My (Not So) Secret Love Affair with Tortilla
It has been almost nine years since I studied abroad in Spain as an undergraduate. Nine years? Has it really been that long!? I always knew I would return to Spain. I had big plans to drag my family around the country to relive the greatest hits of my study abroad travels. What I didn’t know is that I would live in Spain again – toddler, dog, and husband all in tow!
Nearly a decade later… watch out, youngins, I am becoming one of those back-in-my-day story tellers! As I was saying. Nearly a decade later and I am sitting here reminiscing on how my experience studying abroad and thinking about how different things are this time around. So much has changed since I was here last! For starters, nine years ago I was living in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the comunidad autónoma de Madrid. It was my gateway to all of Spain. I could jump on a train or a bus in the middle of the night and wake up in a new city! It was exhilarating, fast paced, and everything you could ever want from living near a capital city.
Now, I am living in the beautiful comunidad autónoma de Andalucía. Picture this in front of you. A charming white village sprinkled with orange trees nestled perfectly in between sloping olive groves and rocky hilltops. Turn around to see stretches of golden beaches dotted with a rainbow of umbrellas and a long forgotten fortress as the backdrop. Wow, right? As if the landscape wasn’t reason enough to love Andalucía, it is made exponentially better by its friendly locals – known as andaluces – and its rich and unique culture that is the byproduct of both Catholic and Islamic rule.
I know what you are thinking. Stop bragging. This doesn’t have anything to do with tortilla! You promised tales of an affair. Does Dan know?
Okay, okay. My point is this: So much is different this time around. But the one thing that hasn’t changed? My love for Spanish tortilla. Oh, tortilla, let me count the ways I love thee! I don’t care how it is served – hot, cold, on a bocadillo, as a pincho, as a tapa, with or without mayonnaise – just put it in my belly!
Tortilla is believed to have originated out of necessity. Food was sparse amongst the farming communities of northern Spain and they needed to stretch the little food that they had. Legend has it that Basque general Tomás de Zumalacárregui was in need of a hot meal during the Carlist Wars. Luckily for him, he stumbled across a farming family willing to make the poor guy a hot meal. The farmwife combined the three ingredients she had on hand – eggs, onion, and potatoes – et voilà tortilla was born! From there, it spread like wildfire and today it is one of Spain’s most popular and recognizable foods.
Receta de Tortilla de Patatas
When I returned from Spain after studying abroad, I tried and failed – more times than I would like to admit – to make the perfect tortilla. This time around, I am determined to master it before returning back to the United States!
In my quest for the holy grail… errr – I mean tortilla making lessons… I joined forces with my friend Maria, a sevillana (thats Spanish for someone hailing from Seville), to learn how to make the perfect tortilla. She was the perfect coach! Now, all that’s left is for me to mimic her process over and over and over again until I can whip up tortilla like a local.
Keep reading to follow step by step, or skip to the bottom to see the recipe card.
Notebook in hand, I start scribbling away as Maria brings out all the ingredients for her tortilla. She laughs at me trying to quantify the ingredients and times necessary to make the tortilla. Like any good family dish, a recipe is not needed. It is passed down through the generations by the repetition of watching and doing.
The first step is to peel the potatoes. The potatoes used here are a golden, thin skinned potato. I can only assume they are a similar variety to the Yukon Gold potatoes found back home. We used six medium sized potatoes, but you can increase or decrease this as needed (more on that later). She starts by slicing each potato into french fry style strips and then cuts them into roughly 1/2″ cubes. She notes that while she cubes her potatoes, other people prefer to cook their tortilla in skinny slices. Once all the potatoes are sliced, toss them with a few pinches of salt in a bowl and set aside.
The next step is to heat the oil. To maximize flavor, Maria mixes your traditional vegetable frying oil with olive oil. Take a small or medium sized sauce pan and will with approximately 1″ of vegetable oil. Add another 1″ or so of olive oil to the mix and set the heat to medium-high.
While waiting for the oil to heat up, begin dicing your onion. About a half an onion should do it, but feel free to add or take away from that amount given your preferences. Mix these in with your salted potatoes and prepare yourself for the next few steps – that is where the magic happens!
The next step is to fry your potatoes and onions. Split them up into as many batches as you need to ensure that they are not crowded in the pan (see photo below). Fry for approximately 5 minutes, or until cooked through. Transfer the booked potatoes to a large mixing bowl.
