Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Danger omelet: The Spanish tortilla


Much like learning the tango, the first attempt at the eggy, starchy Spanish tortilla is not for the faint of heart. Deceptively simple, it requires strong arms, a steady hand, and a certain appreciation for danger. Simply put, it's the kind of harebrained business that I simply cannot resist trying on a schoolnight.

My interest in eggs is a recent development, and I've spent the last year cultivating it; though Bench is the household's undisputed King of the Scrambled, I must say I've become quite the glad hand at poaching, and I have been feeling of late that I am ready to step up my game. Omelets seemed like a sensible next step, moreso when I discovered that attempting the right kind of omelet presented the very real possibility of completely trashing my kitchen. That kind of a disclaimer is like waving a red flag in front of me; resistance is futile. The description that did me in is by Ximena at Lobstersquad:

"(T)ortillas require nerves of steel. Blood must be summoned, upper lip stiffened, oven mitts worn, and prayers said. Please understand that the Italian method of starting on the stove top and ending under the grill is strictly for little girls. Likewise the French sissified folding thing."

I mean, really--how's a girl like me supposed to resist a description like that?


To my chagrin (and Bench's delight), the tortilla was not quite as much of a production as I'd feared. Yes, it required flipping. And yes, it had a truly terrifying amount of oil in it. But, the prodigious quantity of olive oil involved kept everything well-lubricated and unstuck, which was a godsend when flipping the incredibly heavy cast-iron skillet over during the tortilla-turning process (plus a goodly amount of it drains off before you mix it in with the eggs).

Though success is, in fact, dependent upon truly posting one's courage to the sticking place (hesitate for a second, and you're screwed), at the end of the day it is a potato omelet: no more, no less. I assure you: if I can do this, you can do this. And once you have, it's a tremendous trick to have up your sleeve--its versatility means you can pull it out for just about any meal; plus, it's excellent cold, so you can make it ahead of time. Smother it with ketchup for a fantastic hangover breakfast, or pair it with a salad for a delicious light meal.


I leave you with these pieces of advice:
  1. Invest in oven mitts.
  2. Be sure to have lots of paper towels on hand to drain the oil off the potatoes
  3. Be brave! You can totally do this.

Spanish tortilla (Tortilla de patates)

1-1.5 lbs medium-sized waxy red or white potatoes, peeled
1 medium-sized white or Spanish onion
6 eggs
2 tbsp milk or half and half
tons and tons and tons of olive oil (somewhere around 1/2-3/4 cup)
  1. Cut each potato into quarters, and then slice thinly (contrary to popular belief, you don't actually need a mandoline, though I'm sure it helps). Place in a towel-lined colander to drain a little.
  2. Meanwhile, quarter and thinly slice the onion as well.
  3. In a heavy, large skillet, heat all but two tablespoons of the oil at medium-high heat. Add the potatoes, drop the heat to medium-low, and cook (stirring occasionally) until just tender, about 7 minutes. Add a bit of salt and pepper.
  4. Add the onions, and keep cooking until everything is soft, about 10-15 more minutes.
  5. Using a slotted spoon, scoop the potato mixture on to a baking sheet that has been lined with paper towels to drain. Reserve the oil that remains in the pan for later use.
  6. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and milk together with a bit of salt. Add the potato mixture, mashing it about slightly to break up the potatoes a bit. Let this mixture sit for about ten minutes.
  7. Meanwhile! Take the 2 tbsp of oil you set aside earlier and put it in a heavy, 10" skillet (I used my cast iron--I recommend you do the same). Keep at medium high heat until it just starts to smoke. Pour the egg/potato mixture into the pan and flatten it with a spatula until the top is more or less level. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, shaking the pan and running around the edges with a small spatula, until the top has started to set, 6-10 minutes.
  8. Take a rimless plate that is larger than the pan, place it face down on top of the pan. Using oven mitts, flip it over quickly and turn out the omelet onto the plate. Then, replace the pan on the stove and gently slide the tortilla, uncooked side down, back into the pan. Reduce the heat to VERY low and keep cooking until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 3 more minutes.


Lisa said...

I've always wanted to make this. Bt the flipping...the FLIPPING!

Culinarywannabe said...

I feel like I would have to go to the gym for a week straight in order to flip anything out of my cast iron pan. I have enough trouble just getting it on the stove! Nicely done!

Lo said...

OY, that flippin' flipping. Scares the living crud out of me.

But, I'm going to take your advice to heart and grow some cojones... one of these days.

Nice tortilla...

Maggie said...

Ooo, I love recipes that try to scare you out of making them.

pigpigscorner said...

Your tortilla looks really good!

shiv said...

I do too, Maggie--especially when they turn out to be not really all that terrifying or difficult (but will still impress the bejiggety out of my dinner guests ;))

Joanna said...

Okay, I have to ask - would it be cheating (or maybe just super-wimpy) to slide the tortilla onto a plate, put another plate upside down on top of it, and then just flip the plates over before sliding it back into the pan? I made a fritatta once that way with great results. Of course, it doesn't give you the same bragging rights, but I hate picking up cast iron in the first place, let alone trying to flip it gracefully!

shiv said...


not at all! I'm a big believer in doing what you have to do to make a recipe work for you. And, frankly, your suggestion sounds so much more sensible than flipping over a heavy iron pan, I may try it myself next time!

EB of SpiceDish said...

I'm totally impressed! And now totally craving tortilla! Good thing I've got reservations at my fave Spanish joint for this week. But I don't know that I can wait. I may have to give this a whirl before I go.

[eatingclub] vancouver || js said...

You flipped and the omelet looks so darn good! Simple, yet profound.

Andrew J. Sajdak, J.D. said...

I make tortilla all the time (part of my fascination with all things Spanish) and you do not need to use that much good olive oil! The maximum that you should ever use is 1/4 cup. Saves money and fat. Also, yukon gold potatoes are the best for this recipe. Flipping is not for the faint of heart, but a plate over the top of the pan with a hot mitt usually does the trick. My 10" frying pan does the trick.

Rumela said...

Oh impressive!! Tortilla is my one of the favorite dishes. I like the variations. Your recipe is well written and it attracted me a lot who never wants to visit the kitchen…My husband will be happy. Above all flipping! OMG!!!


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