Saturday, April 19, 2014

Recreating Flavors of Spain: Arroz a Banda (is not Paella)

On my last night in Spain, I wanted to take some food goods back with me to the U.S. Specifically, I wanted some easy prep type paella mix. Searching in the aisles of Corte de Ingles fancy department store style supermarket, one of the very few supermarkets that are open on Sunday, I found some paella goods. However, they were juices. Yes, big cartons of liquids, seafood and spice infused stocks in large juice like cartons. Many choices and brands were offered, all kinds of paella from the golden color kind to the black ones infused with squid ink. Carrying that much liquid would add too much weight to my luggage, but I could not find the powder kind I had wished for. Then I saw this: Arroz A Banda, it looks like paella, and it comes in a convenient pouch of powder! That was the only kind I could find in the super market, so I took two to take back with me to the U.S.

Today I decided to make myself some flavors of Spain, and one of my favorite foods in Spain, the paella! I had some tilapia fish fillets, some frozen mixed veggies, and then I bought some imitation crab. If only I was offered the rich variation of fresh sea food like in the super markets of Spain! I did not like the idea of buying the farm raised and imported shrimp (I've read about how imported shrimp are raised in dirty and antibiotic treated waters in seafood farms abroad and are not thoroughly inspected before being imported and that kind of scared me) , nor did I have the money to buy fresh lobster, I went with imitation crab. My roommate is slightly allergic to shell fish anyways, so by using imitation crab she could try some of my dish too.

Each packet offers four servings, so I decided just to make half. I sauted my veggies, fish, and imitation crab, adding in rice and the spice, and then added water and let the pot cook over a gentle flame. As the rice cooked, I did some research as to what arroz a banda is. Is is a type of paella? It turns out to be, arroz a banda is another type of dish, it is not the paella. According to Wikipedia, arroz a banda is often confused with the paella of Valencia, yup, it sure did confuse me. It is a fisherman's dish made with fish stock cooked from stock from leftover stock. Doing more research as the boiling pan filled my kitchen with savory seafood smell, I started to compare paella and arroz a banda recipes to understand more about the difference. It seem that arroz a banda literally means "rice on the side", and is less fancy than the paella. When we think paella, we think of the shrimp and fish and the mussels loading up the paella pan; arroz a banda however, is not filled with sea food, it is more plain. Both are made with very similar base ingredients of seafood stock and saffron.
This is a paella I had when I was in Barcelona.

I also learned that arroz a banda is often served with aioli, which is something like a garlic mayonnaise. It is made with garlic, lemon, and olive oil. It takes much skill and time to make aioli in the traditional method, so I'd thought I'd try my own version of aioli since I still had some time till my arroz a banda is ready. I decided to make literally "garlic mayonnaise", I tried my best to chop garlic in to fine pieces (some aioli recipes called for a garlic so finely chopped that a paste forms, that is not happening tonight for me), and stirred it in with mayo. My garlic infused mayo tasted quite lovely as I dipped in my finger to try a bit.
Arroz a banda bubbling away.

The rice was ready, I had the "golden bottom" effect some arroz a banda recipes had encouraged. Not too much of it, but just enough. I was quite pleased with my control of time and the flame. I added my aioli (or garlic infused mayo), found a Spanish playlist, and enjoyed my recreation of Spanish flavors in my Midwest American kitchen.

It was so good.

I enjoyed my meal immensely, the aioli was such a lovely companion to the rice dish. The arroz a banda rice spice did a great job and gave my rice a delicious seafood taste and pretty golden color. The mixed veggie, fish, and imitation crab worked nicely as well. I was a bit suspicious about adding garlic mayo to the rice, but the sourness of the mayo complemented the seafood stock well, and the garlic added a little kick.

I am pleased with what I had created tonight, even though it started with a confusion of arroz a banda with paella, and the only real seafood I had was tilapia fillet, with the help of the arroz a banda packet from Spain and a little creativity, I feel I have successfully recreated the flavors of Spain.

And to end this post, I share with you my flamenco inspired apron I bought in Seville, isn't it beautiful!

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