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Class In Session - Paella Cooking Class at Cafe Ba Ba Reeba

By Carrie Becker in Food on Nov 18, 2010 5:00PM

When you break it down, Paella is all about the ingredients -- the rice must be bomba or Valencia rice, the pan must be steel and you must use those expensive threads of Saffron that gives the dish its gorgeous gold color and its unique but inviting aroma. To learn more about this quintessential Spanish dish, we visited Cafe Ba Ba Reeba for a Paella cooking class that gave us a few great tips and a great meal. BaBaReeba has been serving up tapas in Chicago for 25 years, and this class was a perfect example of why they've been so successful.

The entire extravaganza (and it was an extravaganza) cost $30 and included five courses paired with wines, a paella cookbook and an invitation from the chef to call him if we (as in the entire room of 40-some people) have a hard time getting a table on a Friday or Saturday night. This value meal was comprised of Pinxtos (bite-sized tapas) of bacon wrapped dates, Tortilla Espanola, queso membrillo skewer, a starter of pumpkin soup with apples and marcona almonds and roasted eggplant salad with goat cheese, mushroom caps with spinach and manchego cheese and then, of course, our paella, before ending the meal with apple cake with almond gelati.

Executive Chef Timothy Cottini explained to us that the ingredients in Paella Valencia (beyond the rice and saffron) change from town to town in Spain depending on the local tastes. In the town of Cafe Ba Ba Reeba they serve Paella Valencia with mussels, squid and chicken (on the regular dining menu they offer other varieties). To build the foundation of the paella, Chef Cottini heated olive oil in his steel paella pan then sautéed mussels to flavor the cooking oil. After enlisting help from a Veteran (both of the class and of the military) in the audience, Cottini cooked the squid and chicken until done through. We thought that perhaps the squid might get a little over-cooked, but the Chef assured us squid's unique feature is that it can be cooked for either 30 seconds or 30 minutes.

While we were fascinated by the paella demonstration, a quick demo of Tortilla Espanola (also known as our new favorite brunch item) offered a more immediate addition to our entertaining regime. Tortilla Espanola may be the poor man’s meal with only eggs, onions and potatoes, but it definitely puts on quite a show. To do it right, the dish has to be flipped to allow both sides to become crispy brown. The dish can be served either warm or room-temperature, perfect for entertaining buffet-style.

If you want a great excuse to get together with friends, family or significant others, check Cafe Ba Ba Reeba’s upcoming list of events including their monthly Paella cooking class. In the meantime, enjoy a few photos from our experience.

Cafe Ba Ba Reeba is located at 2024 N. Halsted, Chicago, IL 60614, (773) 935-5000