Discover the unique flavors of Spanish cuisine with popular sauces like Romesco sauce and Mojo sauce ❤️🔥 Explore the rich world of Spanish sauces now!
Spain’s National Sauces: A Guide to the Country’s Most Iconic Flavors
With olive oils, paprika, saffron, peppers, and almonds, Spanish cuisine offers some of the most vibrant and delicious flavors. At the heart of many Spanish dishes are the country’s iconic sauces that add richness, spice, and personality. From romesco to mojo, these Spanish sauces showcase the very best that Spain’s pantry has to offer.
Romesco sauce – Spain’s National Sauce
Spain’s most famous sauce is romesco, a specialty of Catalonia made with roasted red peppers, olive oil, bread, almonds, garlic, sherry vinegar and smoked Spanish paprika (pimentón). This thick, rust-colored sauce is the national sauce of Spain, served at celebrations and events across the country. Traditionally made in a mortar and pestle, most home cooks now use a food processor to make this quick sauce. Romesco is extremely versatile – it can be served as a sauce, dip, spread or marinade for fish, meat, vegetables and even eggs. Its rich, smoky and nutty flavor profile has made it popular worldwide.
To make romesco sauce, start by roasting red bell peppers until charred. Toast bread and almonds in the oven. Add the peppers, toasted bread, almonds, olive oil, sherry or red wine vinegar, garlic, smoked paprika and salt and pepper to a food processor. Blend into a rustic sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Romesco sauce will keep about 1 week refrigerated. It’s ideal served with grilled fish, chicken or vegetables.
Sofrito – The Aromatic Spanish Base
Sofrito is an aromatic seasoning base for many Spanish dishes. It originated in Catalonia, with the earliest known recipe dating back to the 14th century. This flavor foundation consists of olive oil, onions, tomatoes, and peppers slowly cooked into a jam-like sauce. Garlic, spices like paprika, herbs and other vegetables are sometimes added. Known as “refogado” in Portuguese, sofrito spread from Spain to Latin America and the Caribbean with Spanish colonists.
To make sofrito, cook minced onions and peppers in olive oil until very soft. Add tomatoes and spices like paprika or cumin. Cook over low heat until thickened. Use sofrito to start paella, stews, soups and other Spanish dishes. The savory base adds loads of flavor.
Mojo – The Canary Islands’ Iconic Spanish Sauce
Hailing from Spain’s Canary Islands, mojo sauce comes in two varieties: mojo rojo (red) or mojo verde (green). Both mojo sauces start with a base of olive oil, garlic, sea salt, vinegar and spices like cumin. Mojo rojo uses smoked paprika to turn it red, while mojo verde gets its color from coriander and parsley. They can be used as a marinade, sauce, or served alongside Canarian specialties like papas arrugadas (wrinkly potatoes) or grilled fish.
To make mojo sauce, combine olive oil, vinegar, garlic, cumin, and parsley or paprika with salt in a blender. Blend into an emulsified sauce. Adjust vinegar and salt to taste. Mojo is traditionally made with a mortar and pestle, but a blender or food processor works too. Serve mojo sauces with meat, fish, potatoes or vegetables. Both are easy to make and add big flavor.
Alioli – Garlic Mayonnaise
Alioli is a garlicky mayonnaise from Catalonia, the Valencian region and the Balearic Islands, served as a sauce and dip. It contains no eggs, relying solely on emulsified olive oil and garlic pounded together for its texture. Some modern recipes sneak in an egg yolk to help stabilize the emulsion. But classic alioli is just olive oil, garlic, lemon juice or vinegar, and salt blended to form a thick, spreadable sauce.
To make alioli, crush garlic cloves and a pinch of salt in a mortar and pestle. Slowly blend in olive oil until emulsified. Finish with a spritz of lemon juice or vinegar. Using a blender or food processor requires extreme caution to avoid breaking the emulsion. Alioli is traditionally served with seafood, meat or vegetables.
Salsa Verde – The Green Sauce
Salsa verde is a flavorful green sauce popular in the Basque country and broader Spain. It starts with a base of olive oil, garlic, and parsley. Some versions use breadcrumbs as a thickener. The sauce is then mixed with a liquid like fish or chicken stock, clam juice or wine to thin it out. Salsa verde is served warm, with fish, meat, or potatoes.
To make salsa verde, cook garlic in olive oil, then add parsley and breadcrumbs. Pour in stock, wine or clam juice, and simmer briefly to meld flavors. The green salsa can be blended smooth or left a bit chunky. Salsa verde’s herby flavor pairs perfectly with simply cooked fish like cod, hake or sole.
