Tortilla Espanola – Spanish Omelette

I absolutely love tortilla Española.  It’s important I make it clear how much I love it because it will explain how pedantic I am about it and how it’s made.  The other person in my family who’s also very found of it is my mother.  Both my mother and I have had appalling versions of this omelette in Spain over the years and my last experience in Spain last summer in Bilbao and San Sebastian was no different.

You can see from the photo below the left tortilla on my plate from a pintxo bar in San Sabastian.  Let me say I can not leave a slice of tortilla Española if it’s done right.  Unfortunately his one and the one served at the breakfast bar in our hotel was awful.  It didn’t taste of either potato or eggs, it had this unusual horrid floury taste, uncooked flour taste, nothing like one made with care and attention and good simple ingredients of eggs, potato and onions.

I prefer one made with onions than without.  I think the onions brings a natural sweetness to it and is a perfect marriage with potato.  I also prefer one made with cubed potatoes than with sliced potatoes.  But I won’t cry if you serve me one with sliced potatoes.  Oh…there’s been debate about whether it should be cubed or sliced potato in a tortilla.  And by the way it’s not so extreme to cry over something you hold so dear to your heart.  I’ve seen old ladies argue and cry over how much paprika you should add to chorizo when making it…I get that…I feel for that old lady who now thinks her portions of chorizo are ruined…yes some things I take a little too seriously.

My reason for the cubes and not slices is because when you’re cooking the potatoes, the slices always clump together, the cubes won’t.  When you’re adding the eggs you can make certain the cubes are surrounded by egg, but with the slices some will stick together where the egg won’t penetrate.  Can you picture it? The cube version is like bricks and mortar, cubes are the bricks and the eggs is the cement.  When you put a piece in your mouth you’re eating equal amounts of egg, potato, onion. You see now……..I said I was pedantic.

I have seen a Spanish chef using Spanish crisps (chips) shop bought to make tortilla…but I’m not even going to go there.

The photos of the vibrant golden almost orange coloured Spanish omelette on the black plate were taken last weekend made with eggs from corn-fed hens, giving you this amazing colour.

The other more pale anemic looking omelettes were made with organic eggs taken over a year ago and posted on my first blog.  Forget for a minute how pale it is, it still tasted good by the way…I want you to see what I meant about the cubes being well surrounded by the eggs.

During the summer I have a thing for wanting to eat the omelette with tomatoes and red onion salad, it just goes together really well.  I let the onions sit in the vinegar for a little while as it takes some of the sharpness away and adding extra virgin and parsley to the salad.

I never weigh anything for this it’s all done roughly by eye.  I’ll give you here a guide but it’s really up to you if you feel it could do with more potatoes or onion.  I always calculate by the size and depth of the frying pan I’m using.

Use more potatoes than you think you’ll need because once they are cooked down and lose a lot of their water they come down considerably in volume.

Tortilla Española

You can finish the omelette in two ways, either flip if over or put it under the grill.  I have details of both below.

Pans – I used a non-stick pan for my pale looking omelettes but the non-stick was wearing off and the omelette beware.  This can also happen if you’re making a large one and it’s been on the heat a while, there isn’t enough oil to keep it moist and the bottom dries out a bit.

Eggs – It’s all about the eggs, so please use good ones, free-range, organic and if you can use corn-fed for best colour.

For a large one – will give you 8 good slices.  The pan was 26cm (10 inches) wide & deep

  • 12 large good quality eggs makes all the difference to taste
  • 700 g – 1 k of old potatoes cubed – not floury ones or they will fall apart easily.  I use red skin ones.
  • 300 g – 500g of onions roughly chopped
  • 5 – 7 tablespoons of olive oil (not extra virgin I find too strong overpowering taste of potatoes & eggs)
  • 1 – 1 1/2 tsp salt (start with less add more if needs it)
  • freshly ground black pepper or white if you don’t want black specks or leave it out

For a small one – enough for two people.  The pan was 20cm (8 inches) wide but shallow

  • 6 eggs
  • 3 medium potatoes, cubed – I know! I didn’t weigh them! not floury ones
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3-4 tablespoon of olive oil (not extra virgin I find too strong overpowering taste of potatoes & eggs)
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp salt (start with less add more if needs it)
  • freshly ground black pepper or white if you don’t want black specks or leave it out

I use the amount of oil above as a guide the important thing is there should be enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan generously because you’ll then need to cook down the potatoes without sticking.

On a low to medium heat soften the onions for about 5 mins.  I don’t let them colour because they’re going to cook further.

Add the cubed potatoes and mix well with the onions.

Season generously with salt, potatoes need more salt than you think they do in this dish.  Add pepper black or white if wished.  Mix everything again.

Now put the lid on the pan and put on a low heat to let the potatoes become soft.  This may take a good 15-20 mins.  During this time stir the potatoes a couple of times to makes sure the ones on the bottom are not burning.

Before adding your eggs the potatoes should be soft but not collapsed into a mash.  You can see how easily a fork goes through them when soft.

Now time to crack and stir your eggs in a bowl.  If the potatoes are well seasoned you don’t need to add any further seasoning to the eggs.  This is a good time to adjust seasoning so taste the potatoes and they still need more add a large pinch to the eggs.  Using a fork mix the eggs well.

You’ll notice how much the potatoes have shrunk.  Add your egg mixture.

I like to make sure the potatoes are completely surrounded by the eggs.  Gently using a fork or spoon I mix potatoes around the pan to let the egg move around it and to the bottom of the pan.  Make sure the pan is on a low heat.

Within a short while you’ll see the tortilla firming up.

How long this bit takes it depends how low your heat, how deep your pan or how big but this is where your eyes will tell you.  You can see below the edges are solid but the centre still very runny.

At this point below you can see it’s more solid throughout, though a bit wet on top but it’s not liquid runny.  If you want to do it the traditional way of flipping it over now is the time to do it.

Flipping the Tortilla Over

Using a palette knife go all the way around the pan to make sure it’s loose from the sides of the pan.  Put a large plate over the pan with your hand holding on to the plate flip the pan over.

Hopefully your non-stick pan will be non-stick and the whole omelette will drop on to the plate nicely.  Slide the omelette back on to the pan for a couple of minutes more should be enough and remove from heat and transfer it on to a serving plate.

Putting the Tortilla Under the Grill

If you want to finish cooking the undercooked top of the tortilla under the grill make sure it’s not too close to the grill because it will burn the eggs before it’s properly cooked through.  Give it a little distance between the tortilla and grill.

What you have to check once under the grill and looks done like the above photo is to have a look and make sure it’s cooked through.

Once it’s cooked through it’s ready to turn it over.

And this is where you realise your non-stick pan is sticking!

Another reason to be aware of the tortilla sticking is if it’s a large one where it takes time to cook through it’s easy to dry the bottom of it if you haven’t been generous enough with the olive oil.  Don’t be mean on the oil and you’ll end up with a better looking tortilla Española.

This was the one made with corn-fed eggs in the small shallow pan, with it’s shocking orange colour.

What My Gran Would Say

I look at the photo below and all I can do is hear my Gran’s voice in my head.  She’s saying..”Oh Zélinha..look at the state of that frying pan around the needs a good scrubbing!  Don’t you know how to clean a frying pan?”

And I would have to give my excuse of the dishwasher not cleaning pans properly..and promise her to get the scrubbing thing out and give it a good go.  Just as well my Gran doesn’t go on the internet.

Post Note: As soon as I posted this, a twitter commented on her boyfriend mother’s tortilla being extra yummy because she fries her potatoes.  This reminded me of a couple of versions I’ve seen of making it and tasting it.  I’ve tasted that version of frying the potatoes separately and it does taste delicious, it reminds me of chips (fries) and eggs I use to have as a kid.  It’s also a fast way of making it.

What I’ve come to love about cooking the potato and onion together slowly is the sweetness that develops between the two.  When you’re deep frying you’re creating a barrier of crispness on the outside layer of that ingredient.  For my personal preference I adore the flavour the onions imparts on the potato as it cooks.

I’ve also seen where the potatoes are not deep fried and not covered like here, essentially shallow fried, then some excess oil removed before the eggs are added.

There shall always be old ladies crying on how something should be made they hold dear…and yes…one day I’ll be one of those old ladies.