Salsa Brava: A Spicy Spanish Tomato Sauce

salsa brava
Also called bravas sauce, salsa brava is a popular spicy Spanish tomato sauce with chili peppers and hot paprika. It’s traditionally served with patatas bravas, a Spanish tapas dish of cubes of crisp, roasted potatoes

What Is Salsa Brava?

Salsa brava is a spicy tomato sauce originally from Madrid, Spain. This versatile hot sauce is bold and spicy and carries a smoky flavor.

It is a tomato-based sauce with your hot red pepper of choice (based on heat preference) and flavored with smoked paprika, hot paprika, garlic, onion, sherry vinegar, tomato paste and sugar or honey to add a touch of sweetness and cut the acidity of the tomatoes.

Is Salsa Brava The Same As Patatas Bravas?

Patatas bravas is a Spanish tapas dish featuring crispy fried potatoes. It gets the bravas part of its name because it is served with bravas sauce, either on the side or drizzled over the top.

patatas bravas
Patatas bravas, crispy fried potatoes with salsa brava.

It is the most common Spanish tapas dish served all over the world. Patatas bravas can also be served with other sauces, such as garlic aioli or romesco sauce, a less spicy tomato-based sauce with roasted red peppers and ground almonds.

Like other crispy potato dishes, patatas bravas doesn’t reheat well. Get them hot and crispy in an air frier or by pre-heating the oven to 325 F and re-heating over low to medium heat.

How To Use Salsa Brava

Salsa brava is a staple in any tapas bar and it pairs beautifully with Spanish white wines or red wines. It goes well with potatoes, roasted meats, fried fish, and as a condiment or dipping sauce for stuffed mushrooms, croquettes, empanadas, crab cakes, meatballs, or as a topping for crostinis or pan con tomato (crispy grilled bread with a tomato sauce and extra virgin olive oil).

You can use salsa brava anywhere you’d use another spicy sauce, such as:

  • Sandwich spread
  • Pizza sauce
  • Pasta sauce
  • Dipping sauce for fries, chips, and other fried appetizers
  • Drizzled over grain bowls
  • Drizzled over roasted vegetables
  • Mixed with mayonnaise

How Spicy Is Salsa Brava?

Salsa brava is as spicy as the cook makes it! The recipe is very open to interpretations and variations, as most recipes simply call for fresh diced “red pepper.”

You can use any type of red pepper you’d like to customize the heat level, such as:

  • Red bell pepper (0 SHUs)
  • Pimento (100-500 SHUs)
  • Peppadew (1,100-1,200 SHUs)
  • Cherry bomb (2,500-5,000 SHUs)
  • Red jalapeno (2,500-8,000 SHUs)
  • Fresno chili (2,500-10,000 SHUs)
  • Tabasco or cayenne pepper (30,000-50,000 SHUs)
  • Tien tsin (50,000-75,000)
  • Apache pepper (80,000-100,000 SHUs)
  • Red habanero (100,000-350,000 SHUs)
  • Carolina reaper (1.2M-2.2M SHUs)
red pepper types
A variety of red chili peppers can be used for salsa brava.

Some recipes only call for regular or smoked paprika, while others use hot or a combination. You can also include crushed red pepper flakes and cayenne pepper powder to up the heat level—or omit them for a milder sauce.

What Mexican Sauces Are Similar to Salsa Brava?

While salsa brava is a favorite spicy sauce worldwide, plenty of other alternatives exist, especially among Mexican sauce recipes.

Ranchero Sauce

Ranchero sauce is a thick chunky sauce similar to bravas sauce, but spicier and smokier.

It is made from smoked paprika, garlic, and dried peppers, such as guajillo or pasilla, which give it its distinct smoky flavor. Ranchero sauce is best known for its use in huevos rancheros (fried eggs with ranchero sauce sometimes served on tostadas with beans) and chiles rellenos (stuffed and fried poblano peppers).

Salsa Verde

Salsa verde means ‘green salsa.’

Like its spicier cousin, salsa roja, countless recipes exist for salsa verde. The primary difference is that it’s made from green tomatillos instead of red tomatoes and uses green peppers (sweet or spicy). It’s typically considered a mild salsa unless the cook uses a hot green pepper, like a serrano.

Enchilada Sauce

Enchilada sauce is made with chili powders or dried chili peppers that have been rehydrated.

Most enchilada sauces do not have tomatoes and instead use flour, oil, and chili powder to create a smooth pourable consistency. It’s typically considered a mild sauce, but spicier chili powders can be used to boost the heat level.

Cilantro Sauce

Cilantro sauce is a vibrant green sauce served cold.

It is mayonnaise or Greek yogurt based and features fresh garlic, lime juice, jalapeno, and lots of cilantro. It has a very fresh and tangy flavor that goes well with quesadillas, burritos, tacos, and nachos. Try it on patatas bravas if you like the tapas dish with aioli!

Salsa Taqueria

Salsa taqueria is what most people consider a ‘traditional’ salsa. You’ll often see it served alongside a thinner, cooked salsa roja in Mexican restaurants.

It’s a fresh salsa that blends, tomatoes, garlic, onion, cilantro, lime juice, salt, cumin, and chili powder. It’s perfect for dipping tortilla chips in or as a taco topping.

Mexican Tomato Sauce

Mexican tomato sauce is a rich, rigorously cooked red sauce that goes with many Mexican foods.

It features canned tomatoes, onion, garlic, jalapeno, red wine, oregano, and basil, making it very similar to Italian tomato sauce. Adding cumin and dried chili powders, like ancho chili powder, gives it a distinctly Mexican flavor. The sauce is blended until smooth.

How To Make Salsa Brava?

Salsa Brava sauce is easy to prepare with mostly pantry items.

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salsa brava

Salsa Brava

  • Total Time: 55 minutes


Try this recipe for a spicy Spanish tomato sauce, delicious with crispy fried potatoes!


Units Scale
  • 1 lb ripe tomatoes OR 2 cups canned tomatoes (stewed or diced)
  • 5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 sweet onion, chopped
  • 1 red pepper, chopped (any red pepper based on desired heat level)
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp hot paprika (more or less to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (more or less to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (more or less to taste)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 garlic cloves, diced
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar or honey (to taste, based on tomato acidity)


  1. If using fresh tomatoes, blanch them in boiling water for 1 minute then transfer to an ice bath to remove the skins.
  2. Heat a large pot over medium, low heat. Add oil, onion and pepper and cook gently for 10 minutes. Add spices and cook another 2 minutes to develop the flavor.
  3. Add garlic, saute for 1 minute, then add wine and reduce by 75%.
  4. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper and simmer for 30 minutes over low heat, stirring often so it doesn't scorch.
  5. Use as-is or blend for a smoother sauce. For a thinner consistency, add 1/4 cup of water.
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 45 minutes
  • Category: sauce
  • Cuisine: Spanish


ErIka didn’t grow up with gardening or peppers but she’s turned out to be a spicy foods enthusiast. Today, she not only loves super-hot chilies but also finds solace growing hot peppers. She grows different types of peppers using growing devices, automated indoor gardens, and containers. Keep it here for all matters peppers!

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