The Food Almanac: Wednesday, March 27, 2013

It's National Paella Day!


Food Calendar
It is National Paella Day in America. Paella is catching on. While we have always been able to find a restaurant around New Orleans that serves paella, until very recently we never needed more than the fingers of one hand to count them. Nor were the ones we found especially good--again, until recent years, with the broadening of all ethnic dining in New Orleans. Always, any chef that made this most famous of Spanish rice dishes could be counted on to be very proud of it. Enough so that paella is usually the most expensive item on menus that offer it.

Paella comes in many forms, with a long list of possible ingredients. But it simmers down to this: rice, olive oil, and stock (usually chicken) are cooked in a big pan with poultry, sausages, or seafood, plus peas, beans, and savory vegetables. It's flavored with saffron if it's a good version. In the cheaper editions, annatto gives the color of saffron, but not the unmistakable flavor and aroma. 

The dish originally came from Valencia, but now you can eat it in most parts of the world. There is some question as to whether jambalaya is a direct descendent of paella, but it's certainly related, by way of the connection between the Spanish West Indies and Louisiana. Currently, the best restaurants for paella are Barcelona Tapas in Metairie, RioMar in the Warehouse District, Cafe Grenada in Carrollton, Liborio in the CBD, and Lola's in Esplanade Ridge.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Ricetown is in eastern Kentucky, a part of the country where more towns have food-related names than anywhere else. It's in a small valley but by Indian Creek in the steeply rolling Appalachian foothills. Neatly trimmed fields lie at the bottom of the valley, and rice may well be grown there--but cows and horses are more likely. The farmhouses in the area are spaced well apart, too much for a town center to be defined. Or to have restaurants closer than nine miles away. For example, Cody's Corner and Kristen's Cafe--two names for the same place--are west in Buckhorn.

Edible Dictionary
teff, n.--A grain grown since ancient times by people in the part of Africa that is now Ethiopia. In recent years it has become popular in this country, first in health food stores, then more broadly. The advent of Ethiopian restaurants also intriduces a lot of people to teff. Its flour is one of the main ingredients in the making of injera, the wide flatbread used to scoop up food from the Ethiopian plate. The demand for more grains--particularly those without gluten--has brought teff to the edge of the mainstream grocery buyer. I saw it mentioned as one of the "ancient grains" in one of Pepperidge Farms's multigrain breads.

Food In Diplomacy
The flowering cherry trees for which Washington, D.C. is so famous were first planted on this date in 1912. They were a gift from the people of Japan. Of the more than 3,000 trees planted then, over a hundred are still alive. Many more have been planted since, of course, and the city is full of them now. We hear that the flowers are much more beautiful than the taste of the actual cherries. But that's true of a lot of things.

Food Inventions
Today in 1860, a New Yorker named M.L. Byrn patented a design of a corkscrew. It was T-shaped, based on gadgets that had long been used to extract bullets stuck in the muzzles of guns. Corkscrews had been around before Byrn's invention, but his design became the standard in America for decades. The business end was not a worm, as we use now, but looked more like a screw.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
If a corkscrew turns a wine cork into crumbs, no matter how much you paid for it or how long it's worked properly or how beautiful it is, throw it away.

Food Namesakes
NFL running back Tom Beer came to life today in 1969. . . Ohio Congressman Douglas Applegate was born today in 1928. . . Nathaniel Currier, who with his partner James Ives created lithographs generally regarded as the first artistic bits of Americana, was born today in 1813. . . Stacy Ferguson, a singer with the group The Black Eyed Peas, was born today in 1975.

Words To Eat By
"Rice is born in water and must die in wine."--Unknown.

Words To Drink By
"Drink down all unkindness. "--William Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor.