Travel

The Simple, Perfect Potato Wonder That Brings Me Back to Spain Every Time

A love letter to the Spanish tortilla.

October 30, 2018
Photo by James Ransom

There’s an old idiom: You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. Likewise: you can’t make a tortilla de patatas (Spanish potato omelet) without splashing some burning hot oil on yourself. Or can you?

Years before I ever attempted to make one on my own, I tried my first tortilla de patatas in Salamanca, Spain. It was much like my first kiss: despite inviting something completely foreign into my mouth, pretty quick and unremarkable on the whole. Though my seventh grade boyfriend and I are no longer together, tortilla de patatas and I are still going strong.

Per her agreement with my study abroad program, my Salamancan host mom, or “Señora,” was tasked with feeding me authentic Spanish meals each day. During lunch, the most important meal in Spain, she served elaborate meals—like pisto manchego topped with crispy fried eggs and rich stews dotted with chorizo and white beans.

But on one particular afternoon, she didn’t have time to go to the market. So with just four ingredients—eggs, potatoes, onions, and a hedonistic amount of olive oil—she threw together a tortilla de patatas. We ate it with crusty hunks of bread, a simple salad with olive oil, salt and vinegar, then retired to our bedrooms for a nap.

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Top Comment:
“I have watched 3 different Spanish mothers prepare their family recipe for tortilla and this one is not Spanish. Definitely -ish. For a Spanish tortilla: 1) You do not boil the potatoes in water 2) You fry them in LOTS of oil (they are bathed in oil they would explain) along with the thinly sliced onions +/- garlic depending on family tradition at the same time. You then pour the oil off once potatoes are cooked. 3) Once egg & potato/onion mixture hits the pan to form the actual tortilla you cook it for no more than 2 minutes on one side, flip it and no more than 1 minute or less on the second side. It is supposed to be wet and unctuous in the middle at room temp. ”
— Beverly F.
Comment

As my dad was the self-proclaimed breakfast chef extraordinaire of our family, I’ve always been big on breakfast. Whether it’s a short stack of French toast, topped with a pat of butter and doused in maple syrup, a fluffy omelet oozing with bright orange American cheese or simply a bowl of Corn Flakes with milk, I love breakfast foods—any time of day.

Despite its seeming suitability for the breakfast table, tortilla de patatas became one of my lunch staples in Spain. It became my default order. Like the gin and tonic to my dive bar, I pulled the tortilla de patatas card in many a random bar at lunchtime.

The more time I spent in Spain—I returned to live in Madrid, Bilbao, and Mallorca—the more tortilla I ate and the more I learned about its potential for innovation. In Basque Country, for example, it’s not uncommon for pintxo bars to serve what I call a tortilla sandwich: a layer of [name your ingredient: tuna salad, crab meat, sautéed spinach, cheese, etc.) sandwiched between two whole tortillas de patatas.

Eventually, I left Spain and moved back to New York. It was here that I started missing my favorite starch-laden snack, and decided it was time I start cooking tortillas for myself.

The more time I spent in Spain—I returned to live in Madrid, Bilbao, and Mallorca—the more tortilla I ate and the more I learned about its potential for innovation.

In the beginning, I had some trepidation about the infamous flip—the upside down pan-on-plate part that comes right after the eggs are set on one side. Then you shimmy the half-cooked tortilla back into the pan, leaving a slug trail of raw egg, and finish cooking the second side of the tortilla. So I began with smaller, personal-pan tortillas, and eventually graduated to family-sized portions.

With practice and bravery, you, too, can learn to perform the Spanish tortilla flip. But in Amanda Hesser’s recipe, she uses a beginner-friendly method that will save you the time, the stress, and any hot oil splashes.

And besides being relatively cheap and simple (just four ingredients plus a generous amount of salt), people are inordinately impressed when you prepare a tortilla for them. That’s when you pour another glass of Rioja, and say, “Oh, this? Just a little recipe I picked up in Spain.”

Have you ever had tortilla de patatas? What's your favorite way of making it?

