The Easiest Ever Tortilla de Patata (Spanish Omelette)
For expats and Spain-lovers alike, this Spanish omelette recipe will not disappoint. It was created by my husband, a Spaniard living in the south of the United States, after realizing how cumbersome it is to make a tortilla de patata, and tiring of hearing my excuses as to why I did not want to make one for dinner. The recipe he created was such a huge success in our family that I decided to share with you in hopes that you can satisfy your cravings with half the work.
What Is a Spanish Omelette?
Spanish omelettes are not really what you would think of as an omelette in America. When we think of omelettes, we think of beating eggs with milk and salt, and filling this mixture in the pan with mushrooms, cheese, peppers, ham, and any other savory food imaginable.
Spanish omelettes, in truth, are more like Italian frittatas. Frittatas are oven-baked dishes full of sauteed vegetables, and of course, beaten eggs. When taken out of the baking dish, they very much resemble a tortilla de patata.
The difference lies in the cooking method. In Spain, household ovens are a relatively new idea. In centuries past, they would have village ovens responsible for making all their bread. In our village, we still have this type of oven, and sometimes my mother-in-law still goes to it on hot summer days to bake cookies, so as not to fill her home with heat.
I, of course, have an oven in my apartment in Spain. As an American, I tend to rely on my oven a bit too much. Because of this history of ovens in Spain, as you can imagine, most foods are cooked on gas stoves, although vitroceramic cooktops are becoming more popular as well. Either stove will work to cook your tortilla in a normal, oiled frying pan.
The traditional tortilla de patata recipe that I learned from my husband’s mother and grandmother requires peeling potatoes, washing them, then slicing them like you would au gratin—but thinner! In fact, it takes so much work and effort to prepare the potatoes for the omelette that I quickly tired of making it on a regular basis. The recipe my husband created saves time and energy by replacing the steps of peeling, washing, and thinly slicing. My husband got creative after he went out to eat breakfast with a friend.
- 1 medium bag hash brown-style potatoes
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1-2 teaspoons salt
- 6 eggs
- Chop the onion finely and saute in about ¼ cup olive oil. Cooking with extra virgin olive oil can release harmful substances in your food. Just use a regular, light-tasting olive oil. Do not use corn or vegetable oil.
- When the onion is translucent, add in the bag of frozen hash browns. (Traditionally, this is where you would put in your peeled and sliced potatoes). Cook and stir from time to time. Do not brown them. You want this to turn into a nice, fluffy, slightly lumpy, yellow mush.
- Add the salt and mix well.
- When you feel like your mush is mushy enough, beat six eggs in a bowl. Pour in the mush, and mix thoroughly.
- Grease an 8- to 12-inch frying pan with olive oil liberally.
- Pour your batter in the frying pan and cover.
- Cook on medium low heat until it looks like it is cooked through, but maybe a little runny on top.
- Grease a dinner plate and turn the tortilla over on the plate. It may help to run a rubber spatula between the edge of the omelette and the pan to loosen it.
- Then slide it back into the frying pan to cook the other side. I can usually cook one in less than 20 minutes. Still, cooking times vary so much for this dish, because if you want to make a big one, you would use 6-8 potatoes and 6-8 eggs, or if you want to make a small one, 3-4 potatoes, and 4 eggs. This, like many other Spanish recipes, really requires you to eyeball it. If you use a whole medium bag of hash browns, I would use 6 eggs, ¼ cup oil, and 1½ teaspoons salt.
How My Husband Created This Recipe
Although the tortilla de patata is a staple all over Spain, it is thought to have been created in Extremadura, where my husband and his family have lived their whole lives, and generations before them hundreds or even thousands of years back. Extremadura is in the south of Spain, and when we immigrated to the United States, we began living with my family in North Carolina which is also in the South of our country. After living here a few months, he went out with his best friend Mike to a place that serves country-style breakfast all day. He ordered hash brown casserole and nothing was ever the same for him again!
He became mildly obsessed with hash browns. He wanted me to make them every time I made breakfast for dinner. Soon, he started to invite his friends over to our house during the day when he was off and I was working. I would come home after he left for his job and find, sure enough, hash brown wrappers and leftover breakfast for dinner, for me to heat up and eat. He got quite good at making hash browns, although I still make better bacon gravy.
The recipe was born when we were invited to dinner by a sweet couple who wanted us to make something traditionally Spanish. I was very overwhelmed and tired from work and college classes, so I told him he would have to make it; otherwise, I was going to pick up something at the store on my way home from work. When I got home to get ready for the evening, I noticed two golden-brown tortillas sitting coolly on the table, and only one pan dirty in the sink. Unfortunately, dinner got canceled that night, but my toddler and I really enjoyed digging into the omelette ourselves. The next day, we all decided to meet for lunch instead of dinner because we had wanted to get together so badly. I went out to the store to pick up a few things and when I got home, I saw another brand-new tortilla sitting on the table. Where were the dirty pots? Where was all the peel? Where was my tired husband? And most of all, how on earth did he do that so quickly?
He smiled and laughed when I asked him how he did it. Proudly, he explained that the secret lies in replacing the meticulously sliced potatoes with a bag of frozen hash browns. It makes a delicious tortilla, one you can recreate day after day. If you are an exchange student from Spain, this will also help you with homesickness, and is not too hard for a college student to cook with limited dormitory kitchen equipment.
Our Favorite Ways to Eat Tortilla de Patata
Whenever we have a party, tortilla is sat out on the table cold, cut in squares, and with toothpicks inserted for easy serving.
When zucchini is growing in my garden, I thinly slice it and add it to the cooking onion and potatoes to help make the mush for my tortilla.
I frequently throw in a handful of spinach when making my mush.
Cauliflower also works to make tortillas.
Tortilla is delicious as a first dish. In Spain, they serve you two courses and dessert.
Tortilla is delicious served with ketchup and mayonnaise. It is very common to see people eat it like this.
- My mother-in-law cuts a warm tortilla through the center like you would a cake, and makes two layers. She fills it like a sandwich with ham and cheese. This is my husband’s favorite way to eat it, and it is known as tortilla rellena (filled omelette).
- I have seen people make a tortilla with Spanish chorizo or even canned tuna. If you want to make it more of a meal, adding a protein is a great way to make it more savory and appetizing.
What Are You Waiting For?
Go ahead and make this recipe, and enjoy every last bite. Let me know in the comments if you liked this easy method, and if you are originally from Spain, let me know how authentic this tastes to you. I have eaten many tortillas in my life, and when I tasted this one, the only thing I commented was that the potatoes were so thinly sliced that I couldn’t see them. The flavor was spot-on, and I am interested to know if you (expats) feel the same way. Happy cooking!
© 2018 Audrey Lancho