Saturday, 22 February 2014

Saturday Snapshot: Behind the Witches’ Sabbath

I adore Modern Technology, dear reader! Modern Technology is Magical. It offers us all sorts of new opportunities, fresh insights, the rapidest of research, and instant communication with people we never met and will luckily never lay our eyes on.

Most marvellous of all, however, these new technologies offer us a peek into background situations which in the past we never suspected existed at all. To give but an example: who – except the most raving psychotic madman - would ever have thought that the CIA, the FBI and the NSA are avidly screening the communications of perfectly innocent citizens, searching for suspicious activities and – worse – ideas, had it not been for the revelations of Wikileaks and Mr Snowdon’s mammoth CD-roms of furtively copied data? No one, right? Such a thing was perfectly unthinkable and came as a total surprise to us all…!

And I confess I myself was not a little taken aback when my dear friend Brighid D. from Liscannor, County Clare, Ireland, sent me the present snapshot some days ago. Yes, I am of course an expert all forms of Magic, Sorcery, Maleficium and the Paranormal (as any reader who has read volume xxv of my Collected Works will readily acknowledge), but only now that the necromancing ladies themselves carry mobile phones with inbuilt photographic cameras as they travel to their meetings, may one hope to get such a rare inside view of the hitherto occult logistical aspects of the Sabbath and the Walpurgisnacht

Brighid took this picture last February 2 during the celebrations of the Imbolc meeting with some 665 fellow witches, and it shows the parking lot for the common means of transport set up by the Central Organisation. Please note the foresight of the planners in providing heavy rocks against the sometimes strong Irish gales and ‘automatic pilot’ (these brooms often have a will of their own…); and note also the fact that apparently, no parking fees are charged to members during these happy celebrations. (The blasted Portuguese government should take an example from these good Satanic folk: nowadays, I pay more money to park the Panda in front of my favourite bar than I spend on the four glasses of Ginjinha I drink before driving home…!)

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Paella Valenciana (3): Creation Step By Step

As I said at the end of the last post – which you will need to consult for the list of ingredients and tools !! – the recipe for Paella Valenciana which I offer you today, originates with my dear old friend Palmyra Espuig Peris from the village of Alcásser in the Garden of Valencia. Unfortunately, Palmyra is no longer with us. She passed away peacefully 12 years ago. But I found another dear friend - Donna Maria Brull Hervás - willing to do the honours, and to cook us a delicious Paella Valenciana ‘como Dios manda’ (as the expression goes) of which the pictures below grace this lengthy post.

Therefore, let us set to work without more ado! Here we go with the step-by-step creation of a state-of-the-art Paella Valenciana!


 1. First of all, make sure that you have all the ingredients ready at hand, cut, chopped, cleaned, opened, mixed and defrozen where needed.

2. Set up your special Paella Pan on your special Paella Burner. Light the fire. Set it to medium heat. Pour the cup of oil into the pan, toss a little salt into the oil, and let the oil gain heat.

3. Put the pieces of rabbit and of chicken into the oil, and fry them slowly until they are perfectly golden brown. This should take about 10 minutes.

3a. THE COOK’S PREMIUM: Keep good track of the whereabouts of the rabbit’s liver and kidneys. These will be done long before the rest of the meat, and once they are, remove them from the pan, put them on a plate, and sprinkle some salt on top. They are a delicacy, and it is a sacred Valencian tradition that the liver and kidneys are the cook’s by right; although often she shares them with the children running about, and sometimes even with a spouse. (In fact: you can usually tell the state of a Valencian matrimony by the pieces of rabbit liver that get tossed towards the spouse…)

3b. NOT FOR PURISTS: When the meat is almost done, add a clove of pressed garlic and let it fry along. Alternatively, some cooks fry an entire clove of garlic in the oil before the meat is put into the pan, and remove it once done.

Veggies added

4. Now add the Ferradura string beans and the Garrofón white beans, and let them cook along with the meat. Note that the vegetables should not be over-fried, but should merely be ‘brought up to temperature’. They should not be allowed to burn at the edges. So 5 minutes really ought to do it.

Veggies done

Tomato added

4a. NOT FOR PURISTS: Once the vegetables have heated up, add a 450 cc / 500 grams can of Tomate Frito (i.e. peeled and pre-cooked tomato), or weak tomato paste, or a finely chopped fresh tomato. Stir and let fry. The tomato will be absorbed by the meat and the beans. Yet other cooks will add a finely chopped quarter onion at this here point.

Tomato absorbed

5. Add the fresh, clean, and if possible filtered water. Remember that this – next to the amount of rice thrown in – is the most delicate side of Paella creation. There should neither be too much nor too little water in the pan at this point. The traditional rule of thumb is as follows: the level of the water should cut exactly through the middle of the screws that fix the handles to the pan (you will observe that in the picture, a little bit of water is still lacking). Bring the water to a boil, then lower the flames until the water merely simmers.

6. Add half a teaspoon of Azafran strands to the water (or if you have none: Saffron Colorante). Natural saffron not only provides the typical yellow colour of the Paella, but also adds a subtle extra taste.

The alternative...

6a. NOT FOR PURISTS: As you put in the saffron, you may also add a spoonful of paprika powder. Please note I have never seen this done, and consider it unnecessary.

6b. NOT FOR PURISTS EITHER: At the same time you put in the saffron, add a beef cube to the broth. Remember that beef cubes are salty, so you must be more cautious with the salt later on.

7. Now let the water simmer for anywhere between 5 and 20 minutes. This is how the precious broth is made. What you should understand is that the longer the broth boils, the more of the meat flavours will get into the rice, and the weaker the meat itself will taste. Also remember that the longer you let the broth simmer, the more water will evaporate. This may cause trouble with the rice later on (see § 10c below). So you may want to add a little more water if you plan to let the broth boil a longer while.

