Arroz Caldoso is a meat or seafood broth (bouillon) containing rice. Arroz is the Spanish word for rice and caldo means stock (broth). Arroz caldoso is almost certainly a precursor to paella, which is a relatively modern dish, invented in the 18th Century. The Moors began cultivating rice in Spain, perhaps as far back as the 8th and 9th Centuries and the marshes and lagoon of L’Albufera, (in the south of Valencia) proved to be a perfect place for paddy fields (though rice is cultivated all over Spain). Originally rice dishes would have been cooked in cauldrons or terracotta cazuelas – soupy stews of fish or meat, such as a Caldero Murciano or oven baked meat and rice with beaten eggs on top like Arroz con Costra.
Saffron flavoured fish soups and stews were popular with the Ancient Greeks, who cooked them in a cauldron over an open fire. The Greeks colonised the Mediterranean coast of Spain, 500 years or so, before the Romans arrived. The remains of Greek fish salting factories (along with a modern museum) can be see at Empúries on the Costa Brava, dating back to 575 BC.
To do arroz caldoso justice it needs a decent stock – ideally this should be home made, but good fishmongers and Spanish delicatessens sell bottles of the stuff. I wanted a dozen or so raw mussels for the recipe, but they come by the kilo, so I thought I’d cook some, add them to the dish and make good use of the broth.
Mussels and broth:
1/2 kg raw mussels
1 small onion (chopped)
3 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
4 teaspoons fresh parsley (chopped)
a large glass of dry white wine
a pinch ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
This is a very quick and easy way of cooking mussels. Rinse the molluscs under a cold tap, just before cooking – remove their beards and scrape off anything on the outside of the shell. Don’t soak them in water beforehand, it kills them! Tap the mussels and discard any that refuse to close.
Using a large saucepan with lid, fry the onion and garlic in olive oil until soft. Sprinkle on the chopped parsley and a little black pepper before pouring on a glass of dry white wine. Bring to a simmer, add the mussels, put the lid on, agitate and turn the heat down. The mussels will steam and open when done (from 2 – 5 minutes).
Save the mussels (not the shells) and broth for later. You will certainly need a bit more fish stock – up to 3 pints in total. I cooked up the bones from 3 sea bass (donated by the fishmonger) – see my recipe for fish stock here. The broth and stock can be mixed when cool.
Arroz Caldoso recipe (serves 4):
2 small to medium squid (cleaned and sliced)
1 medium sea bass filleted (diced)
12 large raw prawns
1/2 kg cooked mussels (shelled)
12 raw mussels in shells
500g Spanish Bomba or Senia rice
1 Spanish onion
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 red pepper (chopped)
4 tomatoes (grated)
3 pints fish stock
a large glass of dry white wine
1 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera dulce
a pinch of saffron
4 teaspoons fresh parsley (chopped) – save a little for garnish
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and cracked black pepper
lemon wedges (to serve)
There is no set recipe for arroz caldoso – this is the type of Spanish recipe, where one uses the fish that are available – some shellfish (mariscos) and firm fleshed white fish (sea bass, hake, monkfish, etc.) are ideal.
First flash fry the prawns in hot oil until they go pink. Remove them immediately and save for later. Incidentally, the Spanish word for prawn is gamba, which relates to the French jambe (leg), jambon (ham), Spanish jamón (ham), Italian gamba (leg) and English ham. If you look closely at a prawn, you will notice that the tail looks leg shaped!
Sofregir (underfry or poach) the chopped onion until it goes soft and sticky.
Move the onion to the edge of the pan and cook the red pepper (capsicum) in the centre for a few minutes.
When the pepper has softened, move it back with the onion and add the squid. After the squid has had a few minutes the chopped sea bass fillets can go in with it.
The fish doesn’t need to be cooked for very long, before the parsley and garlic can be stirred in.
Grate 4 tomatoes (cut them in half, shred the wet side and throw away the skin) into the middle.
Sprinkle on 1 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera dulce (sweet).
Mix the dry rice (do not wash it!) into the dish – allow it to soak up some of the juices for a couple of minutes.
Pour on a glass of dry white wine and 2 pints of stock (more can be added as necessary). Unlike paella, this dish can be stirred to stop the rice sticking.
Once the stock and wine has been added cook for about 10 minutes.
Grind up a pinch of saffron and pour on hot water – this goes into the soupy rice, just before the prawns.
Stir in the cooked mussels and arrange the raw ones, along with the cooked prawns on top. The mussels will steam and open in about 5 – 10 minutes.
When you notice the rice swelling, it’s almost ready. Bomba (and other short grain Spanish rice) is extremely thirsty, so add more stock if it starts to look dry. Serve as soon as the rice is al dente and don’t leave it too long as it will continue to suck up all the broth. Sprinkle a little chopped parsley on top. The arroz caldoso gave off a fabulous aroma of smoke and fish reminiscent of smoked haddock – the smokiness comes from the pimentón.
N.B. there’s a very similar dish to Arroz Caldoso, called Arroz Meloso. Arroz Meloso has a thicker broth and I believe meloso comes from the word miel, (mel in Catalan) meaning honey – this is sticky, as opposed to honey flavoured. I have seen a reference which suggests that meloso is related to the smell being like molasses, but since the Spanish for molasses is melaza, I’m not convinced.