Food is provocative.....sensual. The ingredients, methods, spices, aromatics, and herbs are all involved in the outcome of any dish. I love the way exotic spices look and smell. They look like what they will smell and taste like. They shimmer like paint dust on an artist's palette.
I made a lamb tajine a few weeks ago. After browning the lamb, adding the aromatics, vegetables, spices, preserved lemon, and stock, I let the tajine simmer away for hours. A long slow braise, a seductive braise. That is what a tajine does, and what that tajine did. It drew me in, pushed me away, drew me in, and pushed me away. I could taste the smell, almost see the aroma. I was enveloped with it like perfume.....waiting and pulsating. A tajine takes time.
The tajine braised long enough for the lamb to melt into the vegetables, the vegetables to melt into the stock, and the stock to fuse with the sultry spices. The smokey, pungent, sweet, floral spiced-stock plumped and swelled the dried apricots and golden raisens until their sweetness exploded into the stew. I served it over Isreali couscous for it's pearl-ness, topped it with sliced fresh figs, split-open, still joined, and placed across the top. The sliced purple skin revealed black-specked rosy pink flesh that gave a fresh bright juicy note to the long braised tajine. One bite of all of that smokey, sweet, bitter, bright, and seductive flavor sent me over the edge.
A few days ago, I made paella. In complete contrast to the languid seduction of the tagine, the paella was a visceral assault to the senses. Paella dosn't gently simmer. It crackles and sizzles, uncovered. Sometimes spitting and spilling over the pan with it's rapid boil.
Once the aromatics, pureed tomatos, and spices were sauteed in the sliced chorizo's red dyed pan-drippings, I added shellfish stock and rice to absorb the flavored liquid and plump. A paella cooks longer than you think it should....almost to the burning stage. After adding the reserved sauteed chorizo, I nestled fresh clams, mussels, shrimp,and sliced roasted red bell peppers into the steaming rice before randomly tossing peas over the top to pop.....specks of jade against a burnt umber golden pot of rice, with shellfish arms reaching through the sticky rice. When the stock was absorbed, the crackling burning paella was table ready. Pan and all.
The carmalized, almost burned, slightly sticky, crunchy crust that forms on the bottom is the soccarat....the prize of the paella. The hidden aromatic gem. Every ingredient in the paella carmalizes into the soccarat. Crunchy sweetness. Sexy paella candy.
In Spain, some people stir it in as they eat, others save it until the end.