Spain’s iconic sauces rely on high quality extra virgin olive oils, smoky paprika, bright sherry vinegars, and savory garlic to create signature flavors. Mastering romesco, mojo, salsa verde, alioli and sofrito opens up the possibilities of Spanish cuisine. These sauce recipes transform simple ingredients into exceptional Spanish dishes. With a well-stocked pantry, home cooks can easily make Spain’s famous sauces to use in everything from seafood dishes to meat entrees to marinades and dips.
Tapas and Sauces
At tapas bars across Spain, small plates are served with sauces for dipping and drizzling. These Spanish sauce recipes are ideal for tapas.
Romesco sauce is arguably the most popular Spanish sauce served with tapas. This famous sauce made from roasted red peppers, almonds, olive oil and vinegar is the perfect dip for fried calamari, croquetas, or patatas bravas (fried potatoes with spicy tomato sauce). For tapas night at home, set out crusty bread, cured meats and olives alongside a bowl of creamy romesco for dipping.
Patatas bravas is one of the most well-known tapas dishes. To serve these crispy fried potatoes like a proper Spanish tapa, make salsa brava. Salsa brava combines smoky Spanish paprika with onions, wine vinegar and tomato to form a slightly spicy, addictive dipping sauce. Pan fry potato chunks in olive oil until crispy. Top with salsa brava and get ready to enjoy this classic Spanish food.
For seafood tapas, a bowl of mojo verde sauce is a must. This vibrant sauce from the Canary Islands brings the flavors of coriander, garlic, olive oil and vinegar to simply cooked fish. To make mojo verde, blend parsley, cilantro, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and cumin. Refreshing and herby, it’s perfect served with fried calamari, grilled shrimp, or white fish.
Spain’s diverse regions have specialty sauce recipes that define their cuisines. Getting to know these sauces offers a delicious tour of Spain’s flavors.
Allioli is a famous garlic sauce and specialty of Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands. This emulsified sauce contains no egg yolks, just garlic pounded together with olive oil to form a thick, spreadable sauce. Some modern recipes sneak in an egg yolk to stabilize the emulsion, but traditional allioli relies solely on olive oil and garlic. Serve this garlicky sauce with meat, fish, or vegetables.
Basque cuisine is defined by pil pil sauce, an emulsion sauce that forms when gelatin from fish poached in olive oil is whisked into a light sauce. Cod, hake and salt cod are common proteins used. As the fish gently poaches, the aqueous liquids separate and are then re-emulsified into pil pil. This delicate sauce should be handled gently when reheating to avoid breaking. Enjoy pil pil drizzled over the poached fish that created it.
Salmorejo is a creamy Spanish sauce that falls somewhere between a soup and a sauce. It hails from Andalusia and is Spain’s take on gazpacho. To make salmorejo, blend tomatoes, garlic and bread with olive oil and sherry vinegar. Unlike gazpacho, it is left thicker and creamy. Top salmorejo with jamón serrano and chopped egg for contrasting textures and flavors.
In Catalonia, the famous calçotada festival celebrates spring onions grilled until tender and dipped in romesco sauce. Romesco is the quintessential Catalan sauce made from roasted red peppers, almonds, olive oil and vinegar. For your own calçotada celebration, grill leeks, onions or scallions, then serve alongside a bowl of this iconic Spanish sauce.
The Moorish Influence
Spain’s history of Moorish rule left a lasting mark on its cuisine. Moorish ingredients like almonds, spices, and fruits blended with Spanish flavors to create iconic sauces.
Romesco sauce showcases this blend, with its use of onions, peppers, vinegar, and nuts. While the sauce originated in Catalonia, the combination of ingredients mirrors Middle Eastern muhammara dip. Other Spanish sauces reflect the Moors’ influence, like picada, thickened with ground almonds, or almond-based Spanish dessert sauce, almíbar.
The Moors introduced rice, saffron and spices that transformed Spain’s cuisine. This can be seen in Spanish dishes like paella or pincho moruno seasoned with cumin, coriander and paprika. Slow cooked stews mirror Moorish methods, developing deep flavor layers. And cooling gazpachos blend the tomatoes, peppers, olive oil and bread integral to Moorish cooking. Mastering Spanish sauces offers a chance to savor this culinary give-and-take.
With iconic sauces made from regional ingredients like paprika, saffron, peppers and sherry vinegars, Spanish cuisine offers a passport to flavor. Learning to make romesco, mojo, alioli and other Spanish sauces opens up a world of culinary possibility. Turn to these sauce recipes to add authentic Spanish flavor to everything from tapas and paella to roasted meats, grilled fish and vegetable dishes.