One of the hallmarks of Spanish cuisine is its simplicity, and no dish better exemplifies this than Tortilla Española. Made with just five ingredients—potatoes, onions, eggs, olive oil and salt—a traditional Spanish Tortilla tastes sublime any time of day.
The original recipe for Spanish Tortilla (Truita Amb Patatas in Catalan) can be traced back to the 16th century notebook of Francisco Martinez Montiño. In addition to serving as the head chef for Hapsburg royalty, Montiño penned one of Spain’s most important culinary tomes, Arte de cocina, pastelería, bizochería y conservería. Spanish Tortilla is now so popular and common in Spain that it’s taken on the status of a national dish.
I always order Spanish Tortilla at tapas restaurants, but I didn’t fully appreciate the dish until I learned to make it at the Catacurian cooking school in Catalonia. After a morning of wine and olive oil tasting, we were back in the kitchen. Unlike many cooking schools, the Catacurian is a hands on experience, and we—the students—prepared every dish we ate. As we chopped onions, our culinary teacher, Alicia, showed us how to “chip” the potatoes into uneven chunks with the point of a paring knife. She assured us this technique allowed more of the potato’s starch to be released, resulting in a creamier tortilla.
Another secret of Alicia’s was to use two skillets when preparing the tortilla. She heated a generous amount of olive oil in a large, 12-inch skillet and gently cooked the potatoes and onions over medium heat. As the vegetables softened and began to turn golden, Alicia beat eggs in a small bowl with a pinch of salt. On another burner, she heated a small, 8-inch nonstick skillet over high heat and added a drizzle of olive oil.
When the potatoes and onions were golden and very soft, Alicia carefully mixed the vegetables into the beaten egg. She poured the mixture into the skillet and then lowered the heat to allow it to cook.
Next came the intimidating process of repeatedly flipping the omelet until it was cooked through and golden. Fortunately, it’s much simpler than it seems, but it’s the reason a good nonstick skillet is so essential.
As the omelet began to firm, Alicia loosened the sides with a spatula and placed a plate upside down over the pan. With both hands, she carefully flipped the whole thing over so that the plate was underneath the pan. She allowed the omelet to cook and then repeated the flipping process until the tortilla was a rich golden color.
A rest of at least an hour allows the tortilla’s flavors to develop. We were finally allowed to taste the tortilla the following day, as we enjoyed it as part of a leisurely brunch paired with copious amounts of sparkling cava.
But don’t pigeonhole Spanish tortilla as a brunch-only food. It would be excellent as a light summer lunch or supper. No matter when you eat it, try it with a dollop of garlicky aioli or smoky tomato sauce, or tucked into slices of crusty bread.
- 4 large potatoes, "chipped" into irregular pieces, approximately ¾" thick in size
- 1 medium onion, cut like the potatoes
- 3 large eggs, beaten
- Salt and pepper
- ½ cup olive oil
- This recipe requires two pans, an 8-inch nonstick skillet to make the tortilla, and a larger 10- to 12-inch skillet to fry the ingredients.
- Place the larger skillet over medium high heat and add about ⅓ cup olive oil. When hot, add the potatoes and onion and cook until golden, about 15-20 minutes. Watch the heat and lower if vegetables are browning too quickly.
- When the potatoes and onions are nearly cooked through and golden, remove from heat and place in a colander to drain excess oil.
- Beat eggs in a medium bowl and season with salt and pepper. Mix the potatoes and onions into the beaten eggs and add additional salt and pepper if needed.
- Heat the smaller frying pan over high heat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. When hot, pour in the egg and potato mixture. Spread evenly in the pan with a wooden spoon.
- Lower the heat to medium and allow to cook about 30-60 seconds. Loosen the sides of the omelet with a spatula. Place a plate the size of the pan upside down over the pan. Carefully, with both hands and while protected from the heat, flip the pan over so the plate is underneath the pan. Gently shake the omelet out.
- Place the empty pan back over the flame and gently slide the omelet back into the pan. Allow to cook a little while, about 15-30 seconds, and repeat the flipping process. Keep cooking 15-30 seconds, and then flipping the omelet until the tortilla takes on a golden color and is firm to the touch.
- When done, remove the tortilla from the pan. It can be eaten immediately or allowed to rest for one hour or overnight. You can eat the Spanish tortilla at room, temperature, cold or gently warmed in the oven. Try it with your favorite Spanish sauce, such as garlic aioli or tomato sauce.
Once you’ve mastered the original version, let your imagination run wild and experiment with your favorite omelet fillings. Here are some of my recommended additions:
• Serrano ham, asparagus and garlic
• Fines herbes such as thyme, oregano or tarrogan
• Spinach and pine nuts
• Chorizo and red bell pepper
• Tomatoes and smoked paprika
If you try this recipe, be sure to share your favorite combination and tag your post with #lexibites.