Eggs, potatoes and olive oil are some of the most common kitchen ingredients. And yet, unless you’ve tried a Spanish tortilla, you haven’t truly tasted them. The first time I took a bite of this deep-dish omelette, my taste buds were born again. Over a year later, and having sampled tortilla all over Spain, I am a devout believer in this nearly religious food experience.
It is not enough to combine a few delicious ingredients. The magic of Spanish tortilla (not to be confused with the corn or wheat flatbread tortilla typical of central America) is that each ingredient stars in its most spectacular performance, simultaneously. Potatoes, undoubtedly, are best crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and well salted. Eggs are best a little runny and noticeably yolky in flavor. Olive oil, the Mediterranean folk believe, is best poured liberally rather than drizzled. Indeed, Spanish tortilla truly harnesses the culinary potential of each ingredient. Potatoes provide body, eggs hold the tortilla together, and olive oil makes possible both cooking techniques required — poaching then frying. It is a perfect harmony of foods, one that equals more than the sum of its parts.
Health-conscious folk might be questioning the nutritional value of this dish. I did too when I first arrived in Spain. The Mediterranean diet is famous worldwide — it is rich in vegetables, grains, legumes, olive oil, fish, meat and sweets, too — because it is both delicious and healthy. A large part of its success, I believe, is that its corresponding lifestyle doesn’t label decadent foods as “good” versus “bad.” Instead, moderation is built into the diet. “Rich” dishes are enjoyed in small portions, over a glass of wine, and with good company.
And, when comparing such comfort foods to popular North American alternatives — mac & cheese, hamburgers, a bag of salty chips — a decadent omelette made with whole-foods and local ingredients isn’t all that bad. So, if there is one Mediterranean quality I have incorporated into my repertoire, it’s that of hushing my inner food police. I enjoy the darn potatoes, walk a lot, and don’t worry too much about it. Que comes las papas y disfrutas tu vida!
The one hitch involved in making Spanish tortilla — and I promise this is its only downfall — is the big flip. Halfway through its cooking journey, you have to invert the omelette and return it to its pan. Ahhh yes, that exciting and terrifying moment we all lament. 1…2…3… SPLAT! In my experience, it’s always time to flip the tortilla about one minute before you feel comfortable doing so. The top will still be wet and jiggly, but you just have to go for it! It’s bold. It’s risky. And it’s wet. You’re really experiencing Spanish culture at this moment.
While the ingredient list is extremely simple, you will notice that the instructions are rather lengthy. This is because tortilla is a game of technique. Once you’ve made one or two, you’ll know what to look for — cues of texture, color and smell. But until your tortilla intuition is functioning, I have written lots of hints to help along your journey. It is recommended you read through the instructions entirely before starting, so you have a mental image of the process that lay before you.
SPANISH TORTILLA RECIPE
(makes 1 mini tortilla / 4 wedges)
- 3-4 potatoes
- 4 eggs
- ¾ cup virgin olive oil + 3 tablespoons
- Salt to taste
- 1 onion* (optional)
- Heat a large, nonstick frying pan to medium high heat. Meanwhile, peel the potatoes. Chop in half lengthwise, and in half lengthwise again (4 long quarters). Turn them horizontally and slice thinly into ¼ shapes. If you choose to include onions, simply peel and slice into thin half-moons.
- The pan is hot enough when waving your hand close to the surface feels uncomfortable. Add the oil and then the vegetables. Add a very generous sprinkle of salt. Lower temperature to medium and let fry for about 15 minutes. Avoid browning the vegetables — you only want them lightly golden and soft — by using a wooden spoon to turn the mixture every minute or so.
- In the last few minutes of cooking, use the wooden spoon to break and mash some of the potatoes (about ⅓ of the mixture) so you’re left with a oily, fragrant, potato “slop.” Remove from the heat.
- Into a large mixing bowl, break 4 eggs. You do not need to whisk them. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the oily potato mixture to the mixing bowl. You needn’t be meticulous about letting all the oil drain from the potatoes, just what naturally escapes. Use the wooden spoon to combine the eggs and potatoes in the mixing bowl, breaking up the yolks in the process. Season with more salt and pepper. Place a tea towel over the bowl and set aside to soak for 15 minutes.
- Heat a small, non-stick frying pan to high heat. Doing the same hand-waving trick over the surface, add 3 tablespoons of olive oil when it’s hot enough. When the oil glistens and ripples about 10 seconds later, swirl it around the pan to coat all parts. Immediately dump in the entire eggy potato “slop.” Immediately you should hear a sizzling sound. Jiggle the pan vigorously, and do your best to move the part that cooked on impact away from the bottom. It will provide a second opportunity to cook a new “base” of the tortilla and make the tortilla more stable for the big flip later. Turn the temperature to medium and let cook, covered with a lid or plate, undisturbed for about 3 minutes.
- Give the pan a jiggle again and judge how firm the bottom and sides have become. You can use a thin spatula to lift the side away from the pan and take a peek at the colour. When you think or you can see that the bottom side is golden brown (it doesn’t matter how wet the top still is), take a large plate and place it face down on the surface. Put a towel on top of the plate. Place one hand firmly on top of the towel (pressing down) and your other hand on the frying pan’s handle (pressing up), so you create an inward pressure. On the count of three, turn the pan upside down and let the uncooked half of the tortilla fall onto the plate. (Congratulations, the hardest part is over!)
- Slide the tortilla back into the pan. To do this, tilt the plate down towards the pan and push the tortilla off the plate and into the edge of the pan. Jiggle the pan to center the tortilla. Let cook another 3 minutes, covered. The tortilla is done when you press on it with your fingers and it springs back a little.
- Do the plate/towel flip again (much easier now that it is fully cooked). Once you take a look at the second side, judge which side is more beautiful and serve accordingly.
A few more breakfast recipes to try:
Like us on Facebook!