Simply food

SPAIN’S SPICY SALTY SPUDS

Half a century ago my folks upped sticks from fashionable London and decamped to then unfashionable Gran Canaria in the Spanish autonomous region of the Canary Islands. The food was delectable.

The family flag flew on the Tina Louise, Gran Canaria

They loved entertaining and when I reported on an exotic meshwi I’d recently enjoyed in Morocco Dad immediately wanted to try it out. Since the dish involves roasting an entire lamb, spreadeagled on crossed branches, all the neighbours in the expat Brit community were invited. We borrowed cushions, carpets and planks from here and there and made a huge dining area in their mountaintop garden in Tafira Alta above Las Palmas. The carpets went down on the graveled paths between the desert garden beds and the planks were covered with masses of mint and cilantro. Mum and some borrowed staff brought drinks and sides from the depths of the heavily ornamented rented pink palace. Dad carved the roast beast with gusto and it was displayed on the aromatic leaves, with warm pita bread and tiny hot salted potatoes. We ate with our fingers, sitting on the carpets, propped up by cushions. As the sun set, providing a golden backdrop, with fluffy pink clouds giving way to a midnight blue sky filled with twinkling stars, candles lit the paths.

I’ve never barbecued a lamb in that manner again, although on my 40th birthday my then brother-in-law generously stayed up all night barbecuing a pig. Both occasions were happy memories and one of a kind, never to be repeated. However, the tiny, salted potatoes made a lasting impression on me. I reported in Small Dishes recently that I first came across this delightful tapas dish in Morocco–on the same trip I discovered meshwi–but somehow had never cooked it. When I found out that it originated in the Canary Islands and was served at every tapas bar on every island, I was thrilled. Dad agreed that we should include it in our barbecue feast. There was nothing left the next morning. Nor was a single drop in one of the many jugs of sangria Mum made. I think she added a magic ingredient, possible lashings of local brandy.

Puerto de Pasito Blanco, Gran Canaria

After his brief sojourn in the rented confection up the hill, Dad acquired a 48-foot ketch called Tina Louise, which he and Mum lived on until his health determined that they had to return to England. There was not much room for cooking on the boat, so we ate out a lot, whenever I visited. Their boat was moored at the Pasito Blanco marina, near a southern resort area called Maspalomas, which literally means “more pigeons.” Pigeons or not, the defining characteristic of the area were massive golden sand dunes which stretched inland behind the popular beaches. At the marina most of the sand was black or brown, due to the volcanic nature of the islands; quite a contrast in a few kilometres. Adnan Khashoggi, the Saudi-born billionaire arms dealer, kept his mega yacht at the marina for a while, though Dad said he seldom saw him.

Down by the beach there were several tapas bars and Dad has his favourite. That’s where I was reintroduced to these delicious salty potatoes and learned their name: pappas arrugadas con mojo, literally “wrinkled potatoes with hot sauce.” All these years later, searching for more small plates, I rediscover them.

There’s really no trick to preparing them. Just boil the tiny potatoes in very salty water until it has all evaporated, leaving a sparkling crust on the spuds. A more detailed recipe is below. Use the newly restored “Print” feature to make a copy for yourself.

PAPPAS ARRUGADAS CON MOJO

Shopping list

  • 1 lb / 450 gm golden mini potatoes
  • 4 TBSP coarse sea salt
  • 4 cups water, to cover

Preparation and cooking

  1. Pick out about a dozen mini potatoes approximately the same size, the smaller the better, to make up the weight. If necessary, wash them clean of field dirt. The colour doesn’t really matter, but the golden ones come out very well.
  2. Add 4 TBSP coarse sea salt to 4 cups of water in a pot and bring it to a boil. Stir so the salt dissolves. Add the potatoes, making sure the water covers them, and cook in the brine for 10 to 15 mins, until they are done. Pierce with a fork to check for doneness and don’t overcook.
  3. Tip out about half the water and continue boiling until all the water evaporates. During this process, about another 10 mins, swish the pan around to ensure the potatoes don’t burn or stick. When all the water has gone, leaving a sludge of salt in the bottom of the pan, give the potatoes one last swish to cover them with salt and leave them to dry out. A crystalline coating should cover them evenly.
  4. Serve at once in a bowl for sharing, with a dish of spicy salsa for dipping, or as a side with fish or meat, or with a salad of your choice.
Featured image: Canary Island’s ‘wrinkled potatoes with hot sauce’ flying the Spanish flag

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This is Nigel’s 340th blog on Gentleman’s Portion. The SEARCH function at the top works really well if you want to look back and see some of his previous stories or check under CATEGORIES.

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