In Scout’s How to Cook Vancouver series, we will be striving to combine our addiction to dining out with our passion for cooking by challenging ourselves to make Vancouver’s best restaurant dishes in our own homes.
Maybe it’s the dim lighting and cozy booths that make my appetite take a sharp turn for the better. Maybe it’s the expected – albeit reasonably-paced line-up – that hones my ability to easily consider ordering half the menu. Or maybe it’s something about the healthy dose of olive oil I’m about to consume that I know will make every dish go down so deliciously. Whatever the reason, when I sit down at España, the inviting and intimate tapas restaurant that makes my 40-minute journey down to the West End worth every second, I become insatiable. Being good-natured (when it comes to food, nothing else), I allow for the possibility of new or rotating items to be considered during the ordering process that my partner inevitably turns over to me because he’s “never going to remember it all if we’re getting so many things”. I have my standard orders locked and loaded though and they are non-negotiable: crispy olives, manchego, anything squid- or octopus-heavy, and of course, patatas bravas. Give me potatoes any day of the week, but every hour if pan-fried and served with aioli. Top it off with a glass of verdejo or Basque txakoli and let me die in peace for I need nothing more from this world.
For moments when you crave the comfort of potatoes drenched in sauce and mayonnaise in your own home, created by your own two hands, there is this: a home cook’s patatas bravas recipe that magically pairs with literally almost any dish you already know how to cook. Serve it alongside a summer feast of seasonal salad and grilled flank steak; serve it with a smattering of cheeses, olives, and charcuterie with a shot glass of toothpicks nearby for skewering; serve it with a full bottle of wine and a deep desire for solitude and cringe-worthy television. Hell, serve it for brunch alongside a veggie-laden frittata and thank me later for gifting you with such a perfect vegetarian brunch experience. This is a recipe so easily adaptable to a multitude of menu plans. Keep in mind that this dish loves a crowd, so unless you are truly admirable enough to polish off 3 pounds of potatoes solo and earn yourself hero status in my books, invite enough people over to demolish any possibility of leftovers, since the sauced potatoes tend to be at their best on the day of (nay, the hour of).
Source note: A trip to Vancouver’s foodie wonderland, the Gourmet Warehouse, will ensure that you get the ideal ingredients for perfect patatas bravas, which do not rely on technique so much as thoughtfully picked ingredients. Lovely olive oil, smoked paprika, espelette pepper, and good-quality canned tomatoes can all be found here. Smoked paprika often comes in hot or sweet varieties and I have successfully used both for patatas bravas, though the hot kind would be more traditional as patatas bravas derive their name from the spicy sauce they are tossed in. Additionally, I usually opt for San Marzano tomatoes, though crushed ones are sometimes harder to find than whole. If that is the case, keep in mind that you can always puree them first (don’t even clean the blender after, you’ll use it again to puree the sauce) and use as directed. This recipe also requires the use of 2 large skillets, which should both be able to fit on your stovetop simultaneously – no pressure, but you can literally buy any pan in existence while you’re at Gourmet Warehouse as well…merely an idea.
Patatas Bravas at España
Serves 6 (more if serving as part of an elaborate spread)
3 lb medium-sized waxy potatoes (such as Yukon gold or similar)
9 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided (plus just have extra, okay?)
1 small yellow onion, chopped
3 tsp kosher salt, divided + more to season
3 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
4 tsp smoked paprika, divided
1 tsp espelette pepper, divided
1 28-oz can good-quality crushed tomatoes (you will not use the entire can)
½ cup full-fat mayonnaise
1 clove of garlic, finely grated (or very finely minced)
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
Chopped flat-leaf parsley OR sliced scallions, to garnish
Scrub the potatoes well to get any debris off and to soften the skins slightly (do not peel though). Using a rough cloth or clean sponge should do the trick. Cut each potato in half lengthwise then cut each piece in half lengthwise again. You should now have 4 fat wedges. Cut each wedge into 3-4 portions crosswise, yielding ~1 inch pieces. Don’t fret about size too much – you’re basically going for potatoes that are just bigger than bite-sized. Place chopped potatoes into a large pot of well-salted water and place over high heat on the stove. Bring to a boil and keep them there for 2 minutes. Drain immediately and set aside (they will still be quite raw).
