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Tortilla Francesa

September 28, 2010
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One of the first things you will notice when coming to Spain is that these people love eggs.  I mean love, cannot-live-without-a-dozen-in-the-fridge eggs.  To simplify the situation a bit, eggs can become any of the following: tortilla francesa (whipped and fried); tortilla de patata/tortilla española (whipped, mixed with potatoes and onion, and then fried); huevos fritos (just fried); huevos duros (hard boiled egg, which always walks hand-in-hand with tuna.  In Seville, I went to an Italian restaurant and ate a pizza that was topped with hard-boiled egg and tuna); flan (whipped with milk and sugar and heated slowly); and, finally, because frying plain ol’ eggs must get boring after awhile, eggs can also be used to coat any number of other things for frying (i.e., chicken, beef, eggplant, or torrijas).  [Sidenote: you probably notice that another staple in Spanish cuisine is frying.  This is because olive oil here is incredibly cheap and freaking delicious.  Also, some Spaniards I know believe that olive oil doesn’t contain any fat, so I see why they have no problem frying whatever they want.]

Coming back to the tortilla francesa, which is the first dish a Spanish cook must master, it may seem counter-intuitive that one of the staples of Spanish cuisine is called a “French” omelette.  I’m not going to lie: I have absolutely no idea why this is.  Actually, I have always wondered where that name comes from.  It’s quite possible that this is how eggs are eaten in France and that the Spaniards, following the correct procedures when citing another chef’s recipe, are simply giving credit where credit is due.  It’s also possible that the tortilla francesa is so named because this dish, when prepared properly, is so light and fluffy that it certainly believes itself to be superior to other eggs.  Rest assured, a tortilla francesa would turn down its nose at a huevo frito.  And let’s not even mention the poor huevo duro, which is rejected by all the other eggs because it’s not even fried.

I digress.

There are three key steps to a great tortilla francesa.  First–and I suspect this is true of a great number of Spanish dishes–the pan really has to be well-seasoned.  People here do not wash their pans after every use, and their food is always tastier for it.  Next, the oil: pour about a teaspoon of olive oil into your pan and put it over medium-high heat.  Finally, using a fork, whip the egg with a pinch of salt (as pictured here, you can also add parsley if desired.)  Notice that I say “whip,” not “scramble.”  You want to use long, strong strokes and whip the egg longer than is required simply to mix the yolk and the white.  The real trick to the tortilla francesa is the beating; my señora even insists on whipping the white by itself for a bit before she breaks the yolk and whips it all together.  I personally cannot vouch for that technique, but I can tell you that a real tortilla francesa is surprisingly voluminous.  You will be shocked at how much tortilla comes out of one little egg, believe me.  Once you’re finished whipping your egg, pour it into the pan with the oil and leave it just long enough so that it holds its shape, like so:

Then, fold in the sides of the omelette as if you were folding a letter into thirds, like so:

Leave it one moment longer so it holds its shape, and then flip the whole thing over to cook the other side.  Once the second side is done, remove from the heat and allow to cool for a few moments before digging in.  [Just one note on doneness: eggs should be soft.  When you remove the pan from the burner, they continue to cook while they’re still in the pan.  Dry, overcooked eggs just make me sad, so please don’t do it.]

Et voilà, your tortilla francesa is complete.  If you want to be really Spanish, you can slap this between two slices of baguette-style bread and take it with you for lunch at school or at work.  Since my workplace is a whopping 50 kilometers away from here, I see lots of tortilla francesa sandwiches in my future.  And that’s just fine by me.


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