Patatas Bravas

Patatas Bravas is a Spanish tapas dish, of fried potato, with a spicy sauce.

Having decided to have a go at patatas bravas, I needed a recipe. Step forward Felicity Cloake and her How to cook the perfect… in the Guardian. I’m starting to think it’s probably worth buying a digital subscription. It would be worth it just for her column alone, let alone all the Yotam Ottolenghi and Anna Jones recipes too; it’s a great resource.

I followed the recipe, with a couple of changes. I don’t have any sherry vinegar for instance, so used red wine vinegar instead. I also hadn’t bothered to buy any chives. Other than that, it was straight down the line.

Having grown a few chillies this year, I decided to use one. I should’ve used more than one, as it turns out that they’re not as hot as last year. The tomato sauce had no heat to it what so ever. Which meant that it tasted very similar to the rich tomato sauce from The Geometry of Pasta.

Where the tomato sauce had been distinctly lacking any zing, the aioli had enough zing to raise the dead. It also made a lot. By a lot, I mean enough to slather on double the recipe and still feel like you’ve overdone it a bit.

This all made for a bit of a disappointing dish. Lacklustre tomato sauce, overly pokey and rich aioli, I was struggling to see why people rave about it.

Patatas Bravas, first attempt

In a twist of fate, I ended up having to buy another bag of Charlotte potatoes. So decided to have another crack at the recipe a few days later. I decided to change a few things.

Out when the homegrown chilli and in came homegrown chilli flakes, I know they’re hot. Rather than roasting the tatties at 200°C, I followed Yotam’s method for the potatoes in his Batata Harra recipe; so 240°C to get them good and crispy.

I also cooked the tomato sauce for longer, really reducing it to intensify the flavour and make it thicker. As I mentioned above, there was a lot of aioli left over, so I didn’t have to make any more of that.

This was almost a different dish. The heat and spiciness of the tomato sauce, the crunch of the tatties and the cool of the aioli. I can see why people rave about it.

I’ll definitely be making this again. Just have to think of a few other veggie tapas dishes to go with it…

Batata Harra

It’s taken ages to finally get round to making this, maybe it’s just because Ottolenghi’s Plenty More didn’t have a photo, but more likely that I’ve just been too busy doing other stuff.

To be honest, a year ago I couldn’t have told you what batata harra was, or where it came from; Wikipedia isn’t exactly replete with information either. It turns out it’s a Lebanese dish and the name translates as spicy potatoes, it’s also pretty damn tasty.

You’re supposed to make it with red pepper, but my wife used the only red pepper we had the evening before, even though I’d ask her to not to; so I had to make do with a yellow one. I’m sure the taste wasn’t affected, but you can really see why a red one is specified, as the yellow one is the same colour as the potatoes, so you loose a lot of visual appeal.

Ottolenghi’s recipe, calls for the oven to be on 240°C, which leads to nice and crispy potatoes, but utterly destroys the crushed garlic and chopped coriander. Never having had batata harra before, I have no idea if this is the desired result or not.

I made half the quantity in the recipe, which was enough as a main course on it’s own. I misread it though and used ½ a teaspoon of homemade chilli flakes, rather than a ¼. By the time I finished, it was like someone had blow torched the inside of my mouth while I took a shower; the sweat was streaming down my head. I know it’s supposed to be spicy potatoes, but I’d definitely use a touch less next time. I couldn’t help thinking that it needed some sort of yogurt or labneh based condiment to take the edge off the heat as well.

One other thing I might change, is the use of the lemon juice. While works really nicely with the other flavours, I do wonder if using barberries would give a similar effect. Mainly as the lemon juice seemed to soak into some of the potatoes and not into others. Having lots of little lemon flavour bombs scattered through out, might mean you get some lemon flavour to the last mouthful.

Green Tomato Chutney

Bread, cheddar and chutney...

I grew twenty four tomato plants this year, hoping for a bumper crop with which to make roasted tomato passata. Only four tomatoes ripened on the plants, which left me with an absolute glut of unripe green ones, which meant only one thing, lots of green tomato chutney.

I made some last year, following the recipe in the River Cottage Preserves Handbook and while it wasn’t a complete disaster, I was so focused on following the recipe that I over cooked it badly. This is the bit that I came unstuck over:

It is thick enough if, when you draw a wooden spoon through it, the chutney parts to reveal the base of the pan for a few seconds.

It took over four hours of cooking to get it anywhere near to this point, by which time it was just a thick dark brown paste; not really what you’re looking for in a chutney. This year I decided to go with the:

Let the mixture simmer, uncovered, for two and a half, to three hours — maybe even a bit more.

As a reference, rather than the being able to see the bottom of the pan. Green tomatoes... In the end I made three different batches, which I cooked for different lengths of time. It was interesting to see the difference only fifteen extra or fewer minutes cooking made to the final amount and how it looked.

Making chutney is a pretty simple process, chop up a load of veg, mix with some dried fruit, sugar, vinegar and a spice bag, then cook. The art would appear to be in selecting the fruit and veg to use and manipulating the spice bag to suit. It’s one of those things you can make at practically anytime of year, with whatever you have a load of. While I quite fancy trying Gingered Rhubarb and Fig, wrong time of year; or Pumpkin and Quince, right time of year; with so many green tomatoes and courgettes/marrows, there really was only one choice.

At the start of cooking...The problem I have with this kind of recipe, is that one mans simmer, is another mans boil. How hard am I suppose to simmer it…? Just a bit of a blip every now and again, or just short of an all out boil? This kind of thing really makes a difference with the cooking times, as not one of the three batches was anywhere near ready after two and a half hours, so does this mean I wasn’t cooking it hard enough? Any harder and I’d have been burning it to the bottom of the pan, which very nearly happened with the second batch anyway, as I wasn’t concentrating.

Given the above, I cooked all three batches on the same setting on the hob, just with fifteen minutes difference between each of them. So the first batch was cooked for three hours, the second batch for three and a half and the final batch for three and a quarter. In retrospect, I didn’t think that the first batch had been cooked for long enough. It wasn’t dark enough in colour and it was a bit watery. After two hours of blipping... The second batch I felt was maybe a touch over, while it still had good colour and clearly identifiable chunks in it, I just felt that the optimal was slightly less. Hence splitting the difference with the third and final batch.

I’ve no idea what the second and third batches taste like, as there was none left over after potting up. The first batch made five big jars (454g or 1lb if you prefer), one small jar (227g or 8oz), with a bit left over in a ramekin. The second batch made four and a half jars exactly, while the third batch made five jars exactly. So for each fifteen minutes, I was losing about a 227g jar’s worth of chutney. As the recipe says it makes ten to eleven 340g jars, there is obviously a bit of a mismatch between it and my experience. As five 454g jars (2,270g) is way short in volume terms, of ten 340g jars (3,400g).

The only thing I can think of, that could possibly be causing the mismatch, is the pan I use. As much as I want one, I don’t own a jelly pan, so make do with my five litre stock pot. From the left, batch 1, 2 and 3... As a jelly pan is purpose built to aid evaporation with its sloping sides, I can only think that using the stock pot requires more time, as the straight sides inhibit evaporation. Maybe I’m just going to have to bite the bullet and buy a proper jelly pan for next year; I already have it on a list of things I’d like to buy, along with a tamis, tart rings, dariole moulds and a larger jelly bag setup.

I had some of last years chutney at lunch yesterday and know that all three of these batches are better. So while I know that I’ll be giving away most of the sixteen jars that I’ve produced, I’m really quite looking forward to cracking into whatever I keep in a few months time.