Thursday, December 15, 2011

Potatoes in Barcelona

Patatas brava is a classic Catalan potato dish but these days it’s transformed into a very popular tapa in Barcelona bars.  Restaurant chefs get into the act too and all sort of interpretive variations occur.  The one I had at the Florian restaurant in Barcelona at Bertrand i Serra 20 in the early 1990s was demonstrated by the chef and owner Rosa Grau and her sous-chef Enrique Martin, who encased the potatoes in allioli.  This recipe is adapted from the inspiration of Chef Sergi Arola of the Arola restaurant in the Hotel Arts in Barcelona.  The brava sauce is the tomato sauce.  In more careless versions of patatas brava the brava sauce is made 
with ketchup and mayonnaise.  
For the potatoes
4 white rose or Yukon gold potatoes (about 20 ounces in all, each about 3 inches in diameter at the widest part)
4 to 6 cups olive oil for frying
For the brava sauce
5 ripe tomatoes (about 1 pound), cut in half, seeds squeezed out, and grated against the largest holes of a standing grater down to the peel
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
1 small dried red chile
Freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt and more if desired
For the allioli
4 large garlic cloves
½ teaspoon salt and more to taste
1 large egg
1 cup sunflower seed oil
For the garnish
Finely chopped fresh parsley for garnish
1. Preheat the oven to 260 degrees F.
2. Peel the potatoes and cut in half lengthwise.  Trim each half into a cylinder about 1 ½ inches in diameter using a paring knife and peeler.  Slice the cylinders in halves.  You’ll have four 1 ½-inch segments per potato.  Hollow out the middle of each segment using a small melon baller, corer, or a paring knife and demitasse spoon.  Try not to break through the bottom.  Place the potato segments on a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a skillet, simmer the tomatoes with the garlic and chile over low heat until all the water has evaporated, about 1 hour.  Transfer to a food processor and blend with the sugar and salt.  This is the brava sauce.  Clean the food processor.
4. Prepare the allioli in a mortar by mashing the garlic with ½ teaspoon salt until mushy.  Transfer to the food processor and blend with the egg for 30 seconds, then add the sunflower seed oil in a very slow stream until emulsified with the egg.  Correct the salt and refrigerate, covered, until needed.   You’ll have more allioli than you will need for this recipe. 
5. Preheat the frying oil to 360 degrees F in a deep-fryer or an 8-inch saucepan fitted with a basket insert.
6. Remove the potatoes from the oven then deep-fry the potatoes until golden, about 4 minutes.  Remove and cool for at least 30 minutes, but keep the frying oil hot.  Re-fry the potatoes for 2 to 3 minutes.  Remove and arrange on a serving platter and season with salt.  Once they are warm and not hot, spoon the brava sauce into the hollow and then cover with a spoonful of allioli.  Garnish with a sprinkle of parsley and serve.
Makes 8 tapas servings (2 per person)

[photo: Clifford A. Wright]