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Easy Salsa Brava Recipe

After living in Spain for nearly fifteen years, I’ve perfected this salsa brava recipe, the perfect spicy sauce for patatas bravas.

fried potatoes in a terracotta dish covered with red-brown bravas sauce

Smoky, rich, spicy, and thick, a good bravas sauce is worth its weight in gold. And it’s super easy and quick to make.

This sauce is based on several traditional and authentic sauces I’ve had with patatas bravas in some truly excellent restaurants in Madrid and Valencia.

Even in Spain, terrible bottled bravas sauce, which is basically spicy ketchup, is used at a lot of restaurants and cafeterias. A true authentic bravas sauce does not contain tomato.

Serve at room temperature over crisp fried potato chunks, and some good fresh bread for an authentic Spanish tapas dining experience. Add a glass of good wine, some tasty Spanish fava beans and you’ll have a feast!

Patatas bravas are incidentally vegan, although many places also serve them with alioli which I higly recommend. Fried potatoes served with bravas sauce and alioli are technically patatas mixtas though, not patatas bravas.

If, like me, you’re into spice, then for more spicy sauce goodness I also highly recommend you try my homemade easy peri peri sauce recipe.

Paprika – Types and Substitutions

So, as paprika is the main ingredient in salsa brava, using the right type is pretty crucial. I know not everyone has access to Spanish-style smoked paprika so I’ve given my recommendations and substitutions below.

A brownish red sauce coating a wooden spoon with fried potatoes in the background

In an ideal world, you would use sweet Pimentón de la Vera and hot Pimentón de la Vera. Pimentón de la Vera is a type of smoked paprika widely available in Spain in mainly hot and sweet versions. It is only made in the Vera valley in Cáceres in Spain and is very high quality paprika.

Otherwise, the second-best option is to use hot smoked paprika and sweet smoked paprika. If you can only find one but not the other, then you can either use only hot smoked paprika and remove the ground cayenne from the recipe or use only sweet smoked paprika and up the amount of ground cayenne to 3/8 teaspoon (so, a quarter of a teaspoon plus half of the quarter teaspoon).

Your final option is to just use smoked paprika and adjust the cayenne to suit your spice tolerance level. Ideally, you would hit halfway between 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon, or 3/8, as mentioned above.

Do not use non-smoked sweet or hot paprika, or regular paprika. They have a claggy taste and are not suitable for bravas sauce.

High, or even average tolerance levels for spiciness in Spain are notoriously absent so although a lot of people call salsa brava a “spicy sauce”, it is typically only mild to medium spicy. Don’t feel you need to make your sauce “Vindaloo” hot. It’s not Sriracha!

In summary, for paprika, in order of preference use:

2.5 tbsp Pimentón de la Vera picante and 2.5 tbsp Pimentón de la Vera dulce.
or
2.5 tbsp smoked hot paprika and 2.5 tbsp sweet smoked paprika
or
5 tbsp smoked hot paprika and no ground cayenne
or
5 tbsp smoked sweet paprika and multiply the cayenne used by 1.5, so ⅜ of a teaspoon
or
5 tbsp smoked paprika and multiply the cayenne used by 1.5, so ⅜ of a teaspoon

How to Make it

Okay the paprika explanation above may have scared you off but I promise that in just fifteen minutes your salsa brava will be ready.

First, assemble your ingredients. You can check the labelled photo below to make sure you’re more or less on track.

labelled ingredients for salsa brava including paprika, olive oil, vegetable stock, onion, garlic, vinegar, salt and cayenne pepper

Add the olive oil to a medium-sized non-stick frying pan and heat on medium-high. Peel and finely chop the onion and add to the pan. Fry for five minutes, stirring often, until soft and lightly browned (image one below). In the meantime, peel and mince the garlic.

Don’t substitute a different oil for olive oil, it adds a lot of traditional flavor – of course for frying use the cheaper kinds, no need to break out the extra virgin olive oil!

collage of four images showing frying onions, added ingredients and spices, a red dry mix and then a red sauce

Reduce the heat to medium and add the paprika, garlic, and ground cayenne pepper (image two above). Mix well and toast for one minute, stirring often to prevent burning. Burnt paprika is extremely bitter and unappetizing.

Add the all-purpose flour and mix well again until incorporated. Let cook for another two minutes, stirring to prevent burning (image three above).

Add a quarter cup (60ml) of vegetable stock and whisk well until it’s incorporated. Continue to quickly add the rest of the stock, a quarter of a cup at a time, and whisk until incorporated before adding more (image four above).

