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Catalan rice dishes

Expert guided food tours in Barcelona by Nick Lloyd of Iberianature.

Rice Dishes:

Expert guided food tours in Barcelona by Nick Lloyd of Iberianature.

In restaurants these are often eaten as a first course, but at home or in the country an arroz can be the focus of a feast in the manner of a Calçotada . a general rule the quality of stock, whether based on meat or fish, is the all-important factor in these dishes.

Fideua - noodles with fish or meat: this is a sort of paella but made with fine noodles, fideus . It is a less complicated and lighter dish than many paellas , lacking the sometimes excessive medley of ingredients and the starchiness of rice. As it appears alongside rice dishes in specialised restaurants it is a handy alternative, especially if one reaches the stage that, "I can't possibly eat yet another paella!" Fideua is either meaty with bits of pork rib to enhance the stock or fishy with strips of cuttlefish ( sepia ). In either case the dish is brown in colour and there should be a crispy layer of noodles on the top as the dish is finished under the grill. Served with garlic mayonnaise.

Paellas - these are really Valencian dishes but are classified as Catalan as Valencia is part of 'greater' Catalonia (don't take this view with a Valencian!). The important things to remember with paellas is that: a) it's a rice dish, so the best quality and correct type, i.e. round varieties from the Ebro delta or Valancia's Albufera district, all the trimmings are just gravy, the rice is the thing entirely; b) it's a dry dish unlike risotto; c) it's eaten tepid having been allowed to rest for some time. As one may imagine in Valencia there are more paellas than there are days in the year, but basically they go from the 'original' made with snails and broad beans to the intermediate with pork, rabbit or chicken to the extravagant; lobster, seafood, etc. The most luxurious of all, and one which the Valancians concede (be suspicious) to Barcelona , is Paella Parellada , roughly meaning 'poseur's paella'. The story goes that a famous dandy in nineteenth century Barcelona asked the maitre d' of his favourite restaurant for some new exiting dish to relieve the ennui. What came back was a paella with everything you could possibly imagine in it but, and this is where the Valancians shun the dish, everything is shelled and cut into bite sized pieces! This parable emphasises the true nature of the paella - it is a solid, unpretentious, country dish, which ideally should be made over an open fire in the forest or on the beach. NB the best bit is the burnt crust, the socarrat , on the bottom of the paella dish, don't let the waiter take it away! It is my opinion good paella chefs are born and not made!

Arroz negre - this is another official Catalan version of the paella but made with squid ink in the stock and is possible the only truly black food in the world. It is strangely delicious - very sweet.

Arroz a la Cubana *: rice with tomato sauce and egg: boiled long grain rice is served from a mould with cold uncooked and very runny tomato sauce with a fried egg on top - it sounds weird but it's delicious on a hot day.

Arroz al Forn : baked rice. There's a trick question popular with press interviewers, " Paella o arroz al forn?" This is used to test someone's loyalty to the Catalan flag (usually a new player for Barcelona !) or the vexed question of whether Valencia is really a part of Catalonia . Baked rice is basically a paella finished in the oven rather than over a barbecue. It's much more convenient, naturally, and is easier to make. Purists will deride the lack of the socarrat , but on the whole it's a good alternative. For some reason baked rice seems more substantial, stodgy even, than a paella.


Expert guided food tours in Barcelona by Nick Lloyd of Iberianature.


See aslo a brief guide to Catalan food by Simon Rice


A guide to food in Spain

A brief guide to Catalan food by Simon Rice owner of this restored Casa Rabassaire which he rents out on the summer.

Cooking styles
Sandwiches & tapas
Special dishes
Rice dishes
First Courses
Main courses
Catalan desserts

See also Francis Barret's guide to food in Catalonia



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