A culinary journey through Spain via the unparalleled medium of informal oral testimonies. This is written in English. If you would like a Spanish/Spanglish translation may I recommend reading slower, louder, and adding the letter “o” intermittently to the end of words. This is the seventh in the series of this crash course in Spanish cuisine. An introduction to this tale can be found by clicking here, and you can see the earlier forays of this adventure by scrolling down and reading more of this blog, which I would recommend that you do anyway.
Potatoes are not just for the Irish, and feature as a key ingredient in one of Spain’s most famous dishes. Of course, you get your usual patatas fritas, but the humble potato is a cherished ingredient of the Spanish dinner table and tapas bar. Often crisp and spicy, the Spanish style is a far cry from the functional boiled new potatoes of many a diet plan or lazy luncheon.
Before my Irish friend arrived in Spain I helpfully sell the country as follows: “I expect you’ll like Spain. For one, the weather is good so you’ll probably get sunburn again. And for two, some of their main national dishes prominently feature potatoes.” While he did indeed enjoy Spain, it wasn’t necessarily for the above reasons.
Also known as a Spanish Omelette, a better name I feel as it is quite different from the “tortilla” that I had been accustomed to for most of my life. The use of ‘Spanish’ in each name demonstrates the prevalence of this dish to Spanish culture.
Potato. Eggs. Oil. Fry. Serve. And there you have a centrepiece to your dinner. Add ingredients if you wish. Sausage or jamón are particularly popular for this – and in general. Onions have featured in all of the omelettes that I have tried, as has garlic, peppers and chives from time to time.
You can serve it hot or cold. Versatile. A staple year-round and liked by all the family, and, as far as I can tell, all of society, expats and indigenous alike.
The family prepares this at least once a week. At my Andalusian workaway, the Mexican-Italian couple made a tortilla on two different occasions, which were oilier and fried more than the Spanish-made tortilla. No less tasty, but less healthy I’m sure. Watching the effort that the couple went in to making it, part of me wonders how the father can consider it a simple dish for lazy meals – it is often served when we have had a big lunch or been out for most of the day. Serve with a salad, cheeseboard, and cured meat. Arriba!
A very popular tapas dish, I suppose for the same reason that we buy chips in the UK. Potatoes taste good. Fried potatoes taste even better. Spicy salsa de tomate or allioli (more common in Catalunya and Valencia, where the potatoes may also be sprinkled with olive oil, pepper, paprika, chili and vinegar) are both fine sauces. Great, lovely. Several people have spoken to me about patatas bravas as if it would be something mind-blowingly exceptional. If you are able to show me a relatively plain potato dish that is mind-blowingly exceptional please find me and let me taste it. A potato is a potato is a potato. It would likely be the sauce that I would remember – and indeed this sauce can be used in the dishes mejillones en salsa brava and tortilla brava.
Patatas bravas are most commonly found in tapa bars. My Andalusian host once got a tapas feast consisting solely of potatoes and cheese in a 2:1 ration. I enjoyed my anchoas. You can also top the bravas with other meats or fish to get more bang for your buck, more bravo from your brava, an additional texture to yer crispy ‘taters.
At the restaurant in the mountains this was the alternative suggestion to cannelon for my starter, as another recommendation for a traditional Catalan specialty. The father got patatas rellenas so that I could try. As I prefer pasta to potatoes, this was a good call, though they are worth a try. In the mountains they add meat to everything. When you are several hundred kilometres from the sea you need to get your protein from somewhere. And sprinkle some cheese on top and now you have yourself a party.
The best comparison that came to mind was a cheese, bacon filled fried potato dish which was served in my former favourite restaurant in Canterbury (it is now closed, or has changed from a steakhouse to a French bistro). It is comforting and indulgent, with two types of pig meat, two types of cheese, and a special Catalan salsa. Plus oil.
While I preferred the cannelon, this is my choice potato dish from Spain.
Las Castañas y Los Boniatos
Eaten on November 1st. Halloween isn’t such a big deal in Spain, but Todos Los Santos is, and what better way to celebrate than with chestnuts and sweet potatoes? This tradition is particularly common in Catalunya, with other parts of the country leaving out the sweet potato and just opting for chestnuts, almond cakes, and special donuts.
I’m here in summer, so no All Souls for me. But there is a pride in their tradition as they regaled me with tales of roasting in November.