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August 15th, 2007

on the road: Sinarcas

Tía Encarnita

Tía Encarnita adding rice to the paella © Jeff Koehler

Sinarcas is a tiny, picturesque Spanish village surrounded by fields of grapevines and cereals an hour inland from Valencia. Both of my mother-in-law’s parents are from Sinarcas and she spent her childhood shuttling between here and Barcelona. There are still plenty of aunts and cousins in the village, and when my wife and two girls and I visit we spend much of our time going from house to house, meal to meal. And at lunch time that means paella.

There is but one paella in Sinarcas – a wide pan of golden rice studded with rabbit, chicken, snails, local purple-marbled green beans, and garrafons (large lima beans) – cooked over vineyard cuttings.

Our first lunch – and first paella – was prepared by Tía Encarnita under the watchful eye of her sprightly, 95-year-old mother, Tía Angelina.

Tía Encarnita’s husband Nino, with a soggy, unlit stub of cigar clenched in his mouth, prepared the fire in the corral – a large, enclosed but open-air garage space that, until recently, had been the domain of chickens and the place where a pig was butchered and preserved (mostly into different types of sausages) each winter.

Once the 18-inch-wide pan was laid on the iron fire stand and flames were licking over its edges, Tía Encarnita took over, tending the paella with a practiced hand while I took notes on her steady stream of advice (how best to prepare snails, which rice to use, when to add the pimentón). Tía Angelina came and went, checking the paella, tasting it at one point, but saying little about it.

Just as the rice was about done, my youngest daughter, Maia, wandered over and said, I’m hungry. When Tía Encarnita whisked her off to the kitchen for a quick snack, Tía Angelina shouted to her daughter something to the effect of, The paella is done! It’ll burn! It needs to come off!

I realized that it was in the village where my mother-in-law learned one of her favorite sayings: Rice waits for no one. (Or, as the Catalan saying goes, Arròs covat, dóna’l al gat. Literally, Overcooked rice, give it to the cat.)

Nino slid carrying hooks into the handles and lifted the pan off the flames. I very quickly photographed it and then it was hurried to the table. We took up our spoons and dug in to the perfect paella – tender, flavorful grains, and a thin layer of slightly caramelized rice called socarrat - directly from the pan. The only noise was the scraping of spoons.

Posted by jeffkoehler in  on the road  |  

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