Paco Gandia (Pinoso, Spain) – Perfect Paella
The drive from Madrid to Denia looked rather barren until I chanced upon an article mentioning Casa Paco – the best of the paellas in Alicante. It would require a 2 hour detour but I suspected Denia would be a beach ghetto (it was) without much to do. Given that it was in the middle of nowhere, where speed limits are mere suggestions, it only added an extra hour and a half to the trip. I considered that a small tax for eating what is rumored to be one of, if not, the best paellas in the world.
After I dug more, I saw that Gastroville had also given it their new 5/5 rating for spectacular dishes. Dan Philips, of Grateful Palette, also called it the finest paella. In Praise of Sardines desperately wanted to go there but couldn’t make it. Enough votes were cast that I didn’t feel so bad about waking up early (for me) and racing out for lunch.
The paella is a tricky art form. The purists decry that it’s a countryside dish combining rice and orchards; as such, there’s no room for seafood. Rabbit and snails are the only acceptable toppings for this camp. I’m not sure why the insistence on tradition. The rice should be evenly layered, one rice layer deep in Paco Guardia’s case, so it cooks evenly. It should also be cooked over a burning fire so the heat can be controlled best. After eating this paella, I’d say the smoke is a necessary component too.
Morcilla and Scrambled Eggs
The Paco Guardia paella was sublime. The smokiness of the vine branches permeated the rice and created an incredible taste that enveloped your mouth. As Gastroville mentioned, the paella continued to develop flavor in the pan as it sat on the table. And the pan, no exaggeration, is larger than a bicycle tire – 1 layer of rice deep throughout. Most of the rabbit found its way into the paella. I’ve read the snails in that area feast on rosemary and that may help contribute to the taste. The grilled snails I had for an appetizer were “of the earth” in taste. Some minerality, some dirt tastes, but not muddy like most sub-standard snails.
Was it worth the detour? Absolutely! Paella is one of my favorite dishes but it’s impossible to find a good example in the States. The few I’ve had in Spain were not as superb as I would’ve expected. This, however, was a revelation. It will be included on all future trips to Denia; of which, considering the majesty of El Poblet (review next week), will be many.