This post is for my older sons. In honor of them, yes, of course. But more than that, to quiet their disappointment. You see, I have been posting on Mama Ía blog for months, the food of Spain, but also the dishes I’ve been cooking in America for years, the Spanish way. Yet for my sons, cooking Spanish is cooking the traditional dishes they eat in Spain, with the local ingredients. Tapas (click here to find out about tapas) like patatas bravas, fiery potatoes, and sepia a la brasa, grilled cuttlefish, or calamares a la romana, fried calamari; and dishes their abuela, my mom, cooks for them, with the local ingredients, many of them grown in the land or caught in the sea, the Mediterranean, which obviously is far away from America’s Midwest. Dishes like merluza rebozada, battered hake, or grilled baby artichokes, tender even on the outer leaves.
Their comments make me think that they haven’t read the purpose and mission of Mama Ía blog: cooking Spanish, in the Midwest, sometimes making the necessary substitutions of ingredients to make the dishes the most authentic possible —if you’ve been following along, you know what I mean.
Yet, I have to agree with them in their most common comment, that two of the dishes they had been asking me to post for a long time, are not on the blog yet: one is tortilla de patatas, Spanish omelet (I’ll be making that soon). The other one is patatas bravas, fiery potatoes, a very classical tapa made all over Spain. And like the Spanish omelet, one that is made differently wherever you go, not just in the different regions, but also in the different tapas bars and restaurants. My family’s favorite are the ones from Tasca Ximo in Alcocebre, in the province of Castellón, a beautiful coastal town on the Mediterranean, an hour north of Valencia, where every year we spend a few days enjoying the sea, the sun, the food and the gorgeous sunsets. The patatas bravas from Bar Zoco, in my hometown of Onteniente, are a favorite of mine. The difference in the dishes comes from the way the potatoes are cut, the way they are prepared and presented, and the sauce or sauces poured on them. One thing is common in all of them: the sauce is spicy, smoky, and slightly garlicky.
My patatas bravas are applauded at my house, and I make two sauces to go with them: one is garlicky, almost like an aioli; the other one is spicy and smoky, a red sauce with hot pimentón and cayenne pepper. You can choose to pour one, or the other, or both sauces on the potatoes, which are first boiled in their skins and then deep-fried. Versatility at its best. Serve them in cazuelitas, small earthenware mini casseroles, and feel like you are in Spain.
I used 4-inch cazuelitas for serving (click here)
4 large potatoes, about 3 lbs
Flaky sea salt
Olive oil for frying
For the hot pepper aioli
8 cloves garlic
2 egg yolks
2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
Pinch of salt
1 tsp pimentón de la Vera (or Spanish paprika)
1 piquillo pepper (or 1/4 roasted red pepper, peeled)
1 cup olive oil
For the brava sauce
3 large ripe tomatoes
1/2 large onion or 1 medium-small onion
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp pimentón de la Vera (or Spanish paprika)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup white wine
3 Tbs sherry vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
4 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
Prepare the hot pepper aioli
To reduce the pungent flavor of the garlic, I follow chef M. Carmen Vélez’s tip to treat the cloves in this manner: 1 small clove will remain raw, and the remaining garlic cloves will be caramelized: cook them in 1/4 cup olive oil over low heat, turning them every 2 minutes or so, until soft and almost translucent. Remove the sauté pan from the heat source and let the garlic cloves cool in the oil. After removing the caramelized garlic cloves, save this very aromatic garlic-infused olive oil to use in other recipes.
In a blending cup, or in a tall container not much wider that the width of the head of the immersion blender, add all the garlic cloves, a pinch of salt, the piquillo pepper, the pimentón de la Vera and the lemon juice. Immerse a hand blender and blend until smooth. Add the egg yolks and blend again until very smooth and well blended. Slowly add the oil in a very slow stream, incorporating it into the sauce without stopping the blender. Use an up-and-down hand motion, while maintaining the running blades always in contact with the sauce. The aioli should reach a consistency just slightly thicker than that of mayonnaise.
Pour in a bowl and refrigerate, covered, until ready to use. The hot pepper aioli should be consumed no later than after 2 days, and never be left outside of the fridge longer than the duration of the meal when it will be consumed.
Prepare the brava sauce
Peel and dice the tomatos. Peel the garlic and cut by half. Peel the onion and chop finely.
In a saucepan over medium heat, add the oil and sauté the garlic and the onion until translucent, about 2 minutes. Lower the heat to low and continue to cook for another 7 to 8 minutes, making sure the garlic and onion don’t brown (if they do, add a splash of white wine). Add the pimentón de la Vera (or the Spanish paprika), the cayenne pepper, the black pepper, the white wine and the sherry vinegar (or the wine vinegar), stir and continue to cook about 30 minutes, until reduced by about one third.
Set a food mill over a medium sauce pan and pass the sauce through it, pressing to make sure you extract as much as possible from it. Discard the solids. Set the saucepan over medium-low heat it is until further reduced and acquires the texture of a thisk sauce or paste, about 10-12 minutes.
Pour in a bowl and reserve until ready to use.
Make the potatoes
In a large saucepan, cover the potatoes with water and boil over medium-high heat. Decrease the heat to medium-low and continue to cook for another 20 minutes, uncovered. Drain and let the potatoes cool down.
When cool enough to handle, peel the potatoes, then slice them into 1 inch-thick slices, and quarter into chunks of similar size.
Pour the oil into a heavy pot or cast iron casserole, to a depth of about 2 inches, and heat until almost smoking. Add the potatoes, in batches if necessary, and fry until golden, about 2 minutes. Lift the potatoes with a slotted spoon or wire skimmer and place on an oven proof platter lined with paper towels to absorb the excess oil. Sprinkle with salt and keep in an warm oven. You can reserve the oil in a heatproof container.
Serve the potatoes in small portions, drizzled with both the hot pepper aioli and the brava sauce. Set the sauces on the side so diners can add more, to their liking.