Patatas Bravas are to tapas bars what chicken wings are to sports bars. Every single one has got them, but other than a few basic similarities, they can vary wildly from spot to spot.
Though many feature a spicy, dark red sauce, my favorite version consists of crisply fried cubes of potatoes served with a garlic-laden allioli with a dusting of hot smoked paprika taking the bravas sauce's place. Like with perfect French fries, a quick par-boil in vinegar-spiked water will cook the potatoes through without allowing them to break down.
A traditional Catalan allioli doesn't contain any egg, but most modern recipes do. I almost always include it, which technically makes the sauce an aïoli, the Provençal accompaniment to seafood (amongst other things) which is also one of the most misapplied words in the history of menu-writing. 99% of the time you see it on a menu, the chef really means "mayonnaise". In fact, next time you see "aioli" printed on a menu, ask yourself these two questions:
1) Am I at a Spanish restaurant?
2) Am I in Spain?
If the answer to both of those is no, then that's mayonnaise you're eating.
None of this really matters, of course, and here's the only thing that does: allioli (or aïoli) is delicious. I highly recommend making it from scratch. With a food processor it's really easy, and with a steady bowl and a whisk, it's not that much harder. I find that using 100% extra virgin olive oil can become a little overpowering, so I cut it with some neutral canola oil (it's also cheaper that way). You may notice that I whisk in the extra-virgin olive oil by hand. This is because the rapidly whipping blade of a food processor exposes much more of the volatile aromatics in the oil to harmful oxygen, producing a number of unpleasant, bitter compounds.
If you don't believe me, try it for yourself—taste olive oil allioli made partially by hand versus that made completely in a machine and tell me which one you'd rather eat. If you'd rather eat the processed version, then I politely decline your invitation to dinner, thank you very much.
Note: You can make a passable simple version of the allioli starting with homemade mayonnaise. In a large bowl , whisk together 3/4 cup mayonnaise, 2 teaspoons of lemon juice, and 3 cloves of garlic grated on a microplane. Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in 1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- 2 pounds russet potatoes, cut into 1- to 3/4-inch cubes
- 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
- Kosher salt
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice, plus more to taste
- 3 medium cloves garlic, grated on a microplane (about 2 teaspoons)
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 cups peanut or canola oil for frying
- 2 teaspoons hot smoked paprika
Place potatoes in a medium saucepan and cover with 2 quarts water. Add vinegar and 2 tablespoons salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until potatoes are tender, about 7 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, combine egg yolks, mustard, lemon juice, garlic, and 2 teaspoons water in bowl of food processor. Run processor until homogenous, about 5 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl. With processor running, slowly add canola oil in thin, steady stream, stopping to scrape down sides as necessary. Sauce should thicken and come together. Transfer sauce to a large bowl set in a heavy pot lined with a towel. Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in olive oil. Season to taste with salt, lemon juice, and black pepper. Set aside.
Heat oil in a 12-inch non-stick or cast iron straight-sided sauté pan over medium-high heat to 350°F. Add potatoes in single layer and cook, shaking the pan and flipping the potatoes with a spatula or tongs occasionally until golden brown and crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Using slotted spoon or wire-mesh spider, transfer potatoes to bowl lined with paper towels. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Pile potatoes in a large bowl, drizzle with allioli, sprinkle with paprika and scallions, and serve, passing extra alli-oli tableside. Extra alli-oli will keep in the refrigerator for at least 1 week.