There is nothing more Spanish than tapas and the most authentic of all, the one I am featuring today today, is patatas bravas.
How to prepare patatas bravas?
Patatas bravas, also known as papas bravas or patatas a la brava, consist of white potatoes, cut into cubes of about 1 inch, which are fried in extra-virgin olive oil with a few garlic cloves and a spicy sauce called “salsa brava”. This sauce is then poured on the hot fried potatoes.
Everyone has their favorite patatas bravas recipe, one that is undoubtedly the best, most “authentic” recipe and of course, in Spain, no two recipes are alike. In short, each city has its own recipe and claims that it is the most authentic and the best!
To be bravas, the patatas must be generously accompanied by a sauce that makes them “brave”. In fact, the name patatas bravas comes from the spiciness that prevails and you have to be brave to eat them. This spiciness comes from the hot pepper, one of the essential ingredients of this sauce.
This is where things get complicated because depending on where you are in Spain, the recipe for the patatas bravas sauce will change: the sauce will be more or less spicy, the main ingredients may be different or it will be more or less liquid.
The ingredients of this sauce are often subject to controversy. They differ essentially in two aspects:
There are those who are adamant about including tomatoes and those who think that there should not be any and that the color is only due to the paprika and hot pepper.
In Madrid, where this recipe was probably created, the bravas sauce consists mainly of tomato and hot pepper. In Catalonia and in the Valencian Community, it is prepared with garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, hot pepper and paprika. In Andalucia, patatas are usually accompanied by ali-oli (aioli), an emulsion of olive oil and garlic.
Sometimes, mayonnaise is added on the potatoes or on the side to make the sauce less spicy.
Whatever the recipe, however, since 2008, patatas bravas are one of the many traditional Spanish dishes in the official list established by the United Nations.
What is the origin of patatas bravas?
The origin of this dish is not very clear. Some attribute it to Casa Pellico; others say it was served for the first time at the Hotel Casona. Both are famous bars in Madrid.
These two bars have now disappeared but, what is certain is that it was around 1960 and that until today, people still talk about the legendary lines around these two bars, just to taste the patatas bravas. And these lines are a testimony and are not a legend!
The first written traces of the term “patatas bravas” date from 1967, when the journalist Luis Carandell wrote about them in his book, Vivir en Madrid (living in Madrid):
“las patatas bravas, que en algunos sitios se llaman ‘patatas a lo pobre’, son patatas fritas con salsa picante, como uno se imagina que los pobres comerían las patatas, es decir, untando pan en la salsa”
“Patatas bravas, which in some places are called ‘patatas a lo pobre’ (potatoes of the poor) are fried potatoes with a spicy sauce, because one imagines that the poor ate the potatoes, that is to say to say smear the bread in the sauce”
Although there is no trace of the term “bravas” in the past, it would seem that a similar dish was eaten in Madrid by the lower classes at least in the fourteenth century, or even earlier.
Ángel Muro Giori, a Spanish writer and gourmet, refers to certain dishes in 1893 saying: “… cualquier salsa, cualquier aliño, conocidos o por conocer, convienen a las patatas, […] incluso con sebo y con azafrán, que es como las gastan los pobres de Madrid)” which can be translated to… “any sauce, any seasoning, that is known, is suitable for potatoes, […] even with lard and saffron, as spend it on the poor of Madrid “.
By these words, it is assumed that the popular classes were already eating dishes with potatoes and seasoning similar to what we know today as “bravas” and that the bottom of their plates tended to be spicy.
And here are today’s patatas bravas that have become one of the most typical tapas in Spain.
What are tapas?
If you think of something typically Spanish, what comes to your mind? Bullfighting ? Andalusia? Paella ? Flamenco ? Sangria? Tortilla? In fact, there are so many things that are reminiscent of Spain, but the most typical are probably tapas! In fact, tapas are a tradition that can only be found in Spain, a bit like the mezze of Greek and Lebanese cuisines and anyone who travels through Spain is enchanted by this simple habit, that is so unique at the same time.
The Real Academia Española (Royal Spanish Academy, RAE) defines tapas as “any portion of solid foods that can accompany a drink”.
What is the origin of tapas?
The word tapa comes from the Frankish word tappo which, in French, means tapon or tampon (buffer) from which derives the Castilian word tapar which means “to fill” or “to cover” (a glass in this case). According to another theory, the meaning of “tapas” is explained by the fact that at the beginning, one could serve as an appetizer a slice of bread with cheese, charcuterie or something else directly placed on the glass of wine, thus forming a kind of lid.
