Felix Vallugera: Perfecting the Art of Capa Fina Rice

Apr 30, 2024

Spain is renowned for its rich culinary scene, and if there’s one thing that screams Spanish cuisine, it’s rice. From the hearty and rustic arroz al horno to the layered complexity of arroz caldoso, rice dishes are as varied as they are delicious. But not all rice dishes are created equal, especially when it comes to paella, the undisputed king of Spanish rice dishes. True paella blends a variety of flavors, textures, and colors into a dish that is both fulfilling and visually appealing.

The iconic Paella Valenciana, hailing from Valencia, is perhaps the most renowned, featuring a rustic mix of chicken, rabbit, and green beans, beautifully tinted with saffron. Similarly, Arroz Negro captivates with its dramatic black hue from squid or cuttlefish ink, offering a bold seafood flavor that pairs perfectly with a dollop of aioli. Adding to the diversity, Paella Alicantina brings its unique flair with the inclusion of salmorreta, a rich base sauce that enhances its ingredients, typically featuring a similar mix to Paella Valenciana but with a distinct depth of flavor thanks to this aromatic addition.

Exploring further, Arroz Caldoso and Arroz Meloso present variations in texture from soupy to creamy, each absorbing the flavors of their respective base stocks and main ingredients like seafood or meats. Arroz al Horno, another hearty dish from Valencia, is baked to perfection with a combination of chickpeas, potatoes, and sausage, providing a robust meal using the leftovers of cocido. On the coast, Arroz Marinero brims with the freshness of the sea, featuring an assortment of shellfish in a savory fish broth. Lastly, Fideuà, though a noodle-based dish, stays true to the essence of Spanish rice cuisine with its use of seafood and saffron.

Unfortunately, wander into the wrong spot—especially those tourist traps with big photos of paella that look like they’ve been sitting in the sun since the ’80s—and you might find yourself staring down a plate of something that’s shockingly yellow and disappointingly bland.

Who is Felix Vallugera?

Amidst this culinary landscape, Felix Vallugera, a Barcelona local who started his career far from any kitchen, has emerged as a new kind of culinary hero. His mission? To revolutionize how we think about one particular style of paella known as “capa fina” rice.

It wasn’t until Felix attended Le Cordon Bleu that he seriously dabbled in the culinary arts. Here, he got his chops in classic techniques that would serve as the backbone for his later experiments with rice. But it was his hands-on trials, much like a scientist in his lab, that led him to crack the code on perfecting dry, flavorful rice that stands out in a sea of mediocre paella attempts.

What Felix developed through his experimentation wasn’t your average paella. He threw out the rulebook that many chefs cling to and focused instead on creating a dish that brings out the best in every ingredient. His rice is always perfectly cooked, the grains separate and infused with flavor. The star of the show might change from dish to dish—sometimes it’s the seafood, other times the vegetables or meat—but the rice is what makes the dish a Felix original. And let’s not forget about the socarrat, that deliciously crunchy caramelized layer at the bottom that paella aficionados go crazy for. Felix has this down to a science.

But, what exactly is capa fina rice?

Capa fina rice, a sophisticated version of paella, demands meticulous technique and a deep understanding of rice’s cooking properties. This style targets a very specific outcome: a flat layer of rice in the paella pan, ideally achieving a height of just two grains. The result is a dish where each grain of rice is tender yet distinct, bursting with flavor absorbed from a carefully crafted stock. A visual and flavorful treat, capa fina rice features an “non-negotiable” socarrat as Felix describes it—a crispy, caramelized crust that forms at the bottom of the pan, prized for its texture and taste.

Felix Vallugera elevates capa fina rice by focusing on a single star ingredient in each variation, which could range from red mullet and gamba roja to more robust flavors like bone marrow or osso buco, and even modest choices like chicken wings. The stock, a crucial component, is meticulously prepared from the same star ingredient, extracting the deepest flavors possible, much like techniques used in Michelin-starred kitchens and influenced by renowned local Valencian chefs such as Ricard Camarena. This approach ensures that every bite of Felix’s capa fina rice is a harmonious blend of top-notch craftsmanship and intense flavor.

During the pandemic, when everyone was stuck at home and hungry for new skills, Felix started sharing his method online. He launched weekly courses that quickly became a hit, often booked months in advance. It turns out, there are a lot of people out there hungry for rice done right.

Let’s talk about those tourist trap paellas again. You know the type: they’re often a bit soggy, suspiciously bright, and sadly lacking in flavor. They’re a far cry from what paella should be, and it’s this gap that Felix aims to bridge with his teachings and his cooking. His approach to paella is careful and thoughtful, always respecting the ingredients and the process. He knows that a great stock is the backbone of flavor and spends just as much time perfecting it as he does on tending the rice.

Felix’s knack for paella has turned into a full-blown obsession, but in the best way possible. He’s even started canning his own chicken stock, which he sells online to give home cooks a taste of what real, rich flavor is supposed to be. You can catch him sharing bits of his life and lots of cooking tips under the handle @cook_obsession on social media, where his passion for cooking and teaching shines through every post.

Felix has also skillfully integrated his deep understanding of different rice varieties into his unique cooking method, tailoring his approach to maximize the inherent qualities of each type. In his popular cooking courses, he emphasizes how the choice of rice affects the overall outcome of the dish, teaching his students about the impact of each variety and how to harness their distinct textures and flavor absorption capabilities for exceptional results.

When making these special Spanish rices, the variety of rice used plays a critical role in defining the flavor and texture of each dish. Bomba rice, celebrated for its ability to absorb large amounts of broth without becoming mushy, is ideal for paella, ensuring that each grain remains distinct and flavorful. Felix asures that although bomba rice is favored by many restaurants for its forgiving nature in cooking, which reduces the risk of overcooking, it falls short in terms of flavor. Similarly, Calasparra rice, cultivated in the unique climate of Murcia’s mountains, offers slightly different textural qualities but also excels in paella, with both varieties prized for their robust absorption and firm textures.

For dishes that require a creamier consistency, such as arroz meloso, Senia and Bahia rices are preferred. These varieties soften more during cooking, blending smoothly with other ingredients to create a rich, cohesive dish. Valencia rice offers a versatile middle ground, adept at absorbing flavors while maintaining a pleasing texture, making it suitable for various Spanish rice dishes. Each rice type enhances the dish’s overall sensory experience, highlighting the importance of choosing the right variety for the intended effect.

Taking his innovative approach to the next level, Felix has also developed an app designed to demystify the process of cooking paella according to his method. This app allows users to input the size of their paella and the rice’s cooking time, and it calculates the precise amounts of rice, salt, and stock required to replicate Felix’s perfect “capa fina” rice at home. It’s a game-changer for anyone serious about mastering the art of paella, ensuring consistency and perfection every time.

From sound technician to a maestro of the paella, Felix Vallugera’s journey is not just about changing careers; it’s about chasing a passion and sharing it with the world. His rices aren’t just works of art—they are a reminder of what happens when you pour your heart and soul into something you love.

For those interested in learning more about Felix’s culinary techniques or to contact him directly, you can find him on Instagram under the handle @cook_obsession. Additionally, his website, https://www.cookobsession.com/, offers further details about his latest culinary developments and new dishes.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *