Every traveler interested in Spanish cuisine is familiar with Paella, the rice dish that mixes many different delicious ingredients, from peas and peppers to chorizos and squids. However, we have noticed that many of the visitors, some of those attending our small group Barcelona day trips, are surprised by the existence of Fideuà – the Valencian seafood dish that can look like Paella but holds a very special, revolutionary difference. Do not fear, though: here we are, to make things crystal clear.
The internationally renowned rice dish Paella is the superstar of Spanish cuisine and is one of the most popular dishes in the world. It represents a lot more than just a gastronomic tradition: the history of paella also reflects the history of the country and its union of two different cultures – Roman (the pan) and Arab (the rice). Paella has its roots in Valencia and was originally the food of farmers and farm laborers. Workers would cook it over the wood fire for their daily lunchtime meals.
If you ask for its original recipe, you will be disappointed to find that there isn’t one. The workers would prepare it with whatever was on hand around the fields in the countryside: tomatoes, onions, saffron and beans were mixed with chicken, rabbit or even duck. Once everything was cooked, workers would use a wooden spoon to eat it directly from the pan. Due to its practical and easy preparation, the paella would host many alterations and customizations in its recipes. Today paella is made in every region of Spain and exists in its own world of recipes and flavors. As you’ll have to start from somewhere, we’ve listed the most typical paella dishes so you don’t get lost in translation:
It is no surprise that over time seafood was introduced into the literal paella mix, generating what is now the most famous version of the dish (Paella mixta). It is made by using the meat sofrito and later adding squid and prawns. The meat takes on the flavor of the seafood, delivering the essence of Catalan cuisine.
This dish is also known as paella marinera, which is prepared with squid, prawns, mussels, and clams. It is the most popular paella dish in coastal areas and is enjoyed during the summer. It is commonly eaten at beach bars, especially in the region of Andalusia.
One of the most charming and seducing recipes from the Paella menu, the Paella negra looks (smells and tastes) much different from the rest. Rice gets its color from the octopus or squid ink, and the additional flavor will make it for a memorable dish! Ingredients are the same as the seafood paella.
The amazing history behind Fideuà began back to the early 1900s when a captain of a sailors crew liked rice so much that he would often eat too much of the meals, leaving other members hungry. One day, tired of that situation, the cook came up with a plan: change the rice to noodles, hoping that the captain would eat less. The recipe turned out so great that it spread around town. It kept being prepared and grew to be quite popular, becoming what is now known as Fideuà.
Like Paella, Fideuà is also cooked in a wide and flat frying pan, and normal ingredients are monkfish, cuttlefish, squid, crayfish, prawns, or mantis shrimp. This dish is truly enjoyed along the Spanish coastline. The noodles are often crispy on top, normally due to using only a small amount of liquid during preparation. Catalans will still add some garlicky alioli to it, which creates a creamy texture and makes this even more delicious. If you haven’t tasted it yet, you won’t want to miss another minute.
If you can’t wait until your trip or are too far away, Mark Bittman has a great recipe for you to try at home:
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound fideo or very thin pasta, in 2-inch lengths or shorter
- salt and pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 pound cockles or small clams, well washed
- 1 pound mussels, well washed
- 1/2 cup stock or water
- 8 to 12 large shrimp, shells on
- 4 to 8 sea scallops, cut in half through their equators
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
- Lemon wedges
- Put oil in a skillet at least 12 inches across (I used this, which wasn’t nearly big enough. I’d say you should use the 14-inch version or else this), and turn heat to medium-high. A minute later add noodles; sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring almost constantly, until they darken. Try to avoid letting more than a few pieces blacken.
- Add saffron, paprika, and garlic, and stir for a minute more. Add clams and mussels and about 1/2 cup water or stock and continue to cook, stirring. Depending on how much liquid the clams and mussels release, you may have to add a little more liquid. Continue to cook and stir until the pasta is nearly tender about 10 minutes.
- Add shrimp and scallops and cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cooked through. Stir in parsley, taste and adjust seasoning and serve with lemon wedges.
If you are coming to Barcelona anytime soon, don’t miss the opportunity to learn how to cook your very own paella on our Hands On Paella Cooking Class and Local Market Tour.
Also, if you are interested in trying the other amazing foods on offer here in Barcelona, check out our Tasting Barcelona Food and Wine Tours for an “off the beaten path” experience of personalized food and wines.