¡Olé!  The weather is distinctly British, but our vermouth aperitifs with a twist of orange peel made me reminiscent of when we lived in Barcelona.  Ah, the memories.  Sigh.  Nibbling on platters of wafer thin Serrano ham at Armando’s, crunching on crisp pescaditos fritos, the thick wedges of tortilla that go so well with that Catalan speciality pan con tomate – or should I say pan amb tomaquet and a carafe of wine, quaffing cava (80c a glass!) and a sobrasada and Roquefort bocadillo in the heaving La Champaneria and the generous plates of patatas bravas at Bambinos, slathered with mayonnaise and a lurid spicy sauce.


Who doesn’t love tapas?  Delectable bite-sized morsels piled up on the bar that you can pick at all evening long.  And that’s just what we fancied doing, starting with a classic: patatas bravas.  Crisp fried potatoes with a picante tomato sauce and aioli.  Wonderful if done well, not so much if the tapa ends up resembling soggy chips dowsed with ketchup and mayonnaise.

bravas1My secret is to simply use a really good fat and non-stick pan – and I mean the kind which turn out perfect omelettes time after time.  You only need a tablespoon of oil and are guaranteed crisp, moreish cubes.  I had some lamb fat saved in a jar in the fridge from a slow-roasted shoulder a couple of days ago, so used a spoonful.  Absolutely delicious!

You can see how little oil you use in frying if you have a good non-stick pan

You can see how little oil you use in frying if you have a good non-stick pan

RECIPE: Patatas bravas

Serves 2 hungry pandas or 4 as tapas


4 large potatoes, diced into cubes (I like to leave the skin on)

A sprig of rosemary

2 smashed cloves of garlic

A tablespoon of rendered lamb fat, duck fat, lard or olive oil

For the spicy tomato sauce

A glug of olive oil

A finely diced onion

3-5 cloves of finely chopped garlic

A tin of peeled plum tomatoes

A heaped teaspoon of smoked paprika

1-3 finely chopped dried chillies (depending on how spicy you like it)

A splash of red wine

A splash of balsamic or red wine vinegar

A sprinkling of salt and a grinding of pepper

The aioli

2 egg yolks

225 ml of groundnut or sunflower oil

25ml of olive oil

A spritz of lemon

2-4 crushed cloves of garlic (to taste)


INSTRUCTIONS:Heat the fat in a truly non-stick pan and add the potatoes, smashed garlic cloves and rosemary.  Cook over a medium heat for 15 minutes, moving around the pan from time to time with a wooden spoon.

Meanwhile, make the sauce.  Fry the onion and garlic until just browning before adding the chillies and tinned tomatoes.  Add the paprika, wine and vinegar and reduce uncovered until most of the liquid has evaporated and you have a thick sauce.  It should be more or less ready by the time the potatoes are done.  I used to add a pinch of sugar to tinned tomatoes, but found with these that I didn’t need to, season well.

So, now the potatoes are happily frying away and the tomato sauce is reducing, its time to whip up a quick aioli. Whisk the seasoned egg yolks until they are light and fluffy (I think this helps along the emulsification).  Add the oil ONE drop at a time, whisking briskly so each drop is incorporated into the mix before adding the next.  Don’t be tempted to add the oil too quickly at this stage or the mayo may curdle.   Patience.  After about ten drops the mayo should have started to thicken so you can add a splash of oil.  Keep whisking until the oil is mixed in and then add another splash.  It really doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes for the mayonnaise to start thickening up nicely, so you can progress to glugs of oil as the risk of curdling is passed.  When you’ve whisked in about half of the oil, add the lemon juice and finally you can begin adding the oil in a slow, steady stream – of course whilst whisking continuously – and you should end up with a thick, glossy mayonnaise.  I’m sure it’s even easier to make with a food processor or with an electric whisk, but unfortunately I am lacking in modern conveniences.  Season with salt, pepper and the crushed garlic.  The aioli should keep in the fridge for a week.

The potatoes should now be singing in the pan and the sauce reduced and gloopy.  If the potatoes are not browned enough, turn up the heat but keep an eye on them at this stage, moving them about.  To serve, simply pile the potatoes into a dish, sprinkle with sea salt and a couple of grinds of pepper, spoon over the spicy sauce and dollop the garlicky mayonnaise on top.  Skewer with toothpicks, sip an oaky red and enjoy!