Sunday, October 2, 2011

Patatas Bravas

About 15 years ago, I was fortunate to spend a good chunk of time eating in Spain - from Barcelona down the Costa del sol to Granada, and then inland up to Madrid. You can do pretty well in the US, too. Spanish cuisine is pretty great, in my opinion, and tapas (their small plate/appetizery dishes) are among my favorite foods. Given that these are often salty foods seasoned liberally with garlic, paprika, cumin and olive oil, I guess it shouldn't surprise any one. For my final meat-free dish, I'd been planning to recreate a couple of my favorites - gambas al ajillo (shrimp in a garlic sauce) and patatas bravas. I ended up with an amazing garlic sauce complementing badly overcooked shrimp, and a pretty funky oily potato mush with gross sauce. Not our finest hour here at B&P HQ. We remain undeterred by failure here (mostly because we fail a lot), and gave the patatas bravas another go. Also, after some travel, I had potatoes, onions, goya chorizo, and canned tomatoes in my kitchen, and not much else.

I'm tempted to explain papas bravas as spanish french fries (essentially fried potato + tomato or oil based condiment), but done right, they're in a league of their own. There are endless varieties on this dish, but generally , they'reserved with a spicy tomato sauce or alloli or some combination of both (I opted for the latter here). I used red potatoes for this preparation - they're dense and waxy, and while they fry OK, they're generally known for roasting (I still make these potatoes all the time). It took some doing, but I got a nice dish out of them that I'd put up against anything I had in Spain. 

This is pretty easy preparation. You'll need:

5 - 6 good sized Red Potatoes
1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 spanish onion, chopped
2 - 3 cloves garlic, minced (I used more)
Olive Oil
Paprika (Smoked Spanish - also known as pimentón)
Crushed Red Pepper
Cayenne Pepper and Garlic Powder or Chili Powder
Salt and Pepper
White wine vinegar
Aioli (or mayonnaise)

To make the potatoes:
1. Preheat your oven (regular, or countertop toaster/convection) to 350 F.
2. Wash and peel the reds. Or don't, I like skins. 
3. Cut into 1" or 1/2 " cubes. Doesn't need to be perfect.
4. Arrange on a lightly greased cookie sheet, and bake in oven for 10 min. Alternatively, you could parboil for 5 - 10 minutes. You want to soften up the potato just a bit, but not cook through.
5. Warm enough oil (I used olive, canola would probably be fine if you don't want waste good EVOO) to cover potatoes in a small saucepan or saute-pan over medium heat.
6. Add potatoes, and fry until golden brown. This took a little over 10 minutes for me, using these potatoes. Much longer than I expected. You can (carefully) sample a potato to see if it's done enough. 
7. Remove and drain, and toss lightly with sea salt.

Cubed and ready for the oven.

Notice how you need to look closely
to tell they've been baked. If they're
brown, you've gone too far.

It was at this point, I knew
everything was going to be OK.
And it was!

To make the brava sauce:
1. Warm a few tbsp olive oil over medium-low heat.
2. Sweat onions and garlic for several minutes until almost soft.
3. I added in some chopped up chorizo and sauteed 5 minutes or so. This is completely non-traditional, but it rounded out the sauce nicely. Gave it some heft. I guess heft is desirable in food. It was here, anyway.
4. Add about a 1tsp each of paprika and cumin and a dash of chili powder (I make my own by grinding ancho and chipotle peppers and mixing in hot hungarian paprika, good granulated garlic, onion powder, salt and cayenne). I was pretty liberal with the pimentón. Salt and add crushed red pepper to taste. I've found recently that crushed red pepper lends a nice bit of heat to olive oil, and I get results than ground peppers.
5. Add in can of tomatoes and continue to cook for several minutes.
6. Blend fairly fine (ideally with immersion blender, but regular will work fine).
7. Hit with a splash of white wine vinegar. You want a little bite, don't overdo it.
8. At this point you're somewhere in the ballpark of traditional bravas sauce. You can stop now.
9. Or you can add aioli to smooth things out. Or in my case, light mayo. Kind of the same thing. I mean, not really at all the same thing, but the same stuff is in it. A little goes a very long way.

Onions, garlic, garlic, chorizo and
Spiced liberally. The whole sauce
picks up a nice red color from

Tomatoes are red, too.
Just about done.

At this point - combine and serve. I was very pleased with the results here. The reds had a good crispy skin and soft but substantial center, and were great with the chorizo-enhanced sauce. This was as a good as anything I've had in Spain or at tapas bars here in the US. Gambas al ajillo are up as soon as I track down some good shrimp.

 A couple random notes: This was more of  a deep-fry after my failed attempt, but a pan-fry with liberal amount of oil should be just fine, too. Some preparations even cook the potatoes in the sauce...I prepared some sauce with mayonnaise mixed in and some without - I think I preferred the former - just a bit smoother, but both were great. I jarred the sauce and am still using it a week later for just about everything. For great spanish food in the City, check out El Faro in the West Village. 4 generations of my family have been eating here for the past 50 year, and well, we still eat there 50 years later. That should tell you enough. 

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