For the past few years – ever since my brother returned from his semester abroad in Barcelona, Spain – my mother has been making Fideuà for Christmas Eve dinner. Ever since I can remember, we have feasted on some kind of shellfish or crustacean (most memorably Lobster Savannah), but nothing compares to this Catalonian feast.
Fideuà is similar to Paella, but uses noodles instead of rice and a variety of shellfish and seafood. It’s usually topped with a garlic aioli to help blend the flavors together. It’s without a doubt the most outstanding seafood dish I’ve ever had, and my dad describes it as “a gift from the Gods.” My brother says there is only one version of Fidueà that beats out my mother’s, which was a special of the day with squid ink noodles at a restaurant called Piccata that he used to frequent in Barcelona.
The key to this dish is the fideua noodles, which are different from any other Italian noodle and are not meant to be boiled but to be cooked with food. My mother initially had a hard time finding them, but then hit the jackpot in a Spanish food section at a local grocery store. If you can’t find Fiduea noodles, angle hair pasta makes a good substitution. Unfortunately, Paella pans are somewhat necessary for this dish. But if you have a really big frying pan that is oven-safe, that would probably work.
Fideuà (serves 6)
- 1 lb Fiduea/Fideos/Fidelini noodles
- 1 small green pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 small red pepper, thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- a pinch of saffron
- 5 cups of seafood stock or clam juice
- 1 lb mussels
- 1/2 lb littleneck clams
- 1/2 lb bay scallops
- 1/2 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1 lb monkfish, cut into small chunks
- 1/2 lb squid body and tentacles, body sliced into rings and tentacles left whole
- salt and pepper to taste
- 8 garlic cloves
- 1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk
- 1 cup olive oil
- salt to taste
Prepare the aioli shortly before serving dinner so that it doesn’t coagulate. In a small food processor, chop the garlic first. Add the egg and blend, then add oil in a slow steady stream with the motor running. Add salt to taste.
For the Fideuà, start out by immersing the clams in a bowl of water with a tablespoon of salt so that they release any sand that is in the shells. For the mussels, bring 6 cups of water to a boil and cook them for five minutes or until all of them have opened. Remove from water with a slotted spoon and place on towel to cool. Once cooled, remove shells and set aside mussels.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Heat olive oil in the Paella pan over a medium-high flame. Add the noodles and sauté for about 3 minutes, or until golden. Remove the noodles from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add the bell peppers and garlic to the pan and cook for about 5 minutes. Add shrimp, squid and monkfish and sauté for about 10 minutes or until shrimp are pink. Add the clam juice and saffron and stir to combine. Continue to heat until boiling.
Once broth is boiling, add noodles then top with clams, mussels and scallops. Place pan into the oven and bake for 10 minutes or until clams open and most of the broth is absorbed into the noodles. Serve immediately in the pan with aioli on the side.
At my father’s suggestion, we paired this dish with two different bottles of 2001 Grand Reserva Rioja: Vina Real and R. Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia – both under $50 at Varmax Liquor Pantry. Gran Reservas are only made in great growing years, so by definition it’s a top Rioja. The wineries also age the wines a long time before they are released. For example, the wines we had were released only three years ago. These older Riojas smooth out over the years and almost develop the qualities of a Pinot Noir with a lighter texture, but are still fuller bodied. These qualities make for a great pairing with the Fiduea because they do not overpower the flavors of the seafood. The Fiduea itself is so complex with all the different flavors and fresh seafood, but it’s not in any way a delicate dish. The layers of the aged Rioja help to compliment this complexity, which would be harder to achieve with a white wine.
So there you have it; our traditional Spanish Christmas Eve dinner. We may not be from Catalonia (or Spanish at all), and our holiday traditions might be a little eccentric, but boy do we know to eat and drink.
Cheers, and Merry Christmas!