I first ate this pasta dish, known as Fideua in Spanish, with an elderly couple that I had met in the village of Alcover in the province of Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain over 10 years ago.
Mercedes was originally from the village but her husband was from the south of Spain. They had met in England in their early 20's when both their families had fled Spain after the civil war. They lived in England for over 40 years. Jo, her husband, had imported bananas from the Canary Islands and once a year he would put his car on a banana boat and go to the islands for 6 weeks to sort out business.
He was based in Covent Garden when it was still used as a major fruit and vegetable wholesale market. He told me there was such a great camaraderie in those days. In the very early, cold mornings of London they use to light fires in old oil drums and drink tea and rum and the workers use to throw rotten vegetables at the city gents, passing in their bowler hats carrying their brief cases. It didn't at the time seem to bother the gentlemen nor was it frowned upon, it was almost expected.
When they retired, they moved back to Spain and settled in Alcover and the strange thing is that they continued to speak English together in the house, even though it was neither of their mother tongue.
I loved this dish when I first ate it. Simple ingredients, robust flavours, it is a dish that I continue to make regularly to this day.
500g unpeeled, raw prawns
300g of live clams, washed
4 squid, cleaned and cut into rings
500g live mussels, debearded and washed
9 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
salt and pepper
good pinch of saffron
600g fideos, if you can't get these, break up spaghetti into 2 cm pieces
2 egg yolks
4 cloves garlic
How to go about it
If you are smart, get someone to make the allioli for you. Give them these instructions. Peel garlic and roughly chop and put into a mortar with the salt and grind with the pestle. Add the egg yolks and grind to mix and add the olive oil in a fine drizzle moving the pestle all the time. It should start to emulsify, add the oil until it reaches the required consistency.
- It can be made with 1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk and made in hand whizzer, adding oil in same way. It is not as thick but still okay.
- When you make it in the pestle and mortar when it has reached required consistency, you can add 2-3 teaspoons of boiling water, mix and then add a bit more oil.
- True allioli has no egg yolk. It is hard work to get an emulsion but it is sublime made in this way.
- If it splits or won't emulsify, start again with another egg yolk in a clean bowl and add split mixture in a drizzle until emulsifies.
- It is better to have eggs and oil at the same temperature, not too hot or not too cold.
- Rule - always store allioli in fridge after making. Throw away allioli after the first day,
Peel and dehead prawns. Put heads and body peel in a saucepan and cover in water. Cook for 10 minutes, mash the heads and peelings with a potato masher to extract the juice from the prawns. Drain and keep hot, add extra fish stock as needed.
Fry the whole garlic in olive oil, in a large, shallow frying pan. Do not let burn, fry for 5 minutes and discard garlic. This is only to flavour oil. Fry squid in the same pan for 5 minutes them add pasta. Fry for 5 minutes longer until the pasta starts to become transparent. Soak safron in a little hot water then add to pan with salt and pepper. Start to add laddlefuls of prawn stock one by one, let cook then add clams and mussels and 2-3 laddles of hot stock until just covered. Let cook, don't stir, let it form a film on the top, as this acts as a lid.
When the stock is just about absorbed, turn off heat and cover with tea towel. If you are lucky the pasta will stand on end, pointing skywards.
Serve with the allioli.