorizo and cook, turning occasionally, over medium-high heat for 5 minutes or until golden, then remove from pan.
  • 03
  • Add onion, garlic and capsicum and cook, stirring continuously, over medium heat for 5 minutes or until golden. Add tomato, cook for 3 minutes or until liquid evaporates, return chicken and chorizo to pan and pour over stock. Bring to the boil and cook for 10 minutes or until chicken is almost cooked through.
  • 04
  • Add rice, paprika and rosemary, then season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook over medium heat, without stirring, for 5 minutes, then scatter with peas and beans and cook for another 15 minutes or until rice is tender and stock is absorbed. Stand for 10 minutes before serving.
Note Calasparra rice is a short-grain Spanish rice available from Simon Johnson and Spanish delicatessens.

Spain’s most famous food export, paella, has reached the four corners of the globe, but sadly bears little resemblance to its original form. The original paella would never have included a combination of meat and seafood, let alone peas, red capsicum or chorizo. This modern interpretation would be unrecognisable in the dish’s birthplace, Albufera, a lakeside region south of Valencia. Here, it was more likely to include hunks of rabbit or chicken and a handful of seasonal vegetables – broad green or pale yellow beans, tomato, saffron and onion. It was just as likely to include snails, said to deliver a hint of the rosemary which formed the basis of their diet.

Paella is all about simplicity: it is not a dumping ground of ingredients. It is, above all, a rice dish, and it’s the quality of the rice that must shine. The only exception is fideuá, a paella made with fideus noodles, similar to vermicelli pasta, rumoured to have been created by fishermen at sea without access to rice. A true paella calls for a short-grain rice, which has the ability to absorb cooking liquid and form a crust while retaining its shape. Calasparra is the most common paella variety available here.

As with all classics, paella varies from village to village and even from household to household. Some say true paella Valenciana must be cooked outside over a fire made of orange branches, dished up with a boxwood spoon and eaten only at midday. In his book, Catalan Cuisine, Colman Andrews goes one further and writes that for men cooking and sharing paella, the only acceptable topics of conversation are “women, bullfighting and crops”.

Andrews gives three rules to follow when making a paella: never stir it once the rice has been added and never add more liquid than is called for (if the paella is drying out too quickly, reduce the heat; if it’s too soupy, increase the heat). Lastly, always let the paella rest for five to 10 minutes before serving.

Paella should only ever be cooked over the stove, never in the oven, and is eaten straight from the pan, making it the perfect communal dish. While it can be made in a frying pan, it’s a good idea to invest in a caldero, or paella pan. Its shape gives the largest possible surface area to create the highly prized crust, or socarrat, on the base. Calderos are made from iron and should be seasoned like a wok; rubbed with oil and cooked over high heat until black, then wiped out with a cloth or paper towel to remove any residue until the pan wipes clean. To prevent rust developing, always wash the pan with warm water, dry it thoroughly and rub it with oil before storage. The enamel version won’t require this level of care but produces an inferior crust.

Next time you set out to make a closer-to-authentic, rustic paella, forget the shellfish, and let the hearty flavours of saffron, meats and seasonal vegetables sing.


At A Glance

  • Serves 8 people
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At A Glance

  • Serves 8 people

Additional Notes

WHERE TO BUY PAELLA PANS

Casa Iberica
Stop here for all your Calasparra rice, jamón and chorizo needs. 25 Johnston St, Fitzroy, Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9419 4420.

Torres Cellars and Delicatessen
Stocked to the rafters with Iberian meats, cheeses, wines and perfume. 75 Liverpool St, Sydney, NSW, (02) 9264 6862, www.torresdeli.com.au.

Pennisi Distributors
Pick up paella pans and burners so you can cook it outdoors the traditional way. Also stocks Manchego, chorizo, Spanish drygoods and sweets such as turrón. 17 Balaclava St, Woolloongabba, Qld, (07) 3891 7643.

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