This dish will always have a special place in my heart. During the six months I lived in Spain, I probably ate Tortilla Española every other day, if not everyday. My favorite version was at a little basement cafeteria on campus where it was served in the middle of a baguette with a slice of tomato, shredded lettuce and a dollop of mayonnaise.
For such a simple dish (eggs, potato, and onion), it has been remarkably hard to recreate the same Spanish flavor. And every time I've tried to ask a Spaniard for tips and tricks to get it to taste authentic, the most I've gotten is "you just sauté the potato, add the onion, mix in the egg and cook it." I'm here to tell you those directions have not helped a whole ton.
But, after making many tortillas I have learned some things. That is why below you'll find ridiculously long instructions in proportion to the tiny ingredient list. And because I have done a lot of trial and error, I'm passing on my wisdom in a few key points:
- The potatoes should not be sweet. This is sometimes hard to avoid because as potatoes sit they develop more starch. This is why I'm featuring this recipe now. Potatoes have come out of the ground in the last month or so and there are a lot of varieties available at Farmer's Markets. Ask your farmer for something that cooks nicely but will not tend towards starchy/sweetness. I used a German butter ball and Royal Andean (farmer recommended). Yukon Golds work consistency wise, but can sometimes have a sweet aftertaste. Nonetheless, a perfectly good choice if that is what you can find.
- Olive Oil. While this is a simple recipe, there was a definite turning point when I realized that oil was a major part of the equation. You read that correctly, I'm calling for 1/3 cup of olive oil! Cooking the potatoes is not so much a sauté, but more of a shallow fry. This adds a richness to the potatoes that is SO worth it. And remember too, we are not really at a high temp here, so the oil will retain most of its health properties and not be harmful.
- Regulating the heat of the pan. One of the challenges I faced was that once I got everything together and cooked the tortilla, it would get too golden and start to get crispy on the outside. It is a much gentler cooking process than a sear. You'll see I'm very specific with how to heat the pan. Also, this is an appropriate place for non-stick. I use a Scanpan that has no Teflon or funky chemicals. Game changer I tell you.
I very rarely eat this now on a baguette (sad face!). Though, it is still delicious with a green salad as a light meal or is easy to pack as breakfast or snack.
I promise this recipe (in spite of all my blabbering) is very doable and the reward is a little taste of Spain. Provecho!
1 lb potatoes, peeled
1/2 small onion, diced
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3/4 tsp salt
4 pasture raised eggs
Start by chopping the potatoes. I like to half them lengthwise and then lay each half down and divide into two (essentially quartering the potato the long way) and then running the knife along each quarter piece to get thin slices (see photo). Put potatoes in a colander and toss with salt. Leave to drain for 30 minutes. Dry the potatoes by laying them on a kitchen towel and patting with paper towels.
Heat olive oil in a 10-inch cast iron skillet on medium heat. You want the oil hot, but never close to smoking. Add the potatoes and cook until some pieces start turning golden brown, about 10 minutes. As you see some pieces get some color, add the onions and cook for about 3 minutes longer. The potatoes should be tender and flirting with some crisp edges and the onions cooked, but not caramelizing. Remove potato onion mixture with a slotted spoon, trying to drain off the excess oil, and transfer to a bowl. Using a small sieve, strain leftover oil from the pan into a container.
Break eggs into a medium bowl. Salt with a few pinches of salt being careful to not over salt since the potatoes are already seasoned. Heat an 8 inch nonstick skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes, then bring it down to the lowest setting. Pour in a couple of tablespoons of the reserved oil. Mix eggs with potatoes and pour into the hot skillet. Spread the potatoes evenly in the pan. Cook for about 10-12 minutes. The edges should look set, but everything will still be wobbly in the middle.
Using a spatula to loosen the sides, release tortilla to a plate. Place the skillet upside down over the top of it (wobbly side will be facing up and skillet will be facing down) and give everything a flip. Place back on the heat and cook another 8-12 minutes until set. Serve warm or at room temperature.