José Andrés first started cooking up the tapas of his native Spain in the U.S. in the early ’90s. Fast forward to today, and not only is the chef widely seen as the instigator of the small plates trend, but he also helms dozens of restaurants across the country, including two-Michelin-starred minibar. The newest addition to his culinary empire? A River North outpost of the D.C. restaurant that made him famous: the tapas-focused Jaleo.
Chef Ramón Martínez has been working alongside Andrés for the past 15 years, overseeing Jaleos nationwide. But to hear the Barcelona native tell it, he never planned to spend quite this much time Stateside.
“My plan was to come for a year, a year and a half at most, to see all José’s restaurants and learn why he was so successful,” he says. Now, over a decade later, Martínez is a constant collaborator of Andrés’, helping to ensure that Jaleo continues to evolve while also remaining true to its core principles of evoking authentic Spanish food.
“We all love to open in all of the major cities and show everyone what Spanish culture is,” he says, noting that he’s particularly excited to be opening in Chicago, where “the guests are super foodie.”
“One of the best examples is the anchovies that we have from Spain — and we have them at all Jaleos … the place that we sell the most is in Chicago,” he says. “And that shows that people are very adventurous, and they like to try new ingredients.”
But despite the local taste for anchovies, at any Jaleo, patatas bravas are perhaps the top seller.
“People just keep coming to order them,” says Martínez. “Because the mix of acidity of the tomato sauce, which is also a little sweet, and then you have the tangy and the slight bitterness of the alioli, because of the garlic, and then just the fried potatoes on top … it’s just a beautiful combination of textures and flavors.”
In Spain, you find patatas bravas everywhere from the Basque Country to Cataluña. And according to Martínez, there are as many recipes as there are cooks.
At Jaleo, it all starts with great potatoes, which are fried until creamy inside and super crunchy on the surface. Russets are Martínez’s “go-to” thanks to their floury nature, which helps bump up the crispy factor. Yukon Golds, he says, are another good option, which won’t get nearly as crispy but do boast lovely creamy texture thanks to their starch content.
Whichever potato you choose, the first step is to slowly confit them over very low heat. This, Martínez notes, is a step that can be done in advance to save time; the second fry, which takes just two minutes per batch, should be done just before serving.
One thing that may make experienced foodies balk? Martínez makes a habit of frying in extra-virgin olive oil, which American cooks have been told time and again not to do. But in Spain, Martínez asserts, EVOO is a frequent frying fat providing a delicious and aromatic final result… so long as you choose the right one. An oil with .4 percent acidity or less (info that’s easily available on the packaging of your favorite brand) is the key; any more, and your dish will end up bitter. (If your EVOO is too acidic, he says, opt instead for virgin oil or blended oil.)
For dishes like this one that require a controlled frying temperature, a candy thermometer is always a good tool to have, but if you don’t have one, you can eyeball it. On the first fry, Martínez recommends heating the oil over medium-low heat for about 10 to 15 minutes before adding the potatoes. Add just one cube and listen, not for a big sizzle, but a gentle “shh” sound. Little bubbles are all you need to get your potatoes nice and tender.
When the first fry is over, keep the potatoes at room temperature to maintain their creaminess, and then when ready to fry them for a second time, heat the oil until it just begins to go smoky.
“When it starts to smoke — just a little bit, not much — then you drop one potato in,” says Martínez. When that potato is frying nicely — sizzling but not burning — you can add the rest.
“Make sure you fry in batches,” he says, noting that it’s essential to ensure that your oil doesn’t drop in temperature too quickly, which could make the potatoes oil-logged and greasy.
To serve, the perfectly fried potatoes are paired with a concentrated tomato sauce with a touch of acidity and a hint of smokiness thanks either to Spanish pimentón or chile de arbol — an American play on the classic unique to Jaleo. Housemade alioli, a garlicky mayonnaise, adds just the right amount of richness to the finished dish.
Patatas bravas is typically paired with other tapas like grilled Catalan botifarra sausage or gambas al ajillo — Spanish shrimp with garlic.
“I like to get my potato and dip it in the oil that’s left from the gambettas al ajillo,” confides Martínez.
But patatas bravas also make a phenomenal side dish to grilled or baked fish.
However you serve them, they’re the ultimate comfort food – something straight out of Martínez’s childhood.
“Growing up and seeing so much food culture with my family, that’s where I get my passion,” he says. “And you know, at Jaleo, we always try to have a little sprinkling of all of the traditions and cultures that we have in Spain.”
Jaleo’s Patatas Bravas
Fried potatoes with spicy tomato sauce and garlic mayonnaise
For the brava sauce:
- 6 large ripe tomatoes (or canned tomatoes, if tomatoes are out of season)
- 2 tablespoons Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ teaspoon pimentón (Spanish sweet paprika) or chile de arbol
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
- Salt to taste
For the alioli:
- 1 egg
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled
- Pinch of salt
- ½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice (from about ¼ lemon)
- 1 tablespoon filtered water
- 1½ cups Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
For the potatoes:
- 3 cups of blended oil (or low-acidity olive oil)
- 1 pound Idaho potatoes, (about 3 large potatoes) peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes
- Salt to taste
- ½ teaspoon pimentón (Spanish sweet paprika) or chile de arbol
To make the brava sauce, slice the tomatoes in half. Place a grater over a bowl and rub the open side of the tomato over the grater until all the flesh is grated. Discard the skins. (If using are whole canned tomatoes, just blend everything and strain to avoid to any seeds.) Strain the grated flesh through a sieve to produce 1.5 cups of tomato puree.
Pour the 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a small sauté pan and warm over low heat. Add the tomato purée, sugar, bay leaf, pimentón, and cayenne. Raise the heat to medium and cook until the mixture reduces by ¼ and becomes a deep red color. Add the vinegar and reduce for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, season to taste with salt and set aside.
To make the alioli, place the egg, lemon juice, water and salt in a blender, and blend everything until really smooth, adding the olive oil in a slow, steady stream to emulsify. Make sure the paste soaks up the olive oil as you go. Keep adding the oil drop by drop until you have the consistency of a very thick mayonnaise. If your alioli gets too dense, add a little water (about ½ teaspoon) to thin it out.
For the potatoes, pour the olive oil into a deep saucepan, and heat over medium-low heat to 250 degrees. Gently place the potatoes in the oil and poach them, frying slowly until soft, about 15 minutes. The potatoes should not change color but will soften all the way through. Test for softness using a toothpick. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside to drain. Allow the oil to return to 250 degrees before frying the next batch.
Raise the temperature of the olive oil to 350 degrees. Working again in batches, return the potatoes to the pan and fry until crispy and brown, about 2 minutes. Be sure to allow the oil to return to 350 degrees before frying the next batch. Set the potatoes aside to drain and season to taste with salt.
To serve, place 2 tablespoons of brava sauce on the bottom of the plate. Place the fried potatoes on top and several dabs of alioli all around the bravas. Sprinkle some pimentón on top.
Brava sauce and aioli can be kept in refrigerator, tightly covered, for two days.
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