Meet the other tortilla. Not the one made of corn or flour on a comal in Mexico, but the one that hails from Spain that’s made with a few simple ingredients—potatoes, onions, eggs and olive oil. While technically the word tortilla to some Latinos means omelette, to call a tortilla española an omelette would—as Anthony Bourdain might say—mean we’ve let the terrorists win. It is so much more.
For one, the tortilla española is less about the eggs than it is about the potatoes, which are thinly sliced and cooked slowly in flavorful olive oil. Second, while an omelette is generally breakfast territory in Spain the tortilla is served for lunch or dinner, as merienda or even a late-night, post-party snack. It’s also far more versatile than your standard egg dish: it can be served warm, at room temperature or even straight-from-the-fridge cold; you can add jamon or chorizo, garlic or cheese or herbs; and you can serve it along side a creamy aioli. Or not. You could do what I do: eat it in its simple form, which is as close to perfection as anything else.
While this makes for an easy yet hearty weeknight meal—and one that’s light on the wallet too—there are a few tricks to getting it right. First, use regular olive oil rather than extra virgin because it can get hotter without burning, which is key while you’re cooking the potatoes. When you’re slicing the potatoes, try using a mandoline and set it to a 1/8th inch thickness. If you don’t have one, slice the potatoes as thinly as you can making sure they’re consistent. The most important trick: flip the tortilla three or four times. It will help give it a perfect round shape.
4 medium red bliss potatoes, peeled, quartered, cut into 1/8th inch slices
1 medium yellow, thinly sliced
3/4 cup Spanish olive oil
Salt and white pepper, to taste
1 garlic clove, minced
4 T cold water
1. In a 9-inch non-stick sauté pan heat the olive oil over medium-high. Just before it reaches smoking point, add 1/2 the potato slices using a spatula to separate them into one layer. Add 1/2 the onion slices. Sprinkle with salt and a little white pepper. Repeat with the remain potatoes and onion to create two more layers. Cook slowly over medium heat lifting and turning until potatoes are soft but not brown, about 15 minutes.
2. Add the garlic, lifting and turning into the potato and onion mixture to combine. Cook for 2 more minutes.
3. Using a slotted spoon, remove the potato mixture from the sauté pan and in bowl. Reserve the oil. Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs with the 4 tablespoons of water until they are pale yellow. Add the potato mixture to the eggs, pressing down on the potatoes so they are covered by the eggs. Let sit for 10 minutes, so the potatoes can absorb some of the egg.
4. Heat 1 T of the reserved oil in the same sauté pan used for the potatoes until just before it smokes. Add the egg mixture to the pan, using a spatula or to spread evenly. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook uncovered for about 10 minutes. During this time, use a rubber spatula to carefully separate eggs from the edges of the pan, and skake the pan frequently to make sure the tortilla isn’t sticking.
5. Once more than half of the eggs have set, get ready to flip the tortilla. Place a flat, rimless plate on top of the pan. Hold it firmly in place, and invert the pan. Slide the tortilla back into the skillet, uncooked side down. Use the rubber spatula to tuck in the edges of the tortilla, giving it a nice clean shape. Allow to cook for another 5 minutes.
6. Flip the tortilla again, using the same method. Slide it back into the pan and cook for 3 more minutes. Flip two or three more times, allowing to cook 2 to 3 minutes in between, as this will help shape the tortilla. Once the center is firm to the touch, the tortilla is ready. (If it’s wobbly that means the eggs still need more time to set.)
7. Transfer to a platter, sprinkle with a pinch salt and allow to cool for a few minutes. Serve warm, at room temperature or chilled. Cut into wedges or squares. Serves 6 to 8.