Spanish recipes

Tortilla Española

One of the main characters in my novel, an American, is very fond of the Spanish tortilla, which he often has as a morning snack when he's making his rounds of the school. It is basically an egg and potato omelet, and it is very typical in Spain. My kids love it too, and although it has very few ingredients, it can be a bit tricky to make. It takes just under an hour to make a tortilla with 6 generous or 8 “tapa” sized portions. These instructions are for a skillet whose base has a diameter of 8 inches.
5 medium sized potatoes
1 very large onion
6 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
canola oil to fry the potatoes

Peel the potatoes, rinse them, then dry them. You don’t want them wet so they don’t splash the oil. Cut the potatoes into little pieces, breaking them as you cut them so the pieces will be uneven. 

To measure the amount of potatoes you’ll need for your particular skillet, place the pieces of potato in the dry skillet. They should take up most of the space, though they will still be loosely piled on one another. Once they are measured, transfer your potatoes to a large bowl.

Cut the onion in half, and then into very thin slices. Turn the cutting board and cut the onion into small cubes.

Fill the pan just under ½ way with canola oil and heat over medium high heat. Sprinkle about 1/2 teaspoon salt all over the potatoes, mix, and then place one piece of potato in the heated oil. When it starts to “dance” around and bubble, the oil is ready. Listen to the oil—if it sounds like it is “humming” with the potato, that’s good. If it splatters and makes loud noises, it is too hot. Remove the heat and allow the oil to cool a bit before adding the rest of the potatoes. At the 9:00 position in this picture is a piece that I placed in the center of the pan, but which danced over to the edge when it was ready.

Gently slide the potatoes from your bowl into the oil, being careful not to splash. The pan will be very full. Once the potatoes are in place and submerged in the oil, gently frying, add the chopped onions on top. The onions will not be submerged.


If you've placed too much oil in the pan and it is dripping out, you can gently and carefully remove some of the oil using a table spoon. In any case, it's normal for the bubbling oil to be right at the top of the pan. Cook like this for about 6-7 min.


While you wait, crack the 6 eggs into a large bowl and beat them thoroughly.
 The eggs shown below on the left are not beaten enough because you can still see the transparent, gelatinous masses. The ones on the right are beaten well.

 Once the potatoes have cooked for 6-7 minutes, it's time to mix them to be sure the bottom ones are not burning. Using a form, gently bring the potatoes from the bottom and edges of the pan, toward the center, folding the onions into the mixture and allowing them to submerge in the oil. You will also notice that the overall volume of the mixture has now been reduced.

Continue to cook for about another 7-8 minutes, gently turning the potatoes with your fork every few minutes and prodding them to check that they are cooking evenly and thoroughly. This is a very critical step in the process. If the potatoes are undercooked, the tortilla will not taste good. Sample the largest chunks, maybe 6-8 different ones, to be absolutely sure that they are all very soft. A good test is remove a chunk and place it on your cutting board. It should mash very easily with a fork, as shown below.
When the potatoes are done, lower the heat and using a slotted spoon or spatula, transfer them little by little to the egg mixture. Be sure to get off as much oil as you can, but don’t drain them for so long that the ones still left in the pan get oil-logged or cook to a crisp. It takes me about 2 minutes to do this, which is fine. Don’t worry about mixing the egg yet, and don’t worry that parts of the egg will coagulate, just keep going until you have all the potatoes in the eggs. The onions will resist, floating on the surface of the oil after you’ve gotten he last potatoes. Patience. Just keep going—you want all those little pieces.

When there are no more onions or potatoes in your pan, carefully pour the oil all into a heat-proof recipient. Then pour about a tablespoon of oil back into the pan and place it to heat over a medium fire.

While that heats, take your fork and gently mix the potatoes with the egg, bringing the parts from the edge of the bowl into the center. You don’t want to mash the potatoes, which should be very soft, but you still want to keep discreet pieces as much as possible.  It should look like a lumpy mess. When it is mixed and oil is warm, pour the mixture into the pan.
Then use your folk to gently mash it down, gently, filling all the crevices of the pan.

Keep a close eye on it. Use your fork to gently prod and pry around all the edges to help make it rounder and to allow you to monitor how much it is cooking underneath. If it’s getting too brown and the eggs are still too raw, lower the heat. Also shake the pan gently every few seconds.  

Now comes the tricky part. You need to turn the tortilla over so the top part can cook. To do this, you will cover the pan with a plate, turn the whole thing upside down, and then slide the tortilla back into the pan. Here's the steps again, more slowly: Remove the pan from the fire, and take it to the sink in case you spill it while maneuvering.  

Hold the handle firmly and place a large plate firmly over the pan, and then in one steady motion (it’s more important to be even in your motions and keep the plate tightly pressed against the pan than it is to be quick) you turn the pan/plate sandwich over, transferring the tortilla onto the plate. Some egg will run off to the side, don’t worry, there’s time to fix that.  So, cover....

And flip...

And there you go! That wasn't so bad, was it?

Before returning it to the pan, add some oil to the pan and allow it to re-heat for a minute or so.
Then gently slide the tortilla into the pan. (I was my own photographer as I cooked--pretty amazing, huh?

There, we are out of the woods now. The rest is super easy. Cook for a few more minutes, tucking the edges in with a fork to get that nice, round shape.  

 Occasionally test to see how well cooked it is by prying it open a bit in the middle. This will help you to control how done it is—some people like the center “wet”, with the eggs still runny, and others just like it moist with the eggs more cooked. 

Also continue to shake from time to time. Total cooking time once you’ve turned the tortilla is 5-7 minutes.

And there you have it! A lovely tortilla. Garnish with roasted bell peppers or even salsa. Eat it with slices of cheese, olives and crusty bread. Buen provecho!