12 Comments

Yolanda C. March 25, 2019
Boiling the potatoes??? Using the oven?? For god’s sake!! That’s NOT a spanish tortilla!!! Don’t lie!!
 
Author Comment
Caitlin G. March 25, 2019
Hi Yolanda. I've lived in Spain for years and I'm aware that this is not a traditional tortilla recipe - and I make that clear in both the story, as does the recipe author in the recipe. I love a traditional tortilla as much as the next Spanophile - I probably ate them every day for lunch (in bocadillo form) during the first year that I lived in Madrid - but I see no problem with having fun and innovating, too - isn't that what cooking is all about? - so long as you're clear that it's not the traditional recipe, which we are. Appreciate your passion for the tortilla, though.
 
Yolanda C. March 25, 2019
Don’t call it spanish tortilla then, call it potatoes dish of whatever but please don’t call it spanish tortilla. Because it’s not.
 
Jenn S. March 18, 2019
warm or at room temperature.

Featured in: A Potato’s Postcard From Spain.

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Cooked

232 ratings

INGREDIENTS
5 medium Yukon gold potatoes (1 1/4 pounds)
1 white onion, diced
1 ¾ teaspoons kosher salt, more as needed
¾ teaspoon black pepper, more as needed
About 1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
6 large eggs

Peel potatoes and halve them lengthwise. Thinly slice them crosswise (I leave skin). Pat potatoes dry with a dish towel or paper towels. Toss potatoes with onion, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.

Place a large skillet over medium heat and warm through. Add oil, then add potatoes and onion. (You need enough oil to almost cover the potatoes, so adjust amount according to your pan size.) Cook until potatoes are just tender enough to cut with a fork, 10 to 15 minutes, adjusting heat so vegetables do not burn or take on too much color.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer potatoes and onions to a colander set over a bowl and let cool. Reserve 3 1/2 tablespoons oil from the skillet to use for finishing the recipe. (You can reuse the rest of the remaining oil, too; store it in the refrigerator.)
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Heat 2 tablespoons of the reserved oil in an oven-safe 8- to 9-inch nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. In a large bowl, whisk eggs and season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Stir potato mixture into eggs. Pour mixture into pan and use a spatula to flatten out surface. Cook, using spatula to occasionally loosen eggs from edges of pan, until top is almost set, with just a small amount of liquid remaining, about 5 minutes. Transfer to oven and cook until top is just set, 5 to 7 minutes longer. Slide tortilla onto a plate...(I cover with plate and turn it out)
 
Beverly F. March 17, 2019
I have watched 3 different Spanish mothers prepare their family recipe for tortilla and this one is not Spanish. Definitely -ish. For a Spanish tortilla:
1) You do not boil the potatoes in water
2) You fry them in LOTS of oil (they are bathed in oil they would explain) along with the thinly sliced onions +/- garlic depending on family tradition at the same time. You then pour the oil off once potatoes are cooked.
3) Once egg & potato/onion mixture hits the pan to form the actual tortilla you cook it for no more than 2 minutes on one side, flip it and no more than 1 minute or less on the second side.
It is supposed to be wet and unctuous in the middle at room temp.
 
Author Comment
Caitlin G. March 18, 2019
Yup! Not meant to be the original, just a beginner friendly take that avoids the big flip that many ppl shy away from. The result does the original justice tho :)
 
Jasmine M. November 2, 2018
How many does the recipe serve?
 
Eric K. November 3, 2018
Hi Jasmine, this recipe serves 6.
 
Mar P. October 30, 2018
Parmesan cheese?
No it doesn't have it.
It has garlic but you missed it.
 
Author Comment
Caitlin G. November 1, 2018
True, a traditional tortilla doesn't have parmesan — but I think it's a nice addition, to mix things up. I've never had one with garlic, but sounds good, too!
 
Yolanda C. March 25, 2019
Then it’ll never be a spanish tortilla. Please, don’t make up the recipe!
 
Yolanda C. March 25, 2019
That’s not true, spanish tortilla has neither parmesan cheese nor garlic.