This inspired a popular theory that the old custom of covering drinks with a dish to protect them from flies or dust has evolved with the addition of a small snack, consumed directly from the glass. There is yet another theory that a tasty appetizer, such as cheese, was used to mask or “cover” the smell of bad wine.
Many legends are associated with the birth of tapas, and almost all relate to King Alfonso X The Sage in the thirteenth century.
But I will only speak to you about the most famous anecdote that tells that the king, in one of his official visits to Cadiz, asked for a glass of Jerez, and just then, there was a very strong draft. To prevent the wine from filling with sand, the waiter had the good idea to put a slice of ham on the glass of wine. The king asked him why he had done such a thing and the waiter apologized and replied that it was a “tapa” (a cover) to prevent the wine from getting damaged by sand. The king liked the idea, he ate the tapa, drank the wine and ordered another drink, with another “tapa”. The other members of the court who accompanied the king asked for the same thing, and here is how the famous “tapa” was born!
Another theory attributes the origin of tapas to the fact that they were served as snacks after work or as merienda, the famous snacks served around 6 PM; they were basically a way of bridging the gap between lunch and dinner, which is not normally served before 10 PM in Spain. A tapa and a drink were a way to tame the hunger until the evening.
Things have not changed much, but the culture of tapas is now more versatile because you can eat them all day. Whether for breakfast, for a mid-morning snack, or a business or romantic date for lunch or dinner, tapas can be served as a main meal, as an appetizer or simply to accompany a drink. Enjoying tapas, just like that, at any time, is called tapear.
But the most accepted theory, the one that would have really made the Spanish eat tapas, would go back to a royal decree by Philip III in the sixteenth century, which was intended to fight against drunkenness in Spanish cities, and insisted on the fact that alcoholic beverages should be served with a “tasty piece”.
From these main legends (and there are so many others) on the origin of the term tapa, there are many local versions, more or less known. With each of them, the origin of the tapa either mentions a way to reduce drunkenness, to protect the drink, or to tame the hunger while waiting for the meal.
What are the main varieties of tapas?
There is a very long list of traditional tapas, but here are some of the most popular tapas:
– Boquerones, marinated or fried anchovies
– Calamares a la romana, fried squid
– Aceitunas, marinated olives
– Albondigas, meatballs
– Tortilla española, potato omelet with onions
– Parrochas, small fried sardines
– Pimientos asados, bell peppers marinated in olive oil and garlic
– Pimientos de Padrón, green bell peppers sautéed with olive oil
– Ibéricos y quesos – a selection of perfectly paired meats and cheeses.
– Chicharrones, rillettes
– Ensaladilla rusa, a salad of cold diced vegetables with mayonnaise, similar to Olivier salad.
– Queso manchego, sheep cheese from La Mancha, a region in the center of Spain.
– Salpicón de marisco, salad prepared with small seafood leftovers, fish and bell peppers in vinaigrette
– And of course … our patatas bravas!
Tapas are considered a real way of life, a social activity and a friendly way to meet people, friends over a drink to chat, laugh and taste these typical dishes!
We have tasted these delicious patatas bravas accompanied by a good gazpacho, and despite the number of patatas bravas that we tasted a month earlier during our summer vacation in Andalusia, we still enjoyed them with a glass of sangria!
- 4 large white potatoes
- 1 onion , peeled and chopped
- 3 cloves garlic , peeled and minced
- 3 cloves garlic (whole), peeled
- 3 chili peppers , chopped
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 2 tomatoes , peeled, seeded and chopped
- 2 cups chicken broth (or ham broth)
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- Extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup water
Cook the potatoes with the skin in a large volume of water for 25 minutes. Set aside to cool.
In a Dutch oven, heat two tablespoons of olive oil and fry the onion until translucent.
Add garlic and chili peppers. When the garlic is lightly brown, remove the pot from the heat and add the paprika. Mix well and put the pot back on the stove over low heat.
Add the tomatoes immediately and cook on low heat for 20 minutes, stirring regularly. Add sugar and salt.
Dissolve the flour in ½ cup of water and pour the mixture into the sauce. Mix well and finally add the chicken broth (or ham broth). Continue cooking on low heat for 20 minutes.
Remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes before adding the sherry vinegar.
Pour the sauce into a blender and blend until obtaining a homogeneous sauce without any chunk.
Once the potatoes have cooled, peel them and cut into pieces of about ½ inch.
Heat a good amount of extra virgin olive oil in a pan and fry the potatoes and whole garlic cloves over low-medium heat until golden brown. The oil must be very hot.
Drain and place on paper towels to remove excess oil.
Remove the garlic cloves and place the potatoes in a plate or bowl and pour the sauce over them.