Cooking Like A Mexican

BY: ALEJANDRA SARACHAGA

If you think pasta belongs only to the Italians and noodles to the Asians, think again. Fideo is a traditional noodle dish that many believe originated in Mexico. Here, pasta speaks Spanish and the word is fideos (fee-DAY-ohs). They are thin, round noodles, the sort you might pick for chicken-noodle soup. They range in thickness from threads of angel hair to spaghetti-like cords. Fideos are used in soups and casseroles.

Fideo. Who knew Mexicans do pasta. Bet you didn’tFideo noodles, like many pastas, are made of durum wheat and water, rolled, cut and dried. But they are prepared quite differently than Italian-style pasta. For one thing, sometimes the dry pasta is first toasted in olive oil. Next, instead of being cooked in a pot of boiling water, then smothered in sauce, the fideos cook right in the sauce, soaking up the flavors. And “al dente” is not a Spanish approach! Fideos are cooked until completely tender.

Fideos are packaged coiled into nests (in which case you break them into short lengths before cooking) or conveniently cut into 1-inch pieces. They are milled in thicknesses from 0 (less than 1/16 inch) to 4 (slightly less than 1/8 inch). The thinnest ones, the same as capellini or angel’s hair, are used in soups. The thicker ones, for which spaghetti is a good substitute, are for casseroles. There also is a 1/2-inch elbow fideo with a pinhole through it. It’s thicker than a 4 fideo, but cooks in the same time because it’s hollow.

In the beginning there were fideos — simple, hand-rolled cords of dough cooked in liquid — which may have been invented by the Greeks or the Persians or the Arabs, according to Alan Davidson’s “Oxford Companion to Food.” Probably both Spain and Italy received their pasta legacy from the Arabs, who invaded both countries between the 8th and 9th Centuries. In the ensuing centuries Italians put more twists on the simple flour and water paste, while Spaniards kept the purity of the fideo and brought them to Mexico.

Mexico’s classic fideo dish is sopa seca, (meaning dry soup), a sort of casserole cooked in a flameproof earthenware pot, also called a cazuela. Today, this dish is popular in homes and restaurants throughout Mexico and the southwestern United States, and is a staple of Mexican and Tex-Mex dining establishments worldwide, which are not my favorite but is a reality no matter how much distain I have for Tex-Mex. It can be prepared in many ways, with specific flavors and additions unique to different regions. Fideo may serve as a soup side dish, or main course, depending on how it is prepared and what types of foods are added to the noodle base. In addition to its authentic flavor, many people enjoy this dish because it is easy to make and very affordable, with plenty of options for people of all tastes.

All fideo dishes start with a pasta made from thin noodles. Depending on the region, recipes may call for vermicelli, angel hair pasta, or even spaghetti. In Mexico, this pasta is sold under the name fideo pasta due to the popularity of this dish. Start by breaking these noodles in half, or even into very short sections.

While most cultures call for noodles to be boiled, fideo is characterized by a different cooking method. After they have been broken into small pieces, they are placed into a pan filled with hot oil. The noodles are cooked to a golden brown, but care is taken to avoid burning the surface of the noodle. Once they are crisp, they are transferred to a soup pot or left in the frying pan for further cooking. At this point, the noodles will be boiled or heated in liquid to give them a traditional soft texture.

When served as a main course or side dish, this concoction is often referred to as Mexican spaghetti, or simply, fideo. Some chefs add tomato sauce, cheese, and vegetables to the browned noodles, with cilantro and garlic added for extra flavor. Those who prefer this dish spicy may also add pepper, chili powder, or hot sauce. The finished product may serve as a bed for chicken, beef, or other meat, or may be served as a starchy side dish. But let me clarify that this is the Tex-Mex style, below is the REAL Mexican recipe. By browning the noodles early in the cooking process, chefs give the fideo a unique flavor very different from standard spaghetti.

These noodles may also be used as the base for sopa de fideos, or fideo soup. This is more like a chicken soup with noodles but with much more flavor.

Parts list:

Servings: 4

1-tablespoon oil

1 small package of noodles

¼-white onion

1 1/4 cups tomato puree

2 bay leaves

¾-cup water

1-teaspoon of chipotle chili paste

1-teaspoon chicken bouillon granules

Salt to taste

1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Fry the noodles until you have taken a slight golden hue. Immediately remove it from the pan to prevent burning. Reserve.

2. Add onion and garlic to the same pan. If necessary add more oil and cook over medium heat until transparent look. Add the tomato paste and bay leaf; let boil a moment. Pour into a blender; add water and the chipotle paste and blend until smooth sauce. Return to the pan and season with granulated chicken bouillon. If desired, add salt.

3. When the sauce begins to boil, reduce heat to low and add the fried noodle. Cook for about 15 minutes.

Note: If you want to reheat, just add a little chicken broth.  ,