A line snakes out the door at Senyor Vermut, where the crowd clinks glasses of sweet vermouth, a Sunday afternoon tradition in Barcelona. And here, that vermouth usually is washing down one of Spain’s top tapas, patatas bravas: deep-fried chunks of potato drizzled with spicy paprika sauce and often slathered in alioli (the Spanish version of aioli).
The dish varies by region. In Madrid, alioli is all but forbidden. In Barcelona, the sauce is common, sometimes infused with saffron. “Here in Catalonia, there are no rules,” says Edu González, who has reviewed over 1,000 variations of the dish on his website, BravasBCN. After 11 years, Senyor Vermut is his top pick.
These bravas, González explains, skew classic but are better. The potatoes are cut small, parboiled, then fried until crispy with a creamy interior. The homemade alioli is garlicky but not overpowering. The slightly spicy bravas sauce features fleeting sweetness—a splash of vermouth to balance the hot paprika. The formula sells 400 kilos of potatoes a week.
At Milk Street, we loved the contrasts between crispy-tender potatoes, hot paprika and cooling alioli, but we hoped to skip the frying. Instead, we started them in the microwave, which speeds cooking and gelatinizes the starches in the potatoes with higher heat, producing creamier interiors. We then toss the parcooked potatoes with cornstarch, ensuring they bake up crisp in the oven.
We preferred a slightly thicker paprika sauce, spiced with cayenne, minced shallot, sherry vinegar and vermouth. We stirred smoked paprika in only after cooking to preserve its aroma, then also tossed the spice with the cooked potatoes. For the alioli, we got great results the easy way: spiking purchased mayonnaise with garlic, lemon juice and olive oil.
Creamy inside, crunchy outside, our bravas turned out addictive. Perfect with a vermouth on the side.
“Here in Catalonia, there are no rules.”