My favourite dish: José Garzón
José Garzón talks to Tony Naylor about Spanish cuisine and his seafood fideuà
We celebrate the world’s best comfort food by asking chefs and food writers from diverse backgrounds to talk about the dishes they love.
Valencia-born head chef José Garzón talks about his passion for paella, and the pasta dish that brings people together.
See Jose's seafood fideuà recipe.
José's favourite dish
When it comes to authentic Spanish tapas, Chester probably isn't the first place that springs to mind. But, at Porta, created by brothers Joe and Ben Wright, the city has a restaurant that – in plates of pan con tomate, presa Iberica pork with mojo verde, and Picos de Europa blue cheese served with caramelised walnuts, sultanas and honey – sets a notable bar for Spanish food.
In the Wright brothers, Valencia-born chef José Garzón recognised fellow believers in the power of exceptional ingredients. “There wasn’t any fuss about trying to do anything fancy,” says the 37-year-old, who has been head chef at Porta since 2017. “The idea, even before I arrived, was to do traditional tapas the same way you would in Spain. Joe and Ben love Spanish food, travel a lot and have a good knowledge of Spanish food. It was a good place to start.”
As a Valencian, José brought his own experience to Porta’s table. Paella Valenciana, for example, is now one of its iconic dishes. Paella is, like titaina or fideuà, one of many regional Valencian recipes that remain close to José’s heart: “An only child, I was born and raised in Sant Isidre, close to Valencia’s city centre. Valencia has many independent shops and markets, and one of Spain’s best and biggest indoor markets, Mercato Central. I was lucky I grew up with access to fresh, local produce. For example, really good mussels or baby clams, known as tellinas.
“My parents ran a bakery, and because they worked long hours, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents on my mum’s side. They had an apartment near the beach, just outside Valencia in El Perelló, and I’d go there every summer.
“My grandmother was a very good cook. She had five kids, so when we all got together as a family, all the cousins and uncles, there was a lot of cooking to do. I’d stand there asking lots of questions and, by the age of 14, I preferred to do the cooking myself, rather than my parents doing it. That’s when I realised, ‘this is what I want to do – cook in kitchens’. “Every Spanish region has an identifiable way of eating and, on Spain’s Mediterranean coast – Catalunya, the Balearic islands and the Valencia region – food is quite different to, say, northern Spain or Andalucía. Valencia takes particular pride in its paella and fideuà.
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“Paella is now a national Spanish dish, but it originated in Valencia. Traditional paella Valenciana must be cooked in a paella pan and made with meat – chicken and rabbit, as well as butter beans (specifically garrofó beans), runner beans, saffron, tomato and paprika. We never mix meat and seafood in a paella. It must be cooked with locallymgrown bomba rice, and the crust that forms on the bottom of the pan, called socarrat, is fundamental.
“I’m very passionate about paella. I could talk about it for hours. In Spain, people joke about Valencians because we’re such dictators about paella. When we can, we like to cook it outside over a fire with family or friends – when we do, everyone tries to give their input. Even in Valencia, there is disagreement: ‘you’re not doing it right!’, ‘I’d do it like this’, ‘my grandma did it like this’.
“Like paella, fideuà [pronounced fi-doo-ah] is sharing food that brings people together. It’s served from a massive paella pan in the centre of the table and is cooked like paella, but with fine pasta noodles called fideos. It’s usually made with seafood – when it’s cooked in a deeply flavoured fish stock with saffron, smoked paprika, fresh chipirones (small squid), prawns, monkfish and swordfish, it’s a super-satisfying dish.
“For starters, you might eat esgarraet, a salad of roasted red peppers, onion and salt cod dressed in olive oil and sherry vinegar, or titaina, a Valencian version of pisto, or ratatouille made with aubergine, peppers, onions, tomatoes and pine nuts. Titaina is finished with salt-cured tuna belly, a hyper-local speciality from the El Cabanyal neighbourhood called tonyina de sorra in the local Valencian language.
“These are always served as starters, while the paella is cooking. Once the rice is cooked, you let it rest for five minutes, then it has to be eaten. It can’t be left and reheated. We have a saying in Valencia: ‘the rice doesn’t wait’.”
Five key Spanish and Valencian ingredients
Extra virgin olive oil
“Until I was 16, I had never used vegetable oil. In Spain, extra virgin olive oil is used for every bit of cooking: salads, dressings, deep- or shallow-frying, and as the base for any stew or sofrito. It gives a completely different flavour – that Spanish background on your palate in everything you cook.”
“Used for many dishes, and a key ingredient in paella. Usually, the type of smoked paprika we use in Valencia is sweet. You have sweet or hot paprika, or a mix of the two, called agridulce.”
“Valencian rice is grown in Albufera and exported across Spain. You cannot make paella with any other rice. Little and round, bomba absorbs flavour while holding its shape, and doesn’t release starch like other rice. For paella, you don’t want a creamy end result, like in a risotto.”
“Expensive, but you use so little (it overpowers if you’re not careful), it’s always worth having available. Spain grows some of the best saffron in the world.”
“In every recipe in Spain – you can get away with no onion, but you cannot cook without garlic.”
Feeling inspired? Have a look at our other Spanish recipes.