I met Omar Allibhoy in June at a masterclass hosted by the JW Marriott in Mumbai and heard him talk about his Spanish heritage firsthand. It was so endearing to see someone who has achieved so much still tie in their success story with the food they cooked as a child. His restaurant Tapas Revolution is really everywhere in the UK and he’s a brand himself now with several cookbooks to his name.
I was lucky to score a copy of Tapas Revolution’s cookbook years and years ago, and made recipes I can’t even remember now, but Omar’s book has stayed on my shelf since my days in London. As is the case with most cookbook authors, what draws me to someone is that very home cook-friendly approach they take to food. There’s no wasting, plenty of ideas to use leftovers, and a casual tone to ease me into a cuisine so different from my own. The fact that Omar looked like Antonio Banderas of the food space, only added to that charm.
Omar does simple Spanish dishes and one of the more notable recipes in his cookbook is for something called a Fideuà, which is a paella made with vermicelli pasta, instead of a rice like Bomba which would be the traditional rice for paella. It’s also an incredibly simple recipe because it’s a one-pan wonder. Seafood and onions and tomato are bunged into a hot hot pan till they begin to form sticky crusts at the bottom, which then become the flavour base for a crazy delicious stock that the vermicelli cooks in briefly. Intuitively, I just knew this dish was going to taste incredible and it did. There’s this indescribable savouriness that the whole fideuà takes on from catching all the flavours of the squid and prawn from the bottom of the pan and it is for this alone that I want you readers to make it.
Omar insists that you cook this dish in small quantities for 2 or 3 because it’s all about fast cooking and I understand that because risotto too more often than not has the best consistency if made in smaller batches. You can make this in a frying pan too, though I used a cast iron skillet for some heat browning. When buying your vermicelli pasta, I prefer a brand like Bambino roasted vermicelli with its smaller more definitive strands. Remember that you want to make pasta here, and you’re not making a seviyan kheer. It is for this reason that you must only add enough water at the end to cook the vermicelli. Any more and you could risk turning it into a soggy mess.
Yield 2-3 servings
If buying your prawns already cleaned and deveined from your fishmonger, ask for some prawn heads. Frying the heads in the oil, perfumes the base of the dish. Frozen prawns can be used but there’s some difference in the final taste.
Olive oil 100ml
Squid 250g, cleaned and chopped
Prawns 250g, peeled and deveined, heads reserved
Garlic 4 cloves,
Onion 1 small, finely chopped
Tomato 1, finely chopped
Tomato puree 2 tablespoons
Sugar 1 tbsp
Saffron 1 pinch
Sweet paprika 1/2 tsp
Chilli powder 1/2 tsp
Chicken or Veg Stock cube 1/2
Vermicelli pasta 200g
Salt to taste
Lime wedges to serve
Heat 3-4 tablespoons of the olive oil in a wide frying pan or cast iron skillet over medium high heat. When hot, add the prawn heads in and fry till the prawn heads turn reddish. Using a slotted spoon, take the prawn heads out of the pan and add the remaining olive oil.
When it is quite hot, add the squid and two pinches of salt. Put a splatter guard over the pan and let the squid cook. It will release a lot of water, then the water will reduce and form a sticky coating around the base of the squid.
Don’t stir or scrape the bottom of the pan as that's where the flavour is. Once the squid is starting to take on a colour and the liquid has almost disappeared, add the prawns, onion and garlic, then continue cooking with the splatter guard on.
When everything has become sticky again and the onions are a dark golden, add the tomatoes, puree, sugar, saffron, chilli powders and the stock cube, plus about 1/2 litre of water and continue cooking over high heat till there’s only enough water left in the pan to cook the vermicelli which will cook very quickly- in 2-3 minutes of covering the pan.
When there is only enough water left to cook the pasta, stir the pasta in and cover the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes till the vermicelli has cooked to a pasta consistency. Take off the heat and let it sit for a bit on the side and the skillet will crisp up the bottom layer of the dish. Taste for seasoning quickly and serve with lime wedges.