Set a large skillet over medium-high heat and, once hot, add 4 tbsp olive oil (this should generously coat the bottom of the skillet). If one of your 2 skillets is slightly smaller than the other, use that one now, saving the larger one for the potatoes. Once the oil begins to shimmer, add the chopped onion to the pan, reduce the heat to medium, and sauté until soft and translucent, ~8-10 minutes. Season the onion with a generous pinch of salt as it cooks down. Push the softened onions to the edges of the pan and add another tbsp of olive oil to the centre of the skillet. Add the garlic to the oil along with 2 tsp smoked paprika and ½ tsp espelette pepper. Gently stir the garlic and spices into the onion when you hear them starting to sizzle. Cook for ~1 minute, until everything is extremely aromatic. Add ~2/3 of the can of crushed tomatoes to the pan along with 1 tsp salt; bring to a vigourous simmer, then turn the heat to low, or medium-low if your stove is basically off when on low heat – the mixture should eventually stay bubbling very gently. Cook the sauce for ~30-40 minutes. You can top up the mixture with spoonfuls of water if the sauce starts getting too thick or reducing too rapidly. The sauce is ready when the tomatoes no longer have that astringent tinned tang to them and instead have a rich savoury taste. Season the sauce to taste with salt as needed. Let cool slightly.
While the tomato sauce is cooking, go back to focusing on the potatoes. Place a large skillet over medium heat, and once hot, add 4 tbsp olive oil (again, you should have a fairly generous amount of oil in the pan). Allow the oil to heat up (without smoking), then carefully add the par-boiled potatoes to the skillet, which should immediately sizzle hard on contact. Spread the potatoes into as even a layer as possible and sprinkle with 2 tsp salt, 2 tsp smoked paprika, and ½ tsp espelette pepper. Toss to coat each potato in oil and spices, then shake back into an even-ish layer. Fry the potatoes, tossing every 4-6 minutes or so, to allow them to gradually start building up a nice crust. If the pan ever starts to seem dry, swirl in a little extra olive oil. Fry the potatoes until they develop lovely crispy spots and have cooked through completely, ~30 minutes total. You don’t want the potatoes turning to complete mush, but a few will inevitably fall apart and that is to be expected. The key is tossing them as little as possible while not allowing them to get burnt patches. Ideally your tomato sauce will be finished just before (or even well before) your potatoes have crisped up. Give the potatoes a taste as they near the end of cooking and decide if they need a little more salt.
Let the potatoes cook while you finish things up (if already done, remove from the heat and let them sit in the hot pan undisturbed, but do not cover). Pour the tomato sauce carefully into a blender and, with the lid slightly ajar and an old tea towel in your hand, puree the sauce until smooth. Stop the blender every 5 seconds or so to lift the lid off entirely and release the steam build-up. Blending hot/warm foods can be done without any explosive incidents occurring so long as you keep the lid slightly open (with the tea towel shielding you from any splattering specks) and pop it off completely every few seconds. The sauce should not take long to puree. Get the toppings ready by preparing the garnish and mixing up the mayonnaise with the grated garlic and lemon juice. You can also make the mayo several hours ahead of time and keep refrigerated until ready to use.
To serve you have a few options depending on texture preferences. The classic presentation would involve tossing the crispy potatoes in enough sauce to thoroughly coat them, then adding a giant dollop of mayonnaise on top of the whole thing. Some people prefer to have the mix of crispy and coated potatoes, in which case I recommend just drizzling the sauce over the potatoes, but not tossing them to coat (or tossing half the potatoes in sauce and plating amongst un-sauced potatoes). Keep in mind that you may not need to use all of the sauce – please coat to your liking. You also have the option of transferring the mayo to a cheap squeeze bottle (also available at Gourmet Warehouse!) and drizzling it over the potatoes instead of dolloping. Garnish with either scallions (the España way) or parsley (my personal preference solely for the herbaceous zing). My ideal version involves thoroughly coated potatoes + mayo drizzle + parsley. You are truly the master of your own fate here. The only rule is that you serve everything right away and with icy glasses of wine (bonus points if you can score some Basque txakoli).