Spanish Fry – Patatas Bravas

spanish tapas - patatas bravas
The first time I ever “made” French fries at home, I think, was in middle school. I tore open a bag of frozen Ore Ida crinkle cuts and tossed them into the oven. Many of them were broken before they even made it out of their sub-zero existence, many were torn and ragged, leaving behind a crackly, burnt backside when they were ripped from an ungreased baking sheet, and all of them lacked any sort of crisp. In fact, they tasted no different from a crinkle cut baked potato. They weren’t awesome, but there was naive, first-time pride in those fries.

Since then, I’ve also tried my hand at French fries from real potatoes a few times (“real” potatoes, because who knows what Ore Ida or any frozen food manufacturer really use?) – Idaho russets cut by hand, experimentation in shapes and sizes, soaked in water to drain the starch, deep-fried, sometimes twice.

But whether from frozen or from scratch, French fries made at home have always left me, if only ever so slighty…unfulfilled. Crisp, salty, greasy – all the requirements of a fabulous French fry were there, and yet, something was missing.

I finally realized that when it all comes down to it, nothing, not even the love and care of homemade, nothing will ever beat McDonald’s French fries.


As much as I hate his creepy perma-grin and bright red freaky-fro, and as much as I hate that he’s done this to me, Ronald McClownburger’s French fries have always been the benchmark against which I measure all other French fries. Damn him. Damn Ronald and his 570 calorie perfect combination of crispy and soggy, salted, greasy, and always hot fries. I hate you! I hate you Ronald, because goddamit, I’m lovin’ it!

Homemade French fries will never taste like McDonald’s French fries. Ronald has got to be adding add some other secret weird crack-like substance to the oil that give them that signature taste. In fact, French fries at home will never be as good as any fast food chain’s, because while the Burger King is rushing past the Defense, his mascot/jester Jack in the Box is coating raw “potatoes” with some crazy chemistry lab concoction before deep frying to make them extra crispy. I feel weird about that. I don’t think I could dip my potatoes in tempura batter.

So I have given up on trying to achieve a McDonald’s-like French fry at home just to avoid guaranteed disappointment. I am not making French fries anymore.

But if I make fried potatoes, not French fries, but simple fried potatoes that don’t play in the same playground as Ronald, there can be no comparison, and thus, no disappointment.

Patatas Bravas, fried or roasted potato cubes with a tomato sauce, were perhaps one of the first types of tapas I tried. I’d love to call them the Spanish equivalent of French fries and ketchup, but truly, they deserve to be in a class all their own. I wasn’t sure why they were called “bravas,” thinking that there must have been some interesting background about how these potatoes perhaps required sangria-induced liquid courage to eat, but I found out that Spanish “brava” translates to English “fierce,” referring the spiciness of tomato sauce – which still may require a bit of bravery.

Patatas Bravas

The potatoes can be deep-fried, but oven “frying” requires far less attention – allowing you to pay more attention to the fifty-seven other things on the stove top, to your guests, and to your own glass of sangria.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Peel and cut about 5 pounds of potatoes into ¾-1” chunks. Toss them with about ½ cup olive oil, season with salt and pepper, spread on to a baking sheet and roast for about 45 minutes, shaking the pan and stirring them every 10-15 minutes. The potatoes are done when they are crisp on the outside and soft on the inside

While the potatoes are roasting, heat about 2 Tbsp olive oil in a sauce pan and cook 1 large, finely chopped onion until translucent. Add 2 smashed cloves of continue cooking with onions until the garlic is fragrant.

Add 1 Tbsp crushed red pepper (more if you’re fierce like that), a few tablespoons of chopped parsley, 1 Tbsp sugar, 1 tsp of soy sauce, black pepper to taste, and 1 cup of wine. I used red because that is what I already had open (drinking). You can use a dry white wine or even a dry sherry.

Bring to a gentle boil, reduce heat to let the sauce simmer for about 10 minutes, then add 1 15 oz can of plum tomatoes, crushed by hand. Let the sauce simmer for another 10-15 minutes, then remove from the heat and cool.
The sauce can be served chunky as is, which would make it “rustic,” but I pureed mine in a food processor to make it a little smoother. Most tapas, including patatas bravas, are served room temperature.

Put the roasted potatoes onto a plate with high sides or a shallow bowl and top with the tomato sauce. Garnish with chopped parsley if you want to make it pretty.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 rick james February 10, 2006 at 8:05 pm

question… i could never figure out how, when, and why Peruvian food had fries in their dishes… anyone know how that came to be?

wondering if fries are just another idea Americans claim as their own when in fact, Indians from Machupicchu were probably eating goat burgers and fries thousands of years ago… hmmmmm….

btw… Earl Woods… very obscure reference, is Tiger Woods dad… excuse my randomness… ;p


2 Anonymous February 11, 2006 at 8:43 am

ummmmm. potatoes in my tummy feel goooood. looks delicious sarah


3 Anonymous February 11, 2006 at 8:43 am

ummmmm. potatoes in my tummy feel goooood. looks delicious sarah


4 sarah February 11, 2006 at 11:20 pm

dcc: well, i did learn from my dad MANY times that potatoes come from peru ;) but i don’t think the fried potatoes in the peruvian dishes are necessarily meant to be French fries – more just julienned, deep-fried potatoes :)

anonymous: thanks! it was delicious! (and leftover brava sauce tastes pretty damned good on pasta, too!)


5 hermz February 15, 2006 at 1:22 am

French fries never taste right when done in fresh oil. They have to be fried in oil that has already been used to fry french fries at least a few times. When restaurants replace their oil, they spike the new oil with some of the old.


6 fran November 3, 2009 at 1:29 am

DOn’t agree with that, usually the best fries come with the new oil, as it is cleaner and fresh.


7 sarah February 15, 2006 at 3:16 pm


this is totally random, but do they use the same oil to fry everything? i remember when the apple pies at mcdonald’s used to be fried (so much better back then *sigh*) and they tasted faintly of chicken mcnuggets.



8 hermz February 16, 2006 at 8:01 pm

no idea.

but… mmmmmm… mcnugget pie….


9 Anonymous September 10, 2008 at 5:44 pm

McDonalds make their fries by extruding the potato and make long lines of them out of mash then cut to correct length. They are not just sliced from the spud. Then coated in what probably contains a fair amount of sugar and oil. Not a patch on those bravas!


10 Lorenz September 9, 2009 at 9:43 am

Hi, I came across your website while searching for brava sauce recipes. Thought I’d mention that french fries were invented by the Belgians, and brava means brave which is what you have to be, because the sauce is hot (spicy). I’ve also discovered that there must be as many different brava sauce recipes as there are cooks. I’ve had both red and white brava sauces, in Spain. They all seem to have onion, tomato and garlic but the key ingredient is the pepper which makes it hot and spicy. Sooo… I think I’ll make my own version and use fresh cayenne peppers that I got at the farm market. Also… I love to make those oven fried potatoes… I micro the potato first for about 4 minutes on each side (it is just about completely cooked) and then I slice and dice it into fries. Meanwhile I have a pan in the oven with about 1/4c of peanut oil on 475 degrees (f) and I add the potatoes to the oil and back in the oven for about 20 mins. They are really great, my friends and family love them.


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