You can’t make a (Spanish) omelette without cracking a few eggs first, right? Yea, I just went there. I am corny. We are going to take this part slow. The egg to potato ratio is key! Repeat the following steps until the egg mixture just slightly covers the top of the potatoes. For us, it took six eggs. You might find that you need slightly more or less (más o menos).
- Crack egg into a small bowl.
- Beat with a fork until the yolk and egg whites have blended.
- Pour into larger bowl of potatoes.
- Repeat until potato egg ratio is perfect!
It is harder than it sounds, trust me! Once you are confident you have the proper ratio, it’s time to start cooking!
It is finally cooking time! Take some of the leftover oil mixture used to fry the potatoes and add a few spoonfuls to your skillet. Heat the oil on medium-high and scoop around half of your tortilla mix in! Sprinkle with more salt, if desired.
Side Note: We used a smaller skillet (somewhere between 6 and 8 inches) and the recipe yielded two tortillas. If you prefer larger tortilla, use a larger skillet. Be warned that the larger the skillet, the harder the flip!
Things start speeding up (and heating up) here! After you have poured your mixture, cover with a lid and allow to cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the edges start to solidify. That’s it! Only 2-3 minutes. Make sure you watched carefully. I am certain this is where I went wrong on all other tortillas – a combination of high heat and long cook times. Keep the heat down to medium or medium-high and keep the cook time to under three minutes. The middle will be gooey, do not let this deter you!
We have reached the point in our recipe where some rookie-level acrobatics are required. THE BIG FLIP!
Tangent Time: You know the part in the Sandlot where Smalls finally realizes that Babe Ruth is the same guy the other kids have been talking about the entire time?
The sultan of swat!
The king of crash.
The colossus of clout!
(The colossus of clout!)
THE GREAT BAMBINO!!!
Oh my God! You mean that’s the same guy??
That same level of build up to this realization is how you should all feel about the build up to the big flip. THE GREAT TORTILLA FLIP!! Oh my God, you mean it’s that time?? YES! IT IS TIME. Ironically, the king of crash is a great nickname for my tortilla flipping skills.
Here is what you are going to do. Hold a plate over your skillet (or, if you are a pro like Maria, hold your special tortilla flipping tray over your skillet). Maintain a firm death grip on said skillet. Inhale. FLIP the skillet and the plate together. Remove the skillet, leaving the tortilla on the plate. Slowly slide the tortilla, gooey side down, back into the skillet. Exhale. You’ve done it! Congratulations!
The next step is to cook the tortilla another 2-3 minutes on the other side. Don’t forget to cover with the lid! One done, transfer to a plate and let cool for approximately 10 minutes. You can also put it in the fridge ready to serve cold later. We cut the tortilla, served it on a baguette and ate it as a bocadillo!
Tortilla de PatatasPrint This
- 6 Medium Gold Potatoes
- 1/2 Medium Onion
- 6 Eggs
- Olive Oil
- Vegetable Oil
- Peel and wash the potatoes. Dice the potatoes into 1/2″ cubes, salt them with 2-3 large pinches of salt, and put aside.
- Heat the oil in a small to medium sized sauce pan on medium high heat. To maximize flavor, mix vegetable oil with olive oil. Fill pan with approximately 1″ of vegetable oil and another 1″ or so of olive oil.
- While the oil heats, dice the onion. Mix the onion in with the salted potatoes.
- Fry half of the potato mixture for 5 minutes. Remove potatoes from the oil and transfer to a bowl. Repeat this process until all of the potatoes are fried.
- Beat eggs one at a time and add to potatoes. Continue this process until the egg mixture just slightly covers the top of the potatoes.
- Coat a small skillet (see note below) in leftover cooking oil and heat on medium-high heat. Scoop approximately half of the potato egg mixture into the skillet. Sprinkle with salt, if needed.
- Cover with a lid and allow to cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the edges start to solidify.
- Remove from heat, cover with a plate, and flip! Slide the flipped tortilla back into the skillet and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
- Allow to cook for 10 minutes and serve warm, or refrigerate and serve cold.
We used a smaller skillet (somewhere between 6 and 8 inches) and the recipe yielded two tortillas. If you prefer larger tortilla, use a larger skillet. Be warned that the larger the skillet, the harder the flip!