You can't tell the story of the Catalan dish rossejat without a nod to Italy. The pre-Roman people of old Catalonia took home Italian ingredients after their invasion of the boot. One of these was pasta, and that's how the short, vermicelli-like noodles called fideos came to be a Catalan food – and the basis for rossejat, a paella-style protein and starch mélange based on toasted fideos instead of short-grain rice.
Spanish Chef José Andrés, whose restaurants Jaleo and The Bazaar now span Miami and Washington, D.C., to Las Vegas and Los Angeles, is passionate about the dish as a way into Spanish food for Americans. Back in 1991, when Andrés first came to the United States, our restaurant-goers were not as comfortable with Spanish, much less Catalan, cooking as they are today. But they embraced rossejat, and Andrés says that because of that he "knew that Spanish food would only become more and more popular." Andrés, who is also famous for modernist cuisine, has a cutting-edge nature, but he is also fascinated with this old recipe, with its deep notes of smoked paprika. "The pasta is cooked in seafood stock, but it eventually soaks it up like little sponges," he says. The chef suggests keeping the dish in a warm oven for five minutes after cooking so that the pasta has a chance to rise and absorb the flavors, and he always mixes in a Catalan allioli, which is redolent of garlic, before eating. While this specific recipe calls for shrimp, rossejat is more commonly made with lobster and other seafood. So consider it more of a procedure or a template than a precise recipe – one that just happens to tell the story of an ancient battle in which noodles were the spoils.
Rossejat (Fideos with Shrimp)
(Serves 4–5 people)
- 4 lbs shrimp
- 3/4 cup plus 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
- 2 large carrots, coarsely chopped
- 2 large sweet onions, chopped
- One 35-oz can peeled whole tomatoes, drained and chopped
- 1 1/2 tbsp sweet pimentón de la Vera (smoked Spanish paprika)
- 1/2 cup brandy
- 3 quarts water
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 1/2 pounds fideos or angel hair pasta, broken into 3-inch lengths
Bring a large, heavy pot of water to a boil. Add the shrimp and cook for 5 minutes; the water does not need to return to a boil.
Transfer the shrimp to 2 large-rimmed baking sheets. Drain the pot, and keep stock for later use. When the shrimp are cool enough to handle, remove shells and tails. Cover and refrigerate.
Heat 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp olive oil in the large pot. Add shrimp, and cook over high heat, stirring often, until they begin to brown, about 7 minutes.
Add the garlic, carrots, and onions, and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are softened, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook until any liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add the pimentón and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the brandy and cook until almost evaporated, about 3 minutes.
Add the water and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat for 30 minutes, skimming a few times. Strain the shrimp into a large saucepan. Bring the stock to a simmer; cover and keep hot.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Wash out the large pot and return it to the stove. Place shrimp on baking sheet.
In a small bowl, combine the melted butter with 1 tbsp olive oil; brush over the shrimp and season with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake for about 12 minutes, until just heated through.
Meanwhile, in the large pot, heat the remaining 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp olive oil until shimmering. Add the fideos and cook over moderately high heat, stirring constantly, until browned, about 5 minutes.
Stir in half of the shrimp stock; cover and cook for 3 minutes. Add half of the remaining stock; cover and cook until almost absorbed, about 3 minutes. Add the remaining stock and cook, stirring, until the fideos are al dente, about 2 minutes longer. Season with salt and pepper.
Spoon the fideos into shallow bowls; top with the shrimp and serve.
Allioli (the Catalan variation of aioli)
(Yields about 1 cup)
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled
- Pinch sea salt
- 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice (from about 1/4 lemon)
- 1 1/2 cups Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
Using a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic and salt together until you have a smooth paste. Turn the mortar while you mash, scraping down the garlic from the sides with the pestle.
Add the lemon juice, then add the olive oil, drop by drop, as you continue to crush the paste with the pestle. Keep turning the pestle with a slow, continuous circular motion around the mortar as you drip the oil in slowly and steadily, making sure the paste absorbs the olive oil.
Keep adding the oil until the sauce has the consistency of a very thick mayonnaise. If your allioli becomes too dense, add 1/2 tsp water to thin it out. This process takes time – around 20 minutes of slow, circular motions around the mortar – to create a dense, rich sauce.