Jamie’s crime was to include chorizo in his particular recipe, a ghastly affront to a people for whom food is a religion, and paella its sacrament. Call it arroz-con-whatever, and you can do what you like. Call it paella, however, and the laws are both time-honoured and immutable.
The strictures surrounding the making of fideuá (fid-eh-WAH), paella’s pasta-based sibling, are, if anything, even more severe. As chef Angel Zapata Martin, executive head chef of Barrafina, explains: “Fideuá originated on the coast, so it is always a seafood dish.”
Apart from the pasta and fresh seafood, fideuá requires three classic preparations: sofrito – tomatoes, onions and garlic cooked together very slowly, (“the process lasts all day in the Barrafina kitchen”); a prawn bisque, made with aromatic vegetables and brandy; and marca, made by frying small cubes of cuttlefish in olive oil, then simmering in sherry until tender.
“If you’re making paella,” explains Martin, “the marca can be made with anything – rabbit, sausage, chicken – but for fideuá it has to be cuttlefish. End of!”
Two types of pasta are permissible: either small, curved and hollow, like elbow macaroni, or vermicelli, fine noodles. In both cases, they need to be thoroughly roasted in a pan first, which gives them a nutty flavour and also helps to keep them al dente, so the dish doesn’t end up soggy.
“You need to add just the right amount of sofrito and marca as well: add too much and it will ruin the texture. Fideuá needs to be dry,” warns Martin.
This dryness, combined with great depth of flavour, is what fideuá cooks are looking for. The sofrito needs top-quality tomatoes – he uses organic tomatoes from Navarra – and a long, slow simmer: a heat-diffuser under the pan would be a good idea. The marca, too, needs to be dry. “The sherry gives a great flavour and helps to tenderise the cuttlefish, but it should all have evaporated by the end of cooking.”
The prawn bisque is the liquid that will actually cook the pasta. Martin uses small grey shrimps and cooks them over a high heat until crisp to extract the maximum flavour from the shells, then crushes them and adds the vegetables, before deglazing with tomato purée and brandy – he uses Veterano, but any basic Spanish brandy will do – simmering and straining. “You must let it cool before you strain it: that’s very important,” he insists.
Martin prefers a heavy cast iron pan to finish the dish, rather than the traditional thin paella pan “which tends to have hot spots”. In the restaurant, it is finished and served in an individual pan, topped with blobs of allioli, made with parsley, garlic and green chilli, and wedges of lemon. However, as long as you have 1cm depth of fideuá in the pan, you can cook it for as many people as you want: just scale up the recipe, he says. A 40cm pan, for instance, will hold about 10 portions.
Martin uses his Josper oven to give the fideuá a smoky flavour, echoing the original wood-fired ovens from the Valencian coast, but a normal oven is fine and resist any temptation to add smokiness with pimentón. And definitely not chorizo. End of.
Fideuà by Angel Zapata Martin
For the green allioli
300ml pomace oil
1 large bunch parsley
1 clove garlic
1 green chilli
For the sofrito
1kg onions, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2kg ripe tomatoes, blended
1 bay leaf
250ml olive oil
For the marca
150ml olive oil
1.5kg cleaned cuttlefish, cut into ½cm cubes
650g spring onions, keeping 1cm of the green tops, thinly sliced
500ml dry sherry
For the prawn bisque
1 celery stick
½ fennel bulb
2 tbsp light olive oil
1kg raw, head-on small grey shrimps
1 head of garlic, halved horizontally
1 tbsp tomato purée
For the fideuà (per person)
100g vermicelli noodles
2 tsp sofrito
1 tbsp marca
2 prawn tails
250ml prawn bisque
1. The allioli should ideally be made a day in advance. Warm the oil to 50˚C, remove from the heat and infuse with the parsley, garlic and chilli for 30 minutes, then purée and refrigerate. Or cook everything in a Thermomix at 37˚C for 15 minutes, then strain and refrigerate.
2. For the sofrito, heat the oil in a large saucepan, add the garlic and cook with the lid off, without browning, until it softens, then add the bay leaf and onions and cook very slowly for 90 minutes, until very soft and straw-coloured.
Add the tomatoes and simmer slowly for another hour or so, until all the water from the tomatoes has evaporated and a thick paste remains.
3. To make the marca, heat the oil in a large saucepan to a high temperature and brown the cuttlefish in batches. Return all the browned cuttlefish to the pan, then add the spring onions and stir through before adding the sherry. Slowly cook for about 35 minutes, until the cuttlefish becomes tender.
4. For the bisque, finely chop the carrot, onion, celery, fennel and leek. Heat the oil in a pot and cook the prawns on a high heat for about 10 minutes, until crisp. Crush the prawns with the end of a rolling pin and add the vegetables. Stir through and cook for a few minutes until soft. Add the tomato purée and brandy and scrape to deglaze the pot. Cover the mixture with 5cm of water and simmer very gently for 20 minutes. Allow the pot to cool completely, then strain.
5. Lightly coat the vermicelli in olive oil, then roast in a pan in the oven at 165˚C for 7 to 8 minutes: they should be dark brown. Cover the base of a fideuà (or paella) pan with olive oil, then add the sofrito and the marca. Cook for a minute, stirring all the time, then add the noodles and mix through gently to avoid breaking them. Add the bisque and simmer over the stove for about 6 minutes, then transfer the pan to the oven and cook for a further 5 minutes at 220˚C.
6. Meanwhile, grill the prawn tails for about a minute on each side, depending on size, until cooked through.
7. Remove the fideuá from the oven, top with the prawns and dots of allioli, scatter with herbs if you like, and serve.