Cape Brerton & Ontario Paella

June 29, 2012
By Sketch Editors

Paella is one of those dishes that people debate what is real or authentic, like ramen and pizza (probably why it finds itself here, on somewhat sketchy in their company); it polarizes and often disappoints in tourist traps, as it truly takes the time to make it takes- no shortcuts.  But when it’s good, paella’s stellar.

La Paella is the large flat pan from the eastern coast of Spain and is such a satisfying way to prepare meal on a fire.  You may not use it every week but several times a year and it pays for itself in legendary camping or beach memories.  Got mine at the best kitchen supply place in Toronto, Sasmart in Kensington.

Atop a bed of coals, the paella pan (a large, thick steel pan you can simmer an inch or two in), beautifully combines the savoury flavours of rice, stock, rabbit, fowl, sausage, seafood and any other local ingredients; you have a communal feast with all the benefits of a one pot meal and no plates.  Best of all is the tender but crispy-bottomed, caramelized rice– infused with wood smoke and all the other simmered ingredients, combined.

There are few meals that can be easily cooked over a fire and where every flavour remains distinctly present in the final dish.

Spring for us in Ontario means getting out of doors as much as possible, and eating what is coming out of the ground after surviving 6 months of trucked-in California produce.  Wild leaks, a delicate onion-like plant, are one of the first plants to come up in the woodlands.  Becoming rarer in Ontario and Quebec due to professional pickers and over harvesting, wild leaks or ramps as they’re also called, can be respectfully harvested from larger patches if only a few are taken.  And only a few are needed.

The stunning rabbit, chorizo, chicken wild leak paella was cooked in the woods right at the place and time of harvest.  Browning the rabbit, chicken and chorizo, with the leak bulbs first was key.  Next the stock was added, the fire ramped up (no pun intended), and when a rolling boil was achieved then the rice was added.  Ideally, it’s La Bomba rice, which keeps its texture absorbing the chicken stock, olive oil, browned meat at.   Of course the freshness of the leaks, open sky and wood fire made for an unmatched meal.  Except, perhaps, for a Paella in Cape Breton..

Lobster and crab season sometimes overlap in Cape Breton, a culinary opportunity not to be missed.   Paella makes it possible, right on the beach.  A washing machine drum is pretty much the perfect height for cooking a paella.

Here, the chicken, chorizo, fresh trout and crab paella cooked on the beach is an altogether different experience with a flavour that can hardly be rivaled, except for a paella in Ontario..

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