I’m a little giddy and a little worried. Giddy because an incredible Spanish chef has agreed to teach me how to make his take on fideuà (“noodles”), a classic Catalan pasta dish similar to a seafood paella, but made with very thin noodles (known as fideos or fideus) instead of rice. I’m worried because he’s late. I’ve been knocking on the locked door of his Manhattan restaurant for five minutes. Through the glass, I see no lights, no people. Do I have the right time? Did he forget? Just as I reach for my phone, the tall silhouette of chef Luis Bollo appears, walking toward me down the darkened hall.
Bollo, the chef/partner of Salinas restaurant, grew up in San Sebastián, Spain, and has cooked in Michelin-starred restaurants across Spain and the rest of Europe. He’s known for his contemporary twists on traditional Spanish recipes, which makes his version of fideuà, which he calls fideos rossejat rápida, an ideal demonstration of his culinary talent. To make it, Bollo combines elements from two Catalan classics—fideuà, the seafood pasta paella, and fideos rossejat (“golden noodles”), a first course or side dish of toasted fideos cooked in aromatic fish stock, enriched with creamy aïoli. Bollo takes the best of both recipes and then riffs some more, frying the fideos for nutty, toasty flavor, cooking them in chicken stock with chorizo, chicken, and seafood (reminiscent of a mixed paella), and finishing the dish with a dollop of rich homemade saffron aïoli. “It’s not a complicated dish to cook, and the ingredients, which are uniquely Spanish, are easy to find here,” he says. “So it’s a delicious, approachable introduction to the pleasures of the Spanish table.”
Two classics, combined
After a tour of Salinas’s cozy street-side bar and light-and-flower-filled dining room, Bollo leads me into his kitchen. The cramped galley is all metal shelving and countertops, with a huge flat-top range running the length of the room. His ingredients—fideos, chorizo, chicken, mussels, saffron, garlic, smoked Spanish paprika, and more—are set out and ready, in true chef style.
As he heats oil in a saucepan for frying the fideos, Bollo explains how his dish came about. “Fideuà and paella traditionally serve lots of people and are eaten from the pan they’re made in. My version serves just four people and is much faster to make, as long as you do a little prep ahead of time,” Bollo says. “At home, you can make it in a skillet if you don’t have a paella pan, and either serve it from the pan or plate it as we do in the restaurant.”
The oil is hot now, so Bollo pours the fideos into the saucepan. He gently stirs them in the bubbling oil until they change from pale yellow to golden brown. As soon as they do, he pours the fideos and oil into a sieve set over a pot. “The fideos continue to cook as they drain,” explains Bollo, as we watch them turn a gorgeous deep golden brown in a matter of seconds. It’s a pretty cool thing to see.
Bollo also has ready two make-ahead components of the dish: a rich sofrito (a slowly cooked, caramelized combination of onion, sweet bell pepper, tomatoes, garlic, and smoked paprika) that will be the flavor base of the dish, and a sunshine-yellow aïoli, redolent of earthy-sweet saffron, garlic, and smoky paprika, for stirring into the dish just before serving. He lets me taste the aïoli, and it’s so good, I lick the spoon clean.
The rest of the dish comes together as quickly as Bollo promised. In a wide paella pan, he cooks off chicken thighs and chorizo with garlic, white wine, and the sofrito, adds the fried fideos, and then barely covers it all with chicken stock. As soon as the stock comes to a rollicking simmer, he moves the pan to the oven, where the fideos cook, soaking up the stock and the flavors of the dish until they’re almost tender. Just before the fideos are done, Bollo arranges mussels on top and returns the pan to the oven; the mussels release their briny juice into the fideos as they open. He finishes the dish with cooked fresh fava beans, chopped parsley, and a big spoonful of the aïoli, which amps up the fideos’ luscious texture and intensifies the saffron flavor.
For his customers, Bollo plates his fideos rossejat rápida in a long, narrow white bowl, garnishing it with a few fresh parsley leaves. But today, he offers me a taste straight from the pan. I take a bite, and close my eyes without meaning to. The fideos are lush and tender, each one infused with notes of sofrito, chorizo, saffron, and smoked paprika. The aïoli makes the already-rich dish even more decadent, while the mussels, favas, and parsley bring a welcome freshness.
I inhale bite after bite as Bollo looks on, smiling at my enthusiasm. “This is what sets fideos apart from Italian-style pasta dishes,” he explains. “When the Moors brought pasta to Spain in the 9th century, we didn’t know what to do with it. So we treated it like rice, cooking it in broth instead of in water and saucing it later, like the Italians do. That way, the noodles absorb all the flavors of the dish.” Oh yes, they certainly do.
Fideos come in varying thicknesses and shapes, including coiled nests and shorter 1- to 2-inch pieces. For this recipe, look for bags of short fideos pieces with the thickness of spaghetti in the pasta section of wellstocked supermarkets, in Spanish and Hispanic markets, or online. If you can find only fideos nests, use your hands to break them into shorter pieces. If you can’t find either, use kitchen scissors to cut spaghetti into about 1-inch lengths.