Paella for all!
By Juan José Miret
The smell of the ocean air wafts through Pepa - an emblematic food truck that brings paella on wheels. Yes, we are in a corner of the Midwest, but Tapa Mobile is bringing a gentle movement of air, a breeze from the Atlantic Ocean.
You can hear the provoking sizzling sound. It’s mouthwatering. An open flame is cooking chicken, rabbit, in two, three-foot pans. The delicious aroma of fresh olive oil, and the crackling music of the browning meat fills the place. This is how our exquisite journey of flavors started.
In what feels like a few minutes, Juan Carlos Pagán, added bright peppers, and peas. He’s an artist, a chef, an entrepreneur, an immigrant. His blank canvas is a paellera. In order to prevent scorching, olive oil, parsley, and chopped garlic are added. He’s conducting a Flamenco orchestra with knives, spoons and forks. He’s cooking and dancing at the same time.
The smells start building the anticipation of this Spanish feast. The prawns, mussels, and clams are added to the pan with all their shells still on. Spaniards look for any reason to make the social experience of a meal last longer, and what better way then to take the time to shell and enjoy these fruits of the sea.
The final step is to add the rice and let everything simmer.
While I wait for paella, Juan Carlos shared some fascinating stories: He and Isabel Regidor, have been married for two decades. They founded Tapa Mobile 5 Summers ago.
“We met in Houston,” Juan Carlos said. “And then we moved to Tulsa and raised our family.”
It’s truly fantastic that both of them are from Spain - she’s from Madrid and he’s from Murcia, but they had to jump from the European continent to America to meet each other.
Juan Carlos is an award winning chef. A paella master! “It’s a family recipe. It’s a family affair. It brings memories. Every bite tastes like home,” he described. “We saw an opportunity. The lack of Spanish cuisine in this area gave us a chance to start our business. To reinvent ourselves. My wife is a professor, so this is very different. But we wanted to bring paella for everyone. It’s the democratization of the paella. Delicious, flavorful, affordable, and fast. Well, cooking a paella takes may hours, but we will have it always ready!”
Finally the wait is over. It is time to enjoy every single bite of this dish that lights up the pallet, engaging taste sensations of salt, sweet, bitter, sour. It’s a piece of the Old Continent in the Heartland. “Food is culture, traditions,” Juan Carlos said. “And a great way to celebrate!”
A little bit of history
Paella is a dish loved by all. It was invented over 1,200 years ago in Valencia, Spain, a port city on the Balearic Sea.
The history of paella began as a one-pot meal shared among many.
Farmers s would break for lunch and use the leftover food from the Moorish feasts and cook it over an open flame.
They would eat together and bring the leftovers back to their families.
The dish isn’t named after the blend of ingredients, but the type of pan it’s cooked in which is called a paellera.
You can include or exclude any of the following ingredients depending on taste or the type of paella you’re making: Chicken, fish, shellfish, rabbit, squid, snail, beans, and peppers. But never, ever, you should exclude the saffron which gives paella its famous yellow hue and distinctive flavor.
A key ally in this cooking process has a name: El sofrito. It is a sauce that is a blanket of flavor and color, enhancing whatever it smothers.
Repeat after me: Socarrat!
The word Socarrat is the Spanish term to describe the perfectly cooked delicious crust that forms at the bottom of a paella. All paella’s are intended to be shared, whether it is a party of two or twenty, and I promise that you will find yourself fighting for that last piece of socarrat.
Let’s find Pepa!
Tapa Mobile is part of the iconic Cherry Street, in Tulsa - 15th & Peoria Avenue. Right next to the Empire Bar. Pepa opens doors, or should we say windows, Wednesday to Sunday, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.; and yes, they can deliver and they will cater your next fiesta!
Seafood, meat overloaded, vegetarian and vegan options are available.
Juan Carlos and Isabel will transport you to the Iberian Peninsula. Their paella with mouthwatering caramelized, crispy rice, will make you believe you’re relaxing along the beaches of Valencia ... right here in Tulsa!