Regular followers of Townfish will know we are massive supporters of cookery classes in London. There is nothing better than picking up life skills as well as savouring delicious cuisine cooked up by yourself. You might not think paella is the trickiest dish to master, but our recent visit to London Paella School gave us much food for thought. They have 2 main sites where you can learn to cook like a professional Spanish chef: London Cooking Project in Battersea and Open Kitchen in Hoxton. My preference would be to book for the Hoxton classes as the Battersea site is tricky to reach unless you drive or go via buses.
Classes tend to be a maximum of 12, so there are plenty of opportunities to discuss with the chef different cooking methods and ask tricky questions without facing the wrath of fellow students. There have a variety of tutors, but my recommendation is to attend one of the classes from the founder, Xavier Meroño. The notes might not be 100% perfect and the accent hail from the Catalan region, but the passion for cooking the perfect paella is undeniable. He would happily show you his treasured photo where he took part in the Guinness book of world records to create the biggest paella in the world (it fed over 110,000 people).
The Battersea site might not have the most state of the art equipment but it is relatively spacious and there is plenty of opportunities to get your hands dirty and practice Xavier’s recipes. We made a simple Spanish omelette for the starters and Paella Valenciana which is the most authentic recipe you will find.
There is a whole range of technique that is taught including knife skills from chopping the vegetables and frying skills for the chicken. However, what was most interesting was the discussion on the types of rice used, the amount of water and the method of preparation. You want to use rice that is very absorbent unlike basmati rice, you don’t want to take the starch out of the rice; in fact, the preparation is very much opposite of the process of preparing risottos. We added paprika to add some fire to the dish and saffron to create an appetising colour for the dish.
If there is one important word to take away from the class, it is “socarrat”; that is the crust that forms at the bottom of a pan when you are cooking paella. The slightly burnt rice at the bottom of the pan is the pinnacle of paella cookery. Paella is deceptively simple to make, but there are lots of intricate details to make it an authentic paella and thankfully Xavier is a generous host who was prepared to share his years of experience.