El Jefe De Jefes: The Humble Tortilla Española

Wait, I thought this was a travel blog?!’ I hear you ask yourself. Well, that it is. But since the cuisine of a place is so inextricably linked to its culture, I may as well take the liberty of justifying my culinary adventures (or misadventures for that matter) experienced during my travels, into this humble blog of mine. And experiencing a country’s cuisine is another way of travelling to that country, wouldn’t you agree?

I really should have written this post a long time ago. Given that I am a foodie, I’m surprised that it has taken me so long to actually attempt Spanish cooking at home. I do blame the Spanish bar culture though- these ubiquitous social caves where going in is often way easier than coming out; where unpretentious food, local drinks and loud conversations seamlessly merge into a good few hours of relaxed fun. It’s here that I first encountered the humble tortilla Española, or the Spanish omelette. And so began my love affair: with Spanish bars, with Spanish cuisine and with the tortilla itself.

You can’t come to Spain and not come across this dish, for it is indeed everywhere; even sold in rather unappealing plastic packaging across various supermarkets. The local bars make it the best though, fresh off the pan. You’ll be given a piece as a ‘tapa’ (bite-sized snack) with your drink, and if it’s been made correctly, with the first bite itself you’ll enter into food heaven. Having only three main ingredients: eggs, potatoes and onion, it is of an appealing yellow colour, firm on the outside and slightly runny on the inside (although it tastes just as good if you fully cook it through). This is just such a simple and comforting dish- and it really embodies the main principles of Spanish cuisine: using the freshest possible ingredients and letting them be stars of the show, whilst leaving out all the strong spices and condiments (Yikes! goes my Indian soul).

If you are itching to try something new in your kitchen because the current quarantine has inspired your inner MasterChef, keep reading my post and you won’t be disappointed 😉 Like many Spanish recipes, this one is meant to be shared and will serve four people.

Ingredients (for a small tortilla Española)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Half an onion (Spanish people fall squarely into two teams- one that prefers their tortilla with onion, and the other that prefers it without. And trust me, this rivalry is as big as Real Madrid vs Barça).
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 potatoes, small to medium sized
  • Salt
  • A small pan
    • It’s important that your pan is small in this case, because tortilla Española is quite thick in size, and if you use a medium or a large pan, then the egg mixture will tend to spread out.
Recipe
  • Chop the onion finely.
  • Cut the potatoes in quarters- extremely finely. This is important, otherwise the potatoes won’t cook very well.
The potato slices should be so thin that they should nearly be transparent.

This is where I will deviate from the original recipe in the interest of health, but I will write about both methods- the traditional and the not-so-traditional *cue Spanish protests*

Traditional method-

  • Heat a lot of oil in a wok, until it reaches its smoking point.
  • Reduce the heat to medium and fry the chopped onion first to caramelize them.
  • Once the onion is fried, take it out of the pan and chuck in the potatoes
  • Once the potatoes are fried, take them out and reserve the oil for later use.

My method-

  • Chuck the potatoes into a microwave-proof bowl, cover it with cling wrap and let it cook for 6 minutes in a 1000W microwave.
    • If you are unsure about the power input of your microwave, you can always pause it after 5 minutes and check how your potatoes are going.
    • They will be fully cooked when they will be quite soft.
Potatoes in
Potatoes out. 6 minutes; 1000W; and a little mashed afterwards.
  • Heat a little bit of oil in a pan and caramelize the chopped onion.
  • Once caramelised, remove it from the pan. Reserve the oil for later use.
  • Crack open the eggs in a large bowl and whisk them.
  • Add your potatoes and onions to the eggs and mix well. Add salt as per taste. Let the mixture rest for 15-ish minutes.
    • This is important to let the flavours mix well.
The final mixture should look something like this- THICK!
  • In a small pan, heat some oil
    • Make sure it’s a relatively generous amount- and not just coating the pan lightly. There needs to be some oil visible in the pan itself.
    • Confession time! This is where I failed. I didn’t add enough oil into my pan, and the bottom of my tortilla completely burnt. The rest of it was edible though, so you should be good as long as you have enough oil.
  • Once the pan is quite hot, chuck in the mixture and let it cook over medium heat.
Cooking in progress! Keep a steady eye on it!
  • Try moving the tortilla while it’s cooking by shaking the pan a little.
  • Check if the bottom and the sides are cooked by using a flat ladle to see if the tortilla comes off easily.
    • The top side will be undercooked and that’s okay- for now.

And now comes the trickiest step of the recipe– and is no less than doing acrobatics in my opinion. If done incorrectly, it has known to result in a very messy floor, a tortilla smashed beyond recognition, lots of tears and swearing.

  • Remove the pan from heat. Take a LARGE, FLAT plate and stick in on top of the pan. With a FIRM GRIP flip them over, so that the tortilla slides from the pan to the plate, with the top side now at the bottom.
    • Make sure you do the flipping in a quick motion and do it over the sink to avoid any mess, just in case. It helps if you have a small pan.
  • Now slide the tortilla back into the pan it came from.
  • Let it cook for a bit more- and that’s it!
How to do the perfect tortilla flip.
How NOT to do the tortilla flip.
The end result
Expectations. (The tortilla of my landlord- Ana)
Reality. (My tortilla 😦 First attempt though)

­­¡BUEN PROVECHO!

I’d love to know how it turned out for you guys! Do you have a different method of making this tortilla? If you’re not from Spain, do you have something similar in your countries- or maybe some other snack that is very typical? Let me know all this and more in the comments section, or through my IG- @navigating.without.borders 😊 

Cover photo: Tortilla de patatas, courtesy La Cocina de Frabisa