PETER FROST cooks up his signature dish.
One of the real joys of travelling abroad is local food and local dishes. Ann and I discovered paella more than thirty years ago in the restaurants and seaside campsite food stalls of the Spanish Costa’s.
We bought a proper paella pan that would fit on our gas barbecue in the market in Valencia and whenever we are in Spain we top up with mixed paella spice and good virgin olive oil.
We had our share of surprises and discoveries. At a local paella competition in the Spanish mountains we found families cooking up their prize winning recipes with just peas and rice – no fish, no meat at all.
Rabbit we discovered is a traditional ingredient for some paella enthusiasts but as we learnt more and more, we realised your personal paella comes from picking the ingredients that you like best and in the quantities that best match your tastes.
As we motor caravan around the coast of Britain we find local shellfish is our favourite starting point. We choose from mussels, cockles, clams, shrimps, prawns and crab claws. We love squid, and usually add some white fish both un-smoked and smoked but never dyed. We buy whatever is local, fresh and cheap. We always try to buy it from the people who catch it.
As for quantities, we allow about half a pound (250 grams) of meat and fish per person a little more if heavy shells are involved. We buy chicken wings or some small joints of rabbit and add some spicy chorizo sausage unless we are feeding friends who eat fish but not meat.
We could use saffron but frankly it’s too expensive even in the Essex town of Saffron Walden that got its name from growing this most expensive of spices. We cheat, and if you read our boxed story you’ll find out how.
Back in 2003 the BBC programme The Nation’s Favourite Food made a feature about us and our campsite paella. They filmed us in January cooking it for campers at the Hertford Camping Club site and the friends still tell us the item is still being broadcast.
We are still cooking and eating our paella. We cook it for two or for twenty. Most often it’s our contribution to a communal barbecue. It isn’t really a recipe it’s more a way of life.
The way to cheat – just a little.
If the cost of real saffron and all the trouble of the real Spanish recipe causes you worry – as it does us – then here is a really easy way to make our good and easy camper’s paella.
Quickly fry your chicken wings or rabbit joints in good virgin olive oil in your Paella dish or a deep frying pan or wok. When they are brown add a selection of fresh local mussels, cockles, clams, prawns, squid, smoked and un-smoked white fish. Add a good sprinkling of paella seasoning – or hot, but not smoked paprika, some garlic if you like it – and a few chunks of spicy chorizo sausage.
At the same time in a separate pan cook a couple of packets of prepared supermarket ‘Golden Vegetable Rice’ – just follow the instructions and remember even Delia cheats. When the rice is done tip it into the paella pan with the meat and fish and add a handful of peas. Mix well.
Garnish with squid tentacles, prawns and some rings of bright red peppers. Add a few olives and some fresh parsley. Cover with foil and heat for another five or ten minutes till all is hot and fully cooked. Serve with crusty bread and a crisp white wine.
Sit back and eat up both the paella and the compliments from other diners but do us a favour, don’t tell everyone our little secret!
This article, based on a BBC TV programme, and the recipe have been published in various magazines and newspapers over several years.