I can’t believe that it’s been more than four months since I shared my tortilla francesa, and yet–despite making it fairly frequently–I haven’t said anything about the tortilla española. This will reveal the embarrassing fact that I sometimes still think in terms of analogies, à la middle school, but I think it gets the point across: Tortilla francesa : tortilla española :: scrambled eggs : quiche. Both dishes contain similar ingredients; the former is easy and tasty, but the latter is more interesting and more filling. It’s also more time-consuming, which makes it daunting but ultimately more impressive when you finally get around to making one.
Traditionally, tortilla española (Spanish omelette) contains potatoes and onion, but the egg is essentially a vehicle for whatever tasty filling you desire. There are restaurants in Madrid that are devoted entirely to tortillas and include whatever filling you could imagine, from exotic cheeses to shrimp. Alternatively, you could view the tortilla as a delicious way to use up a fridge full of leftovers. It’s a great trick if you’ve got half a tomato, some extra eggplant or, for example, a veritable mountain of organic peppers that your Spanish family gave you.
As I’ve tweaked my recipe, my Spanish omelette has become delicious enough that my second flatmate, who is somewhat of a non-entity around here, tried a bit and asked if I’d actually made it myself. My initial confusion–how could I have a tortilla in a skillet on the stove if I hadn’t made it myself?–led to the discovery that tortillas are actually sold pre-cooked and shrink-wrapped in the grocery store. Unfortunately, this was followed by the discovery that my flatmate is a frequent consumer of said product. (If we all band together, perhaps one day we can get him to make a meal on the stove instead of in the microwave… till then, I’d be content with getting him to wash his dishes.)
Anyway, the tortilla is not as tricky as it may seem once you master a few essential things. First of all, a tortilla española isn’t flat like an omelette. It’s going to be delicious and chunky, which means you’ll want a small pan and lots of eggs. The second trick is to get the pan nice and hot for the initial contact, followed by a low heat to cook the egg through without burning the outside. Finally, the most important and most difficult step: flipping the omelette successfully.
Now that you have the bullet points, let’s back up and fill in the gaps. For posterity’s sake, my example will be the traditional potato and onion omelette, but keep in mind that most things taste delicious when enveloped in fried egg, so you should feel free to experiment despite the recipe format. Enjoy!
For a small (18 cm) skillet. I wouldn’t advise using a much larger skillet, since the flip will become logistically difficult. If you’re having lots of guests, better to make two or three small tortillas.
1/2 of a large onion
1 large or 2 small potatoes
1. Prep the potatoes: peel and wash them; then, quarter them and cut slices about 1/4-inch wide. In a small pot, cover them with water and a generous sprinkle of salt. Boil until fork-tender, about 10-15 minutes.*
2. While the potatoes are boiling, dice the onion and sauté it in a small skillet. When the onion is translucent, remove it from the heat and set it aside. [If you are adding other elements to your tortilla such as garlic, pepper, sausage, etc., this would be the step to do so.]
3. When the potatoes are fork-tender, drain them and set them aside.
4. While you heat a generous amount of oil in the 8-inch skillet to medium-high heat, beat the eggs, along with a pinch of salt and pepper, in a large shallow bowl. Once the whites and yolks are completely blended, add the potatoes and onions to the eggs. When the pan is hot, quickly pour the eggs and filling into the pan, using a fork to spread the onions and potatoes evenly among the eggs. You should get a nice edge on the tortilla that cooks up around the perimeter of the skillet (see picture 1 below.) Turn the heat down to low.
5. When the tortilla has cooked about 75% of the way through (it will still be completely raw on top but should have structural integrity), place a flat plate or lid that is slightly larger than the skillet on top of the skillet. Using one swift motion, flip the tortilla onto the plate. [You may want to do this over the sink, especially the first time.] Do not add more oil to the skillet to cook the second side, but do turn the heat back up. Using a fork, slide the tortilla back into the skillet, cooked side up (see picture 2 below). You can also use the fork to tuck in the edges of the tortilla, which makes for a much better presentation. Turn the heat back down to low to finish cooking.
6. You’ll know the tortilla is cooked through when an inserted knife comes out clean. Serve immediately if desired, although cold tortilla is perfectly acceptable.
*Traditionally, the potatoes are sliced and fried. Admittedly, this imparts better flavor, but I prefer to boil the potatoes to save time and calories for an everyday tortilla.