Adventures in Spanish Cooking: Patatas Bravas

After a long meditation and Google search on where I could find Fanta Limón in the US, I was forced to confront the fact that when I go back to America, most of the foods I have come to love here will not be available. So today, after a trip to the Saturday market, I decided to start experimenting with cooking Spanish food. My first attempt: patatas bravas.


“Fierce” or “Wild” Potatoes, as they are translated, are basically hash browned potatoes with a spicy tomato sauce. Those of you who know me well know my affection for potatoes. It has been called a “potato fetish” before. One time, while on vacation in Colorado, I ate cheese fries at every single meal. Naturally patatas bravas were going to be my first foray into Spanish cooking. The patatas part was pretty easy. I peeled and cut up the potatoes into cubes, then boiled them in salted water for about 10 minutes. I drained them and set them aside while I worked on the sauce, and when that had progressed enough I heated a skillet with olive oil and fried the potatoes until they turned golden brown and crunchy. The trick to this is to NOT TOUCH THE POTATOES, which is difficult for me because I like to be stirring things. This time I was able to resist the temptation and I got perfectly crispy patatas.


The sauce on the other hand was not so much of a success. I looked online for a simple sauce, which called for onions, garlic, tomatoes, hot paprika, flour, water, salt, and pepper. Oh, and dried chilies. There was problem number 1: I couldn’t find any dried chilies. This was super frustrating because I can clearly remember the dried fruit vendor selling long strings of dried red chilies when I first moved here. I guess it isn’t the season anymore. Another problem was the tomatoes. They were readily available at the produce stand, but it is February, and the quality was less than stellar. I bought a kilo anyway and hoped for the best. Problem number 3 was the hot paprika. I actually did have some, which I bought by accident back in October when I was looking for pepper. The majority of patatas bravas recipes call for cayenne or tabasco to up the spicy factor, but I was pretty sure the Super Arcos wasn’t going to have something so uncommon in the Spaniard’s diet, and I didn’t want to walk all the way over to the Día to find that they didn’t have any either. So I chose the recipe I did because it only called for hot paprika, and hoped that it would make the sauce spicy enough.


I chopped up the onion and garlic (and would have chopped up the chilies too, if I had any) and sauteed them, and then added about 4 diced tomatoes and a teaspoon of paprika. Once those had started to fall apart, I added the flour and water to thicken the sauce up and let it simmer for 15 minutes. I got to use my snazzy immersion blender to make it into a smooth sauce, and then I ladled out the result onto my potatoes.


My reaction: meh! You could tell that the quality of the tomatoes wasn’t great, and the sauce wasn’t spicy at all. This probably means that most Spaniards would love it, because unlike their compatriots in Latin America, Spaniards do not like overly spicy food. Patatas bravas are one of the only truly spicy foods that is commonly eaten in Spain. Personally I think that if you’re not sweating, it’s not spicy enough, so I was underwhelmed with the results. However, the sauce thickened up nicely, which is always a welcome surprise, and next time I’ll try to get some hot sauce from the Mercadona in Medina.


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