Add in the vinegar and turn the heat up to high until the sauce comes to a boil, then reduce slightly to medium-high and let the sauce bubble away for five minutes. It should thicken up nicely (image five below)

split image showing a thick red sauce in a pan on the left and a smooth orange-red sauce in a glass bowl on the right

Next either transfer to a bowl and blend with a stick blender, or blitz in a regular blender or food processor until smooth (image six above) (be careful not to burn yourself with the hot sauce).

Adjust the texture as needed with up to an additional 1/4 cup of water – the consistency of the sauce should be slightly looser than ketchup, although you can just adjust it to your personal preference or keep it nice and thick.

Taste and adjust salt as needed. This will depend on the vegetable stock you used. I usually add around half a teaspoon.

Done! Serve over fried potatoes for some delicious homemade patatas bravas!

Storing it

This sauce makes quite a bit, enough for around eight portions of bravas. Not to worry though if you have leftovers.

Store in a tightly covered container in the fridge for up to four days or in the freezer for up to three months.

front view of patatas bravas in a terracotta bowl

Defrost overnight in the fridge. The sauce normally thickens the longer it sits so to reheat, add a little water to thin it and heat in short bursts in the microwave, whisking with a fork in between to incorporate the water, or on the stovetop in a pan on a medium heat, adding water and whisking as needed.

The Potatoes

I’m fairly sure that everyone knows how to fry potatoes but I’ll include this section anyway. About two large potatoes per person is a good rule of thumb for patatas bravas if it’s going to be main dish or largest part of the meal.

For smaller Spanish “tapa” style meals where there is bread and other tapas such as a cheese plate, olives, Spanish potato omelet, etc., one large potato per person should suffice.

Potatoes should be cut into large dice, cubes of roughly 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch. Normally they are peeled, parboiled, and then fried until golden.

However, in our house we usually roast them in the oven or in the air fryer.

In the oven, toss the peeled cubed potatoes with two tablespoons of olive oil and roughly 1/4 tsp salt per potato and roast on a baking paper-lined tray in the middle of the oven at 400ºF (200ºC) for around 40-45 minutes, tossing every fifteen minutes so they brown evenly.

top down view of a bowl of sauce covered potatoes and olives on the side

In the air fryer, I toss the potatoes with between 1 tsp to half a tablespoon of olive oil (depending on how many potatoes I used), salt, and cook at 400ºF (200ºC) for 20 minutes, tossing every five.


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Yield: 8 portions

Easy Salsa Brava Recipe

fried potatoes in a terracotta dish covered with red-brown bravas sauce

Salsa brava is a smoky spiced thick and satisfying sauce that comes together in just minutes! Perfect for ladling over crisp fried potatoes for a delicious popular Spanish tapa.

Prep Time 2 minutes
Cook Time 13 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2.5 tbsp hot smoked paprika (see notes for substitutions)
  • 2.5 tbsp sweet smoked paprika (see notes for substitutions)
  • 1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
  • 1.5 tbsp vinegar (red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, or sherry vinegar)
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1¼ cup vegetable stock (300ml)
  • Salt to taste

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil in a medium non-stick pan on medium-high. Peel and finely chop the onion and fry for five minutes.
  2. Reduce heat to medium. Peel and mince the garlic and add to the pan along with the paprika and cayenne. Mix well and toast for one minute, stirring often.
  3. Add the flour and mix well. Toast for two minutes, stirring often.
  4. Whisk in the vegetable stock 1/4 cup at a time. Increase heat to high and add vinegar. When boiling, reduce heat to medium-high and cook for five minutes, whisking now and then.
  5. Decant to a small bowl to blend with a stick blender, or puree in a blender or food processor. Add up to 1/4 cup of water if desired to thin the sauce.
  6. Allow to cool slightly and serve warm or at room temperature over fried crispy potatoes.

Notes

Ideally use 2.5 tbsp of pimentón de la Vera dulce and 2.5 tbsp pimentón de la Vera picante, or 2.5 tbsp sweet smoked paprika and 2.5 tbsp hot smoked paprika.

5 tbsp sweet smoked paprika can be used if cayenne is increased to 3/8 tsp (so 1/4 tsp and half of a quarter teaspoon). 5tbsp hot smoked paprika can also be used without the cayenne.

5 tbsp smoked paprika can be used with 3/8 tsp cayenne. I don't recommend using regular paprika, hot paprika, or sweet paprika (that aren't smoked).

Nutrition Information

Yield

8

Serving Size

1

Amount Per Serving Calories 89Total Fat 7gSaturated Fat 1gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 6gCholesterol 0mgSodium 181mgCarbohydrates 6gFiber 2gSugar 1gProtein 1g

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