It’s widely accepted culinary arithmetic: Potatoes plus oil plus heat equals browned crispness. Think hash browns, French fries, and roasted potatoes. But Spanish cooks make a potato dish that defies standard mathematics; their patatas panaderas (translation: “bakers’ potatoes”) add up to meltingly tender potatoes with nary a hint of browning. (That’s a good thing—I’ll explain.)
It comes together easily: Thin slices of peeled potato are scattered with onions and garlic, bathed in extra-virgin olive oil and sometimes white wine, and then piled into a pan and baked. The oil adds richness without making the dish, well, oily, and the lack of browning means that the earthiness of the potatoes comes through loud and clear.
I peeled and thinly sliced 2½ pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes—their moderately waxy, buttery flesh makes them the closest thing we have to the yellow Monalisa and Álava varieties commonly used for this dish in Spain—and then coated the slices in ¼ cup of extra‑virgin olive oil. I stirred in plenty of salt and pepper, a thinly sliced onion, and some minced garlic and then transferred the mixture to a 13 by 9-inch baking dish that I covered tightly with aluminum foil and slid into a 400-degree oven. After an hour, the potatoes were beautifully tender but a touch dry. Bumping up the oil to ⅓ cup made the dish luxuriously rich and moist.
I was eager to see if a bit of wine would complement the simple seasonings, so I stirred ½ cup of a dry white wine into the next batch. But when I lifted the foil after an hour, the potatoes were too firm. As I looked over the recipes I found in my research, I noticed a correlation: Those with wine called for parcooking the potatoes before adding the wine. After reading some scientific literature on the topic, it all made sense: The problem was the wine—or, more specifically, the acid in the wine, which can hinder the softening of potatoes (for a full explanation, see “Potato Breakdown”).
I really wanted to keep the wine, and happily, parcooking wouldn’t necessarily mean pulling out a saucepan. Some recipes simply withheld the wine until the potatoes had softened under their foil cover, so I tried that. After 40 minutes, I poured the wine over the tender potatoes and left the dish uncovered for the remaining 20 minutes of cooking so that the alcohol could evaporate a bit, leaving the wine’s faint sweet‑tart flavor behind.
Unfortunately, these potatoes had a leathery brown top that interfered with the lush-and‑tender‑throughout effect I was going for. To allow the excess moisture to evaporate while discouraging browning, I loosely covered the dish but left the sides open so that the vapor could escape. I also lowered the oven temperature to a more moderate 350 degrees. These changes summed up to a winning version of patatas panaderas: blond all over, velvety, and full of flavor.