Rice culture in the heart of Spain
Today we will begin the story about specific restaurants with a place that can and should be attributed to the type of “unexpected discovery” or “star in the outback”. This restaurant is located away from busy and noisy tourist routes and, nevertheless, is a symbolic place for connoisseurs of Spanish cuisine. It is not very easy to find in reference books, but among your gourmet friends there is hardly anyone who has not had dinner at Paco Gandia at least once in his life. I had lunch, because a good arroceria, a restaurant specializing in rice and oriented to the Spaniards, and not to tourists, can be recognized by the hours of work – it works only for lunch. At dinner, the Spaniards do not eat rice: firstly, they consider it too dense food for dinner, and secondly, they are so used to for hundreds of years.
In order to get such a correct gastronomic history as a good arroseriya, you need solid roots and deep traditions. In rice preparation, they are available in three places in Spain: in the water area of the lakes of Valencia, at the mouth of the Ebro River, and there is the last, third rice production zone, which we are interested in today: D.O. Calasparra It is here, in the mountainous regions adjacent to Alicante and Murcia, rice fields are located, and it is here that you can find the “secret” and “right” restaurants with the best rice in Spain. Such a secret place, widely known in narrow circles, is the Paco Gandia restaurant. The restaurant has been operating, if I am not mistaken, since 1985, and the town of Pinoso, where the restaurant is located, frankly speaking, is not Madrid or Valencia, but the mountain microclimate with cold nights and foggy mornings favors rice cultivation and collecting mountain snails. Add real saffron, a well-fed rabbit, grapevine firewood, Senia rice variety, garbanza bean culture (a kind of bean chickpeas), a little saffron and red pepper. In principle, these are all secrets.
Thank God, today we are not writing about paella, we already wrote about it here, but about restaurants, so our plan is not to reveal all the secrets of cooking paella. On the contrary, our plans include convincing you to go to this very restaurant in Pinoso. At home, it will be quite difficult for you to achieve uniform fire, which should cover the entire surface of the bottom of the pan. The wife of Paco Gandia, Josefa Navarro, has stood by the fire for over thirty years and has prepared countless portions of rice with a rabbit and snails during this time. Josef Navarro’s focus on rice is perhaps the key to success. The restaurant has snacks, desserts, meat gazpacho, but, in fact, it is a restaurant of one dish: rice with a rabbit and mountain snails. We have not been to Paco Gandia for quite some time, but I’m sure everything is still there: a simple country house, a modest interior, a small and expensive but decent wine list, great snacks from local specialties: beans, jamon, special salted fish and fish roe (salazones), but above all – rice.
To understand why this rice in the deep province of Alicante is called “the best in the world”, you need to try it. I personally recommend doing this after you try rice in other restaurants: there are many versions on the coast. This is necessary so that you do not compare this dish with risotto or pilaf: in order to understand and feel the concentration of tastes in this dish, it must be compared with other versions of this famous rice. The taste was glorified by Paco Gandia rice and this is confirmed by the list of guests and fans from among the best chefs in the world: Joel Robuchon, Martin Berasategui, Pedro Subihan, Ferran Adria. Last year, Maria José San Roman celebrated the anniversary of her Monastrell restaurant (Alicante, Michelin star) and invited Josef Navarro to cook rice on this day as a guest chef. Maria José noted that Monastrel grapes, after which her restaurant was named, whose twenty years of work have been celebrated, provide the necessary wood flavor in the fire. And that the thirty-four years that Josefa stood before this fire is a chef’s deed.
Do I have to go deep into Spain to the mountains a hundred kilometers? The annoying reader will be surprised: “What, you can’t find decent rice in Alicante or Elche?” Of course, you can, and later I will hand over some addresses and appearances, but we are not talking about the good, but about the best. For the best you need to go to Pinoso to Paco Gandia. “And what, Joel Robuchon, whose restaurants number thirteen Michelin stars, can’t cook great rice?” Or the best chef in the world Ferran Adria ?! ” – the thoughtful reader continues to be perplexed. Of course, they cook great rice. They can in their own way, but they can also repeat the Alicantean style. But, firstly, the real master does not copy someone else’s, and secondly, they won’t be able to repeat everything completely: you will find dry vines, but not from the monastrel, you will collect snails, but they will not be bucket snails from the slopes of the mountains of the border of Murcia and Alicante, your olive oil, saffron, thyme and rosemary will be good, but others.