It all started on Twitter, with one of those gastronomic debates that cheer up the networks like recurring herpes. The protagonists were the patatas bravas, and the swords spat sparks at the controversial border that separates the classic bravas from the potatoes with accessories. The “paella versus rice with things” debate of a lifetime in a different ring, with classicist fighters peeling their knuckles for the Madrid essence of the original and rebellious bravas wielding aliolis and potato deconstructions like butterfly knives.
Let’s say I am talking about …
I have many friends in Madrid who defend tooth and nail a correct use of the nomenclature “patatas bravas”. The classic recipe that is used in the “brave” museums of the capital continues to be untouchable for them. It’s almost a matter of pride: I go to the sports journalist from Onda Cero David Camps, from Madrid to the last follicle and demanding devourer of bravas. It is not for nonsense: his is a vindication of the recipe that he has eaten all his life in sanctuaries such as the brewery Olive groves. “Not just any potato is good for me. I want it good, diced, not exactly the same, and the frying has to be of quality. Here I am quite inflexible. For me they stop being brave when the potato is not diced. You put the sauce on the outside, without strange things with injection inside, the tomato does not bother me but it has to be a spicy, rich sauce, made with paprika, otherwise it is no longer brave. Oh, and the sauce has to be red. I don’t want white tints, ”says David.
The sauce. In Madrid they take it so seriously that the main houses have their secret compound and sell their bottled manna. The legendary Las Bravas -and its patented juice- is surely the maximum exponent; don’t get your hopes up, you’ll never know the exact recipe for the oldest dynasties. Chicken or chicken broth, vinegar, garlic, oil, flour, cayenne, onion, the essential paprika … Possibly, due to so much excess of zeal, the formula has mutated in a thousand and one ways throughout the country, without having to respond to the corset of a closed recipe.
But for the brave crusaders there are red lines. The most purists do not want to hear about tomato in sauce; the paprika should do the trick. For others, alarms sound when spicy disappears from the equation or when spicy appears. there i oli that popularized the famous Bar Tomás in Barcelona: what not a few call mixed potatoes. Go cocoa. “Aioli has spread a lot, even in Madrid, I have nothing against it, but it is not the same, when you add aioli or mayonnaise, for me they are mixed potatoes, not bravas. Before, in the Palentino, they made you angry and mixed. And above all, if the potatoes are not hot they will never be wild, it would be like asking for a chili that is not hot ”, concludes David.
In search of the lost braves
Despite being a relatively young dish, the origin of the patatas bravas is a nebula. If we look at the cut and paste of Wikipedia that circulate on the internet, the first written reference on patatas bravas would be found in the book Living in Madrid (1967) by Luis Carandell. A very accepted precedent is the potatoes a lo poor with spicy dressing that the poorer classes consumed to survive in post-war Madrid. We can only figure out playing old paper, since no serious research has been done on it.
Well, there is a guy who’s on it. His father, from Madrid. His mother, from Barcelona. Edu Gonzalez He is an eminence of the bravas: he knows everything about this dish, he knows the best places and 125 thousand people follow his adventures on his Instagram account @bravasbarcelona. He has been tracking the origins of the bravas for years beyond Wikipedia and assures me that the official versions are not so much. His research has led him to wrinkle potatoes with mojo picón de Canarias as the germ of the movement. And he assures me that he is in the process of showing that the Catalan custom of putting there i oli a las bravas is as old as the bravas themselves, so there is no debate. “The issue of the origins of the bravas is for a Netflix series,” he says.
After 12 years hunting, studying and eating bravas in Catalonia, Madrid and all of Spain, Edu is amused by controversy and little else. “I have tried more than a thousand different bravas, as if you put artichoke on me. I’m not a purist when it comes to cutting potatoes either: in Madrid they are made of large potatoes, but in other places they are smaller. Bravas or potatoes with things … but let’s see, if not even the Valencians agree on what a paella is. It is the national cover, but it is not necessary to become transcendent or more papist than the pope with the origins, because from what I have found out they are not so clear, ”he says.
According to Edu, the people of Madrid, although proud of their bravas, have not given as much importance as the Valencians to paella. The proof, he says, is that there has not been an evolution in the capital’s bravas as we have seen in other regions: Madrid has always clung to its classic salsa. For Edu, the irruption of all i oli in the bravas of Madrid is what activates the feeling of pride of the most purists, fearful perhaps of losing the essence of the original sauce marked by paprika. And be careful because not only bravas are cooked in the airlift. “The scene in Castilla y León is also important and I would also like to highlight Ponferrada, where it is The Still Life, a restaurant that makes bravas with the water from boiling mussels ”, concludes Edu.
From Docamar to heaven
“In short: potatoes with sauce have been around for a lifetime,” says Raúl Cabrera, the owner of Docamar, a family business that, since 1963, has produced the most revered classic bravas in Madrid. Raúl’s family has always told him that potatoes with hot sauce were a triumph in the capital in the 1960s, and they point to the now-defunct La Casona bar as one of the focal points of its popularization. The also extinct Casa Pellico appears in the writings as the other pioneer of the mid-20th century. By the way, Las Bravas is awarded the role of creator of salsa neither more nor less than in 1950 (they will have to be believed).
They say that Docamar’s secret sauce, 100% Madrid and moderately spicy, so that everyone can enjoy it, is like first love: it is never forgotten. Docamar is the history of patatas bravas in Spain, a good tradition, but curiously Raúl is open-minded with aioli and experiments.
“Some bravas are potato and spicy. The main ingredient in the sauce should be the hot pepper. In Madrid we have a more classic, unique salsa, but when you go to Catalonia and Levante they put you there i oli and nothing happens. With bravas there is no recipe: every bar has one. I like that there are innovations, as long as people recognize the classic recipe ”, says Raúl. Of course, on the planet Docamar -600 servings served on Mother’s Day- they could only be cut by hand and in a certain way. “On the weekend we have two or three people cutting potatoes by hand like crazy. The cut is essential, we like cachelo style, and there is no machine that can do it so well, “he says.
The spice is also non-negotiable for the Docamar helmsman. “If they don’t bite they are not wild, although there are people who have criticized us because ours bite little! It is necessary to be cautious with the spiciness because, in excess it reduces the flavor of the potato or the paprika aftertaste is lost ”. For Raúl, you access the psychedelic universe of potatoes with things when you cross borders such as adding curries or turning them into a ‘coulant’. “There was a time when aberrations were made in the name of the bravas and ketchup with Tabasco was put on. The fact that there has been an interest and an evolution has made the dish more respected ”, concludes Raúl.
Although many people from Madrid defend their patatas bravas as the original recipe, I appreciate that in this debate there is not as much lead as in that of paella and arroz arroz con cosas. The fact that they do not have clear and documented origins makes them as Madrid as they are universal. Each region, each bar, draws its own border. In addition, it is a young tapa, they do not have the weight of other more veteran recipes. Perhaps for this reason, the debate does not usually leave the channels of the distended pit between capitals. Bravas have more sense of humor than other dishes, and it is appreciated.
So do we call any potatoes patatas bravas? After listening to the experts, in my world, patatas bravas would be quality potatoes, hand-cut and irregularly diced, fried in a good oil, honeyed on the inside, golden brown on the outside, without excess crunchiness. As for the sauce, I only ask that it always be hot and that the paprika be heard. Add aioli, tomato reduction or some quality homemade sauce and we will continue to be good friends, as long as the original bravery is not lost. Everything outside of that, potatoes with things. Now kill me.