How to Cook Tortilla de Papas or Patatas
In the United States, when most people hear the word "tortilla," they think of the Mexican corn or flour variety. But in actuality, the word is just the diminutive of "torta," which simply means "cake."
In Spain, it refers to an egg dish named because of its distinctive shape: thick, circular and flat, with rounded edges. When someone talks about tortilla Española, it is to draw a distinction between the unleavened bread popular in Central and South American cuisine and what is essentially a Spanish omelette.
Patatas and Tapas
The most traditional of these is the tortilla de patatas, which is typically served at room temperature—either in a wedge (pincho de tortilla) or cut into bite-sized pieces—alongside other small plates as tapas. In Spain, whether or not to include onions is a matter of debate, but the version on the official Spanish government website includes them, so I feel validated in putting them in my own recipe.
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Makes 1 tortilla, 3 entree portions or 6 appetizer
- 1 1/2 pounds potatoes
- 1 yellow onion
- 1 cup olive oil
- 6 eggs
- Salt and black pepper, to taste
- Peel the onion and potatoes. Cut them into thin, even slices. (If you have one, using a mandoline makes this a lot easier.)
- Heat oil in a large skillet (8 to 10 inches in diameter) over medium heat until it begins to shimmer. Test a single slice of potato in the oil; if it bubbles, you are ready to fry.
- Fry the ingredients in batches. (Be careful not to splash yourself!) Sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Turn the potatoes periodically with a wooden spoon, just until tender but not falling apart. Lower the heat if they begin to brown!
- Put a strainer over a heat-proof bowl and carefully transfer the onion and potato into it to drain, collecting the excess oil. Set the skillet aside to cool, as you will be using it again!
- Beat the eggs until frothy, with a little bit of salt and pepper. Then wipe out the skillet with a paper towel to remove any burned bits, before returning to the stove. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of the reserved oil that has drained from your fried ingredients, and warm over medium heat.
- Gently fold potato and onion slices into your beaten eggs and pour into the heated skillet. Swirl and shake the pan to get the ingredients to evenly distribute, but do not stir. Once the edges begin to get firm, reduce the heat to medium-low and let cook for an additional 5 minutes, using a heatproof spatula to gently round the top edges to produce the distinctive Spanish tortilla shape.
- Now for the trickiest step: flipping. It's best to do this over the sink or a garbage can, because there may be drips. Place a large plate over the top of the skillet and invert them in one swift motion, turning the tortilla out onto the plate. Add a little more of your reserved olive oil to the pan and then carefully slide it back into it with the uncooked side down.
- Cook 5 more minutes, then slide your finished tortilla Española onto a clean plate. Let it stand for at least 5 to 10 minutes before cutting and serving; it should be warm or room temperature, not hot.
How to Serve Your Tortilla
If you are serving this at a sit-down meal, cut the circle into six even wedges. One wedge makes a good starter before the main dish, or serve a couple of pieces per person as an entree.
For tapas or as a fancy appetizer at your cocktail party, on the other hand, you'll want to cut it into smaller, bite-sized pieces, like the photo below from Bay Area catering company Ñora Spanish Cuisine. They've taken it to the next level by putting aioli on top of each bite, but I never have time for all that. I just serve a sauce on the side for dipping, like the spicy tomato aioli from my patatas bravas recipe. Nobody's complained yet!