So, grilling season is on full force at Casa SoupAddict. It feels incredibly good — liberating, even — to leave behind the heavy, saucy foods of winter (although don’t get me wrong, in the moment, they’re exactly what I need to get through my least favorite season).
Have I ever mentioned I’m grilling obsessed? Probably not. It’s one of those things that I think not worth mentioning because I assume everyone is as obsessed as I. (And y’all are, right?)
I absorbed a love of smoky, open-flame cooking from my friend, pitmaster, BBQ circuit champion and author Bill Brohaugh (not to mention editor extraordinaire, which is where we met – he hired me to build web sites for a publishing house, back when I was long on technical writing credentials, but somewhat short on coding chops. He gave me a chance anyway, bless ‘im).
Although I don’t eat much meat these days, I can tell you that you haven’t had pork butt until you’ve had pork butt prepared by a true pitmaster. Forget restaurants. Forget chefs trained behind a Vulcan, claiming mad grilling skills. Forget your neighbor who sticks something in the smoker for 2 hours and calls it his best ever, waving everyone into his yard for a sample (and a pat on the back). BBQ circuit pitmasters know that low and slow is the only way to go. Low, as in very low, smoky heat; slow as in all. day. long. 10 hours, 12 hours. 18, even. It takes time and patience and constant nurturing, like any work of art.
(Side note: butt is actually a shoulder cut, not, like, piggy bee-hinds and entrails and stuff. Okay?)
But I totally digress because today we’re not talking about pork, but rather, fideua. And we’re not doing any smoking, but rather straight up grilling. (Although you surely must be wondering how I got on the subject of smoking pork, and I can honestly say, I have no idea. I think I just have Steven Raichlen on the brain this time of year.)
A Spanish dish and cousin to paella, fideua (fid-ay-wa) is made with short pasta rather than rice. (Fideua is the Valencian word for “noodle,” so the dish is quite aptly named. “Noodle” — it makes me smile. “You want some noodle?” “Yes, please, if it’s no trouble.” “Why, noodle is no trouble t’all, let’s just fire up the grill here.”)
Since pasta is probably my favorite food evah, the discovery of this recipe was a revelation. If there was any way to make the oh-so-lovely paella any better in my eyes, it was to make it with pasta.
I don’t rightly recall how I came across fideua. It was, of course, through bumbling about on the interwebs, but I’ve lost track of the trail. What I do remember from browsing the handful of blogs featuring this dish is that one and all commented on fiasco of breaking apart the pasta. In place of the hard-to-find-here fideua pasta, you can substitute angel hair … but you need it in 2″ pieces. And you know how dried pasta is: just cracking a handful in half can mean chasing small bits all over the kitchen.
I was really grateful to find a bag of angel hair pasta already purposely broken into little bits. If you’re not similarly lucky, I’d suggest wrapping the bundle of pasta in a towel before breaking it.
As with paella, the seasonings are simple but amazing: paprika, saffron, and salt, lightly grilled to a paste to bring out their toasty flavors.
As you can see, it’s gorgeous in the pan, and a perfect outdoor party dish that’s sure to bring lots of oooohs and aaaahs. Although I usually prepare paella (and now fideua) as primarily a seafood dish, you easily incorporate other meats (chicken appears in this recipe, although I used Quorn, a meatless chicken substitute). Chorizo sausage is especially nice, with its spicy, porky flavors. For vegetarians, leave out the meat and add more chunky vegetables, like asparagus and sunchokes in the spring, or green beans and piquillo peppers in the summer.
But any way you make, mostly, I just want it in my belly. Post haste.
adapted from several sources, including The New York Times
Preparation is very, very important. Have all ingredients prepped, measured, separated and ready to go before you light the grill. Some steps go very fast, and the difference between properly cooked and burnt ingredients is you being in front of the pan. Seriously. Prep like you’ve never prepped before.
a large 15″ flame-proof pan (a paella pan is perfect for this dish)
soaked wood chips
4 tablespoons cup peanut, grapeseed or other high-heat oil, divided usage (plus more as needed)
1/2 pound chicken, cut into small pieces (I used Quorn tenders)
8 ounces, fideo pasta or angel hair pasta broken into 2″ pieces
1 medium onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 handful sugar snap peas, strings and both ends removed, cut into 1″ pieces (optional, but great for Spring)
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 large pinch saffron threads, crumbled
2 cups broth or stock (I used 1 cup vegetable, 1 cup clam juice)
1/2 pound shrimp, deveined and peeled
1/2 pound bay scallops, rinsed and patted dry with a paper towel
1 (15 ounce) can crushed or petite diced tomatoes
1/4 cup brandy or cognac
1/2 of a fresh lemon
extra sea salt, as needed for seasoning
Preheat the grill for two-zone cooking (one side hot, the other side warm — for charcoal grills, spread the coals over just one half of the bed). Add the soaked chips to the coals or wood chip box.
1. Place pan on grill grate and add 2 tablespoons oil. Swirl to coat, and then allow to heat. Add the chicken (or Quorn) and cook until golden (7 to 12 minutes).
2. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan, and sprinkle the pasta pieces over the surface. Begin stirring immediately, taking care not to flip the pasta pieces out of the pan (easy to do!). Let rest for 15 seconds, then stir again, repeating until the pasta is a light golden brown (some strands will probably burn black – that’s okay).
3. Position the pan so that it evenly straddles the hot and warm sides of the grill. Scootch the chicken and pasta over to the warm side. Add the onions, peppers and peas to the hot side. Saute until the onions are soft (stirring just the onions, peppers and peas).
4. Scootch the onion-pepper mixture aside to create a small cleared area. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the cleared area, plus the paprika, saffron and salt. Begin stirring the spice mixture immediately. Drizzle a bit a of the broth over the spices and combine to create a paste, moving the mixture around constantly so that it doesn’t burn.
5. Pour in the remaining broth and stir everything together, mixing all the ingredients well to evenly distribute the spices. Pull the pan back over to the hot side of the grill. Add the seafood, and cook until the shrimp are opaque with pink edges, and the scallops are opaque and firm (5 to 10 minutes).
6. Stir in the tomatoes and allow to heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the cognac and a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice, catching the seeds between your fingers.
7. Remove the pan from the grill and rest for a minute or two. Taste and add salt as needed.