Papas Bravas

When I think back on this three-day weekend, it is hard to remember that I never actually left North Carolina. My senses swear to the contrary.

On Friday night, as I mentioned in my previous post, Josh and I strolled along crowded Parisian streets, the scent of mussels and french fries infusing the hot summer night air.

On Monday, we went to Spain. We traveled there on burning lips, golden potatoes, and slow-cooked tomatoes.

The day had been planned for some time; ever since Josh mentioned that his favorite Tapas dish was one he had had in Spain called papas bravas. He hadn’t had it since, which is all I needed to hear to pull out my planner and mark the calendar with a “Tapas” day. What better excuse for another culinary adventure?

“Papas bravas” means brave or courageous potatoes, and once you’ve tasted the sauce that is served with this dish, you understand why. Its whole reason for being is to be as hot as possible, challenging anyone who crosses its path with its fierceness.

The tomatoes are cooked in onion, garlic, paprika, and dried chilies. They are left to simmer on the stove top until their bright summary essence collapses into the dark almost ferocious flavor of the spices. This sauce does not dance around the word "hot;" it embraces it as if its life depended on it.

But the potatoes, brave beings that they are, counter the heat with a softness so delicate that it is almost sweet. Add on to the mixture a drizzle of mayonnaise or homemade garlic aioli, and what you get is an explosion of heat immediately offset by the creamy softness of the starch and the sweet tanginess of the aioli. A veritable symphony in the mouth. No wonder it is one of the most popular Tapas in Spain.

Of course, to really turn the afternoon into a culinary adventure, we had to have other dishes from Spain.

First, we settled on a version of the traditional Spanish tortilla that, while still starring eggs and potato as its main ingredients, also included green and red peppers and was baked as opposed to cooked on the stove top. It had a golden puffy quiche-like quality when it came out of the oven that made it hard not to devour immediately, but somehow we resisted. We let it cool and then cut it up into delectable little squares, just the right size for popping into eager open mouths.

Lastly, we decided to change gears completely, and opted for roasted red peppers stuffed with crab. So simple and so delicious.

We spent the afternoon side by side in the little kitchen, pealing, chopping, dicing, and sautéing as we tried new foods, shared memories of Spain, and danced to flamenco music. The hours flew by as we worked, talking and laughing, and before we knew it the day had turned into night.

Finally, glasses of Spanish red wine in hand, it was time to sit down and eat.

There are few things that give me as much pleasure as watching someone get gob smacked by the emotion of the flavor in a first bite of food they love but haven’t had in a long time. Their face becomes a remarkable canvas of emotion; surprise, ecstasy, and nostalgia all fighting for first place before the person finally closes their eyes, sighs contentedly, and sinks into the magic of it all, letting themselves travel wherever the food may take them.

I watched gleefully as the emotions danced across Josh’s face. Then, sinking into the magic myself, I let the spices take me back to Spain.

Papas Bravas

The Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, pressed
3 teaspoons Spanish paprika
2.5 teaspoons chili powder (start slow and build you way up)
2 14.5 ounce cans diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt

Sauté the onion and garlic in a heavy based saucepan on medium heat until translucent. Add the spices and cook, stirring often, for another minute. Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and add the vinegar, sugar, and salt. Simmer for 20 minutes. Serve in a bowl or put in a dispenser to drizzle over the potatoes.

The Potatoes

4 large Russet potatoes
Canola oil for frying
Sea salt

Wash, peel, and cut the potatoes in 1 inch cubes. You can either boil the potatoes first and then fry them to get them golden and crispy, or deep fry them.

If you choose to boil them first, cover the potatoes with water and boil them for 10 minutes. Drain and let them cool before frying them to a golden brown in an inch or two of oil.

If you choose to deep fry the potatoes, fill a heavy pan with enough canola oil to completely cover the potatoes (make sure there are a couple inches between the oil and the top of the pan) and heat to the point that oil pops when sprinkled with water or fizzles when you put a potato in. Fry the potatoes for six to seven minutes, until they start to sizzle. Remove from oil, drain, and allow to cool. Once cool, fry again for another couple minutes until they turn a golden brown. Drain and sprinkle with sea salt.

Serve immediately with the sauce and a side of mayonnaise or aioli. Enjoy!

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