Paella from Basque Country: A Spanish Summertime Classic Finds a Niche in St. Louis
On any given Saturday at the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market, crowds can be seen surrounding one stand in particular, The Croquetterie. Inigo Gondra serves the food of Spain and his hometown of Bilbao in Basque Country, the northernmost region of Spain. He is proud to be Basque, and more proud of his country’s cuisine.
Gondra moved to the U.S. to be with his wife in 2010 and continued a 24-year career in human resources. While attending the Festival of Nations in Tower Grove Park, he noticed a lack of traditional Spanish food, and it inspired him to create the concept for The Croquetterie: a pop-up and delivery service for paella and croquettes.
For four years, he and a friend worked a Spanish stand at the festival and tested their paella on the people of St. Louis. It turned out to be a huge success. After his employer closed and Gondra lost his job in 2017, he decided to start a business selling the authentic Spanish dish.
In Spain, between the weeks of July 16, the Festival de St. Carmen, and Sept. 23, Día de la Merced, each small city celebrates its own summer festival and makes a feast both day and night. There is always a food contest, where people compete for the best dishes. It was there Gondra learned to cook paella with his friends.
Paella can be recognized from a mile away; it is an iconic Spanish rice dish made in an oversized steel pan. A good paella is based on the best fresh ingredients and quality broth, adding to the excitement and suspense of its presentation. The first step is to fry the meats and add a sofrito of tomato, peppers and garlic, which gets cooked down and serves as the flavorful base of the dish.
A Valencian paella is made with green beans; meat such as chicken and rabbit and sometimes duck or snails; garrofó, a variety of lima bean; and a seasoning of rosemary and strands of saffron, which gives the dish its signature bright red hue. Bomba rice, a round, short-grain rice, soaks up all the flavors in the pan as it cooks in the broth.
Gondra offers a variety of paellas and rices which he’s tweaked to include local ingredients, all easily palatable for St. Louisans. He makes flavors like Vegan, packed with seasonal vegetables; Black with squid ink and shrimp; Seafood Fideuá with monkfish and shrimp; Bilbao with breakfast link, pork tenderloin, chorizo and bacon; and many more. He also offers croquettes, a classic Spanish snack made with béchamel and Spanish ham, seafood or veggies that are breaded and fried.
Images courtesy of The Croquetterie.