Food and Drink


In season: Patatas bravas

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The Western world discovered Potatoes,when the conquistadors reached Peru, where they were a staple of the Incas. In 1565 after being unable to find any gold to plunder, Gonzalo Jiminez de Quesada instead took potatoes back to Spain. But it was not until the mid 1700’s that potatoes became part of the common diet across Europe, and they are now so much a part of European based culture that that it is hard to imagine life without them. This reliance on the potato infamously had a severe impact on Ireland in 1845 when potato blight caused the crop to fail.

Interestingly its initial introduction into Europe was met with doubt and opposition. In France it was considered poisonous and some local authorities banned its cultivation. Francis Drake’s introduction of potatoes to Queen Elizabeth had a set back when the cooks chucked away the tubers and served up the boiled stems and leaves. Everyone became ill and potatoes were banned from court.

There are thousands of different varieties of potatoes grown around the world, suiting differing growing conditions, but importantly to cooks, with differing cooking characteristics. Information about varieties and their cookery applications are now part of the labeling of potatoes, so it’s easy to find the right one to match your need.

The great culinary value of potatoes is that it’s great as a foundation and for absorbing stronger flavours like cheese, curry, tomato, and braised meats, and that it can provide a variety of textures from silky smooth to crisp. These features lead to some of the world’s great potato dishes, such as Pommes Dauphinoise, Boulangere, Croquettes, Frites, Paris mash, Aloo masala and the sublime soups Parmentier and Vichyssoise. A newer favourite is the Spanish dish Patatas bravas.

The dish typically consists of potatoes that have been cut into chunks, fried in oil and served with a spicy tomato sauce. In Spanish bars and restaurants it is traditionally accompanied by a shot of orujo or a glass of wine. The sauce will vary from area to area in Spain, so here are two approaches to Patatas Bravas.

Look for any of these varieties of potatoes: Toolangi Delight; Tasman; Coliban; Desiree; King Edward; Sebago; Russet Burbank; Beechworth Beauty; Pink fir apple; Kennebec; Pontiac; Patrones. If using new potatoes any variety will usually do.

Use scrubbed, unpeeled new potatoes, or peel large potatoes and cut into bite sized chunks. Par-boil in salted water for ten or so minutes. Pat them dry and shallow fry in hot oil until crisp and tender.

While the potatoes are cooking, make a tomato-based sauce, by sautéing onions and garlic, adding peeled chopped tomatoes and diced red capsicum, then adding vinegar, hot paprika and chilli powder to taste.

The second version, from Valencia, involves tossing boiled potatoes in a dressing of 3 parts olive oil to 1 part white wine vinegar, adding crushed garlic, hot paprika, chilli powder and Worcestershire sauce to taste. A side dish of aioli makes a very deliciously satisfying addition.

You can urn it into a sharing platter by adding chorizo, roasted or fried chicken, fried fish or maybe some authentic jamon.

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