Doña Maria adding the rice

8. Now then for the Moment Supreme! Carefully sprinkle the rice into the broth. Make sure to spread it evenly through the pan, and to get all the grains below the surface level. Bring to a boil again, then lower the flames until the entire contents of the pan is simmering peacefully.

EXTREMELY IMPORTANT: during the first few minutes, you may still shift and tilt and wriggle the pan, so as to get the rice to spread out evenly, or even stir the mass with a spoon. However, as soon as the rice begins to absorb the broth, swell, gain volume and settle, the dish should be left rigorously alone! Only this guarantees a perfectly flat top surface and an even consistency of the Paella once boiled.

9. Now get yourself a nice glass of wine. Find a comfy position near the pan (do not walk away: you are playing with fire). Hang in there for about 15 minutes, as you say prayers to the divinity of your choice, and make sure that the bubbling is constant and the cooking process takes place undisturbed. (In the mean while, if you wish, you may decorate the top of the rice with, for instance, slices of pre-cooked red pepper, as in the picture, where Dona Maria wrote the name ‘Palmira’ for this very special occasion.)


10. After this quarter of an hour, it is time to wake up and get alert. Ever so carefully locate a tiny bite of rice which you can remove without doing damage to the composition, put it in your mouth and try the texture. There are various possibilities:

Cover with a Valencian newspaper

a.     If the rice is Al Diente: kill the fire immediately and cover the pan with the Valencian Newspaper. Let it sit for at least 5 minutes (but 10 minutes is often better), then get a sturdy fellow to carry the heavy red-hot pan to the table. Make sure the guests are gathered around with the wooden spoons ready in their hands when you remove the newspaper. Collectively cry out Ooooh in admiration, attack and eat. You have triumphed! (Those who read Spanish may inform themselves about the correct way of eating a Paella, on This Here hilarious website).

Have a sturdy Valencian fellow carry the pan to the table...

b.     If the rice is still too hard, but broth remains at the bottom: let the Paella simmer a little longer. Repeat the process of tasting after 5 minutes; and again 5 minutes later if need be. (Note that total cooking time of the rice is usually between 20 and 25 minutes.)
Once the rice is done, follow the instruction in a. above.

Gather the guests around the table
(But WHY is Hannibal ALWAYS the first??)

c.     If the rice is still too hard but NO broth remains in the pan: curse yourself, for you fucked up long ago and you must now, in this Ultimate Moment, do the Horrid Thing: i.e. add fresh water. This desperate emergency measure is sure to wipe out the deeper flavours of your Paella, but you have no choice. Either you add liquid, or you throw the whole junk into the garbage bin and order pizza.
So: get some boiling water, and cautiously add a careful splash. Make sure, however, to err on the safe side, because there is a vast danger that you overcompensate and overdo the water. Now cover the Paella with the paper, and wet the paper, as you let the fire run a few minutes longer. Pray again, hope against all expectations, and try once more after 5 minutes. Follow a. if things work out well.

Reveal your Triumph!

d.     The rice is already soggy. Now NOTHING can be done. Just serve this trash, and pretend that that is what Valencians eat, since the place is on the coast and humidity is roughly 97 % there throughout the year. And try again next week. If you dare…

Thank you, dear friend!

Important Notas Bene

How much rice should you use on how much water, for how many people?
            This is an extremely difficult question to answer. Usually, when one makes spaghetti or a rice dish, one counts 50 grams of pasta per person. That is, however, too little when one makes Paella, as people tend to eat more of a well-cooked dish. Hence most recipes call for 75, or even 85 grams of rice per person (i.e. 500 grams for 6 guests). The volume of water should then be measures as 2 to 2 ½ cups of water on every 1 cup of rice.
            However, as § 5 above makes clear, the success of a Paella is not a matter of having enough rice per person, but of pouring in the correct volume water according to the size of your Paella Pan! And the amount of rice follows from that! Consequently do the smart thing until you’ve learned to do things by experience: pour the water into the pan using a handy cup, and count the cups. Then divide that number by two, and pour in half as many cups of rice (or rather slightly less). For instance: if you poured in 8 cups of water, toss in 3 ½ cups of rice.

Alternative order of water and rice.
Among experienced and expert Paella cooks, opinions vary as to the order in which rice and water are put into the pan. Some insist that one ought to add the rice first, and let it fry for a while, and only then add the water. This is a known and useful technique for many rice dishes, but - in my humble opinion - for the best effect, one really needs to produce a broth from boiling meat before the rice is added, as described in § 7 above.

My rice is BURNING on the bottom !!!
            Calm down! Calm down! It is supposed to burn on the bottom of the pan! It fact, this precious golden brown crust, full of the ripened essences of all flavours, and easily scraped off the bottom and mixed with the rice, is the Valencians’ most favoured part of the Paella, and goes by the hallowed name of Socorrat. T’is a little like boiled billy goats’ balls in Morocco, or jellied sheep’s eyes in Egypt: we don’t find it very appetising; but they would kill for it.
            Of course, if your socorrat has turned pitch raven black, you may have had the fire a wee bit too high during the cooking process, and it becomes advisable not to eat this culinary variety of carbon… Next time: lower them flames!!

WHAT Valencian Newspaper, you fraud?
As soon as I posted this chapter, several readers objected to the use of a blank piece of paper in the above pictures, where in the earlier post I had expressly insisted that a Valencian newspaper be used to cover the Paella. Well, it so happens that this WAS a Valencian newspaper, dear reader! It was the section in last year’s special Christmas issue, listing all the Valencian politicians who were not being investigated for corruption, nepotism and tax evasion.