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Tortilla de Patatas

Updated: Jan 3, 2021

First, let’s clear the air. The Spanish tortilla is most definitely not a version of a frittata or an omelet. While omelets and frittatas are eggs with some stuff in them, a tortilla is a lot of stuff, bound together by egg. It might sound like silly hair splitting, but there is a fundamental difference in philosophy and end result, not to mention technique.

A tortilla is always done on the stovetop from beginning to end. It is never finished in the oven. A tortilla is also very much about the potatoes. The potatoes need to be fried, not boiled, or the tortilla will be insipid instead of luscious and addictive. Some people don’t put onions in, but there is also a saying: “There are two types of people. Those that put onions in their tortilla, and those with no idea what life is about.” You can guess which side all of my friends and I are on in this debate.

The egg in the tortilla should not be cooked until dried out. In fact, a perfectly cooked tortilla will have the eggs not quite cooked through. They shouldn’t be quite loose enough to run out when you cut the tortilla to portion it, but they should still be a little bit wet. Of course, there are some people that do prefer to make the tortilla on the runny side, so when you cut into it, a little bit of egg does run out. I’ve encountered that most often in Galicia, though I expect you could find that style in other parts of Spain as well. If you like your tortilla a little runny, just cook it slightly less in the final step.

The history of the tortilla isn’t exactly clear, with a few competing stories on its beginnings. Certainly, it goes back at least a few hundred years, and originated sometime after potatoes came back from the conquest of the Incas in the 16th century.

These days, the tortilla de patatas is extremely popular all over Spain. Tortillas often are the center of a family meal, they show up on tapas menus everywhere, they are a common sandwich filling, and are a popular picnic food. We have one at least every few weeks in our house, because we almost always have the ingredients and we love to eat them. They are also just as good as cold leftovers the next day as they are fresh.

This recipe is focused on the classic tortilla filled with just potatoes and onions. This preparation is still the most common and popular version throughout Spain, but there are lots of other popular variations. Some of the most popular additions are chorizo, mushrooms, spinach, bell peppers, asparagus, and other veggies.

I do not use a non-stick pan for very many things, but I HIGHLY recommend you use one for your tortillas. It will make the process a whole lot easier

Ingredients (for a 10" diameter pan)

2 lbs russet potatoes

1 clove of garlic

1 medium yellow onion, peeled, and cut in 1/2” dice

8 eggs, beaten

2 cups of oil for frying

Salt TT

1. Peel the potatoes, cut in half lengthwise, then cut each half in lengthwise again. Cut the potato pieces in ¼” thick slices.

2. Fry the potatoes and onion: Warm the oil in a pan on medium-high heat and add the clove of garlic. As the oil heats, the garlic will first sizzle, and eventually start to brown. When the garlic reaches a golden brown, remove it from the oil, and carefully add the potatoes. Stir the potatoes around carefully a few times, while frying for about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the onions to the pan with the potatoes, and carefully stir them in. Let fry for another 12-15 minutes, until the potatoes and onions are starting to get a little bit browned, but are not fully browned and crispy.

3. While the potatoes and onion are frying, beat the eggs in a large bowl. Strain the potatoes and onions from the hot oil, when done, reserving the oil. While still hot, place the onions and potatoes into the bowl with the beaten eggs, stirring them in to get them well mixed. This will start the eggs cooking a little before they get in the pan.

Note: Save the reserved oil for cooking other things. It will be very flavorful and add some depth to anything you cook with it.

4. Place a 10” nonstick pan on a medium-low flame. Add a tablespoon of the reserved oil, then add the egg, potato and onion mixture, along with a good pinch of salt. Use a spatula to keep pulling the eggs towards the middle from the edge of the pan, letting the runny uncooked eggs fill the space. When the eggs stop running so much, use the spatula to form the contents of the pan into an even, thick disk, with the edges pulled away from the sides of the pan. Let the tortilla cook undisturbed like this for about 2 more minutes.

Shaping the tortilla, as it cooks, getting ready to flip it.

5. Flip the tortilla: Gently shake the pan to make sure the tortilla is not stuck to the bottom. If it feels stuck, use your spatula to release it carefully. Get a flat plate that is slightly larger than the outside diameter of the pan. Place the plate on top of the pan. While pressing the plate tightly against the pan, lift the pan and quickly turn it over releasing the tortilla onto the plate. Carefully lift the pan off, leaving the tortilla on the plate, cooked side up.

6. Finish the tortilla: Carefully slide the tortilla off of the plate, back into the pan, cooked side up. If any pieces stick to the plate, use the spatula to carefully lift the tortilla in the pan and slide them underneath. Continue cooking on a medium-low flame until the tortilla is almost cooked through, but still ever so slightly wet in the middle. This should only take 3 or 4 more minutes. Remove to a plate, and let sit for at least 5 minutes before serving. You can cut it in wedges for larger portions, or in smaller squares for tapas.

Variations on the classic Tortilla de Patatas

There are many popular variations on the classic tortilla. A few versions are described below.

Tortilla con Chorizo

Reduce the amount of potatoes to about 1½ pounds.

Cut ½ - ¾ lb of Spanish chorizo into ¼” thick slices. Sauté the chorizo in a little bit of oil on medium heat. Cook just long enough that the chorizo begins to brown. Don’t brown it too much. When you mix the potatoes and onions into the eggs, add the cooked chorizo.

Tortilla con Setas (Mushrooms)

Reduce the amount of potatoes to about 1¼ lbs. Clean and cut in large slices about 1 lb of cultivated mushrooms or 2 lbs of wild mushrooms (wild mushrooms have a much higher water content). Sauté the mushrooms in oil until lightly browned, seasoning with a little bit of salt. When you mix the onions and potatoes into the eggs, add the mushrooms.

Tortilla con Espinacas (Spinach)

Reduce the amount of potatoes to about 1¼ pounds. Clean 2 lbs of spinach, then boil for about 30 seconds in salted, boiling water. Remove from boiling water and immediately plunge into ice water. When cooled, drain the spinach well, and squeeze out all remaining moisture. Chop the spinach well. When you mix the potatoes and onions into the eggs, add the spinach.

Tortilla con Ortigas (Nettles)

Follow the same procedure as for the Tortilla with spinach, substituting the nettles for spinach.

Tortilla with other vegetables

You may see tortillas with asparagus, zucchini, bell peppers and other vegetables depending on the season and where you are. One vegetable could be featured or a mix of several. Usually, the quantity of potatoes will be reduced by about half, and replaced by a comparable amount of vegetables. Sometimes the potatoes will be omitted entirely (but never in our house). Simply sauté or blanch the vegetables and add them to the eggs with the potatoes and eggs.

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