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Tortilla Española - Spain's national treasure - So simple, yet so disputed. But can you make it?
28 February 2019 @ 13:40

One of the easiest Spanish recipes and probably the most travelled of them all is the Spanish potato omelette. But when such a simple dish has become an important part of a staple diet it tends to convert into an art form in Spain. There are over 40 million people in Spain and probably 20 million different ways of making a Spanish omelette.

Everyone has there own personal touch that makes it slightly different. This is very similar to a fried egg, simple in essence but believe me a simple fried or poached egg can be a raving success or a disaster. There is a fine line between culinary heaven and mundane foodstuff. Exactly the same thing goes for the Tortilla Española. Having so few ingredients each must be prepared to perfection and the main trick lies in the timing.

Eggs are eggs and potatoes are potatoes pretty much anywhere in the world so finding decent ingredients won’t be a problem here. I have eaten hundreds of Spanish omelettes and I imagine most that are reading my blog have done so too. I’ve eaten really thick ones, really thin ones, ones loaded with potato, ones with hardly any potato, but the vast majority are really dry and overcooked meaning it’s almost compulsory to add a bit of mayonnaise so your mouth doesn’t dry up! But every now and again you come across a tortilla that takes you by surprise and you say WOW! What is it that is different about this omelette? For me it’s a “tortilla” that isn’t too thick or too thin, is nicely browned but isn’t dry in the middle giving it moisture and thus there is no need to add anything else. I also prefer it with onion as it gives it that extra edge of flavour, a sweeter touch.

Maintaining that moisture is quite complicated as eggs are so easily overcooked and when you take it off the pan it keeps cooking on the inside so really it’s a question of practice makes perfect as the eggs are never the same size and nor are the potatoes so giving exact cooking times is a bit pointless. However I am going to share some guidelines that I learnt from a “Master Tortilla Maker”, as I call her, but she is more commonly known and Maribel! Our good friend’s mother, who is now 77 going on 27 with a heart of gold and a love for life, has been making omelettes every week for as long as she can remember, well over 60 years, so I would say she is an expert on the subject. Not a week goes by without making one and Maribel is a Spanish food encyclopaedia and still spends most of her life in the kitchen working, although fortunately for her she really enjoys it. 

Last Sunday we paid her a visit and lone behold she was making a tortilla...again, so I thought “perfect!” this is the opportunity to share her secrets with you all and take a few photos to help in the process. I’m not bad at it myself but she makes it look so effortless, the way she finely chips the potatoes directly into the oiled pan without even looking with a small knife and at a speed akin to nimble young women. No chopping board, no potato peeler, nothing, just a small sharp knife and a pair of hands, chipping away at a rate of knots and before you have realised it she had three chipped and in the frying pan only to be followed by an onion which was also chopped up in a blink of an eye. I had to tell old Maribel to slow down otherwise I’d miss out on interesting photos! But she said, “You speed up, you’re the young one!” so that put me in my place and I quickly managed to grab some photos to share with you. Maribel said “It’s just an omelette what’s all the fuss about? But Maribel’s omelette isn’t just any omelette.  So what is Maribel’s secret? Well, it’s quite simple, so I will run you through the steps.  

For a normal Spanish omelette, you’ll need three medium-sized potatoes, one large onion, 4 large free-range eggs, salt and some good extra virgin olive oil. This will serve 4 adults as part of a main meal or 8 as a light tapas. If you want to make it bigger and thicker just multiply the ingredients accordingly.

If you don’t think you're as nimble as Maribel then you should chop up the potato and the onion before heating the pan, because if you are too slow the first potato chips will cook faster than the last ones. So to be on the safe side you need to chip the potatoes before. I don’t mean cut them into slices or chip shapes but cut away at the potato with a knife as if you were carving a wooden sculpture and cutting off large uneven chips of wood. The pieces of potato shouldn’t really be much bigger than a 50p coin and no thicker than say two 50p coins if you get what I mean…we don’t want them very thick not too thin but it doesn’t matter if some parts are thicker than others and that every chip is different, this helps them to hold together better and the omelette has less chance of breaking up and it is also easier to cook all the potato uniformly. Chopping them unevenly also means some parts of the potato chips brown slightly giving the tortilla more flavour. There is nothing worse than having cooked and undercooked potato together in an omelette so be careful not to cut really thick pieces of potato. Cut the onion into quarters and then slice it up but not too finely. Some people fry the potatoes and the onions separately but here we are going to do it together. If you do them separately make sure the onions go really soft and don't burn.

At this point, we are going to need two deep frying pans, one to cook the potatoes and then one to make the omelette. We aren’t going to use the same pan. We need a wider frying pan to evenly cook the potatoes and onion and then a smaller frying pan to get the thickness for the omelette.

Pour some extra virgin olive oil into the pan being careful not to pour too much, we are not deep frying the potatoes so just cover the pan all over leaving about 1 mm of oil across the pan and put it on medium heat, let the oil heat up and then reduce to a low heat straight away. At this point, we need to add the potato and the onion and season with salt. Cook the onions and the potato on a low heat for about 20 minutes until they are well cooked, remember we are not frying them so we don’t want to brown them too much or make them go crispy, towards the end they will slightly brown in parts and that is fine but if they brown too quickly your heat is too high and if they go crispy you have too much oil in the pan too. If they absorb all the olive oil and it looks like they are drying up don’t be afraid to add a little more olive oil while cooking.

Once they are cooked you need to beat the four eggs together. Maribel has a great little trick but takes a little practice; she beats her eggs on a plate and not in a bowl helping to air the egg mixture making it lighter and spongier. Another trick is to beat the egg whites first and then the yolks. Once beaten the eggs should have air bubbles all over the surface of the egg mix, season with salt and put to one side. Wait for the potatoes to cool down a bit and pour a little olive oil in the smaller non-stick frying pan and add the potatoes. 


Next, we add the beaten eggs, let them sit for about 10 minutes so the egg mixture has well and truly settled amongst the potato and filled every nook and cranny, shake the frying pan to help evenly spread out the potatoes. Now you can put the frying pan on low heat and start cooking the omelette.

Once the eggs have set grab a plate which is larger than the diameter of the pan and place on top of the frying pan to turn the omelette over, slide the omelette back into the pan and continue cooking for a couple of minutes. Turn the omelette over again cook for another 30-40 seconds then turn it over again until both sides are slightly browned but not too much. Remove from the pan and place on a serving plate. It is now ready to eat. There are millions of ideas as to what the perfect tortilla is but for me it is one that is nicely cooked on the outside but still moist and slightly liquid in the centre, so it is not cooked all the way through, this timing takes practice but when you get the balance right it is a real delight. What would otherwise be a heavy dry omelette becomes a fantastic culinary masterpiece that needs nothing added except for a slice of thick crusty bread, to clean the plate!  Enjoy!






Like 4


Goldilocks said:
11 March 2019 @ 19:11

At last! Thank you SO much Ian. My tortillas aren't bad but using your instructions I've just made a truly excellent one. It's all the little details that make the difference, like "chipping" the potatoes, and also letting the egg and potato mix sit for a while. Your articles are very much appreciated. Thank you again.

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