The Spanish omelette or Spanish tortilla, also called simply tortilla in English when there is no confusion with the Mexican maize tortilla, is a typically Spanish dish consisting of a thick egg omelette made with potatoes and fried in olive oil.
In Spanish, this dish is called tortilla de patatas (papas) or tortilla española to distinguish it from an omelette (tortilla francesa, French tortilla) and from the Mexican tortilla. (In Spanish-speaking countries and regions where potatoes are called papas rather than patatas, it becomes tortilla de papas.)
- 6-7 medium potatoes, peeled
- 1 medium onion
- 5-6 large eggs
- 2-3 cups olive oil, for pan frying
- salt to taste
- Cut the peeled potatoes in half lengthwise. Then, with the flat side on the cutting surface, slice the potato in pieces approximately 3 mm thick. Make sure to separate the pieces that stick together. It is not necessary to slice the potatoes paper thin and it is best not to use a food processor because most will slice the potatoes too thin. If you slice them a bit thick, don’t worry - it will simply take a bit longer for them to cook. As with any recipe, the more time you prepare it, the more you’ll know about how fast the potatoes fry, etc.
- Peel and chop the onion into ½ cm pieces. Put potatoes and onions into a large mixing bowl and mix them together. Salt the mixture to taste.
- In a large, heavy, non-stick frying pan, heat the olive oil on medium-high heat. Drop a single piece of potato into the oil to ensure it is hot enough to fry. Carefully place the potato and onion mixture into the frying pan, spreading them evenly over the surface. The oil should almost cover the potatoes.
- If the oil is too hot, the potatoes will brown rapidly on the outside, but still be raw on the inside. You may need to turn down the heat slightly, so the mixture does not burn.
- Leave in pan until the potatoes are cooked. If you can poke a piece of potato with a spatula and it easily breaks in two, your potatoes are done. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon or spatula. Some cooks place the potato and onion mixture in a colander for a few minutes to allow more oil to drain. If you do this, place a plate underneath to catch the olive oil and you can use it again.
- While the mixture is draining, crack the eggs into a small mixing bowl and beat by hand with a whisk or fork. Pour into the potato onion mixture. Mix together with a large spoon.
- Pour 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil into a small, non-stick frying pan (approx. 25 cm) and heat on medium heat. Be careful not to get the pan too hot because the oil will burn - or the tortilla will! When hot enough, stir the potato-onion mixture once more in the bowl and pour into the pan, spreading evenly over pan. You may need to turn heat to medium-low heat. Allow the egg to cook around the edges. Then, using a spatula, carefully lift up one side of the tortilla to check if the egg has slightly browned. The inside of the mixture should not be completely cooked and the egg will still be runny on top and in middle.
- When the mixture has browned on the bottom, you are ready to turn it over to cook the other side. Carefully carry the frying pan to a sink. Place a large dinner plate (30 cm) upside down over the frying pan to cover top. With one hand on the frying pan handle and the other on top of the plate to hold it steady, quickly turn the frying pan over and the omelette will fall onto the plate. You’re almost done!
- This is the hardest part of the recipe and the one that makes most cooks nervous. Don’t worry! It’s not as hard as you imagine – and if you turn it over the sink, the worst that can happen is that you spill a bit of the egg mixture.
- Carry plate with potato-egg mixture and empty pan back to stove. Place the frying pan back on the range and put just enough oil to cover the bottom and sides of the pan - approximately 1½ teaspoon. Let the pan warm for 30 seconds or so on medium to medium-low heat. Carefully slide the tortilla (which is probably still a bit runny), into the frying pan, using a spatula to catch any egg mixture that remains on plate or tries to run out. Use the spatula to shape the sides of the omelette. Let the omelet cook for 3-4 minutes. Turn the heat off and let the tortilla sit in the pan for 2 minutes. Carefully slide the omelette onto a large plate.
To Serve as a Tapa: Slice a baguette into pieces about 1 cm thick. Cut the tortilla into 4 cm; squares and place each piece on top of a slice of bread.
The tortilla espanola, also called tortilla de patata is simply delicious served with sofrito, fried tomato sauce that is made all over Spain. Tomatoes, onions, garlic, green peppers and olive oil sautéed in a frying pan.
Serving : The tortilla may be eaten hot or cold; it is commonly served as a snack (tapa) or picnic dish throughout Spain. As a tapa, it may be cut into bite-size pieces and served on cocktail sticks, or cut into pie style (triangle) portions (pincho de tortilla).
Variations - The following are a few of the most popular variations to the classic Spanish Omelette.
Green Capsicum' - Add 1 green or red bell capsicum (chopped) to the potatoes and onions and fry.
Chorizo - Slice a Spanish chorizo sausage and add to the potato and onion mixture after frying.
Ham - Using a couple thick slices (½ cm) ham, finely chop them. Then add the pieces to the potato and onion mixture after frying. Bacon or smoked ham that you buy in a deli work well for this variation. Be careful to adjust the salt accordingly, since ham may be salty!
Variations of the Spanish Omelette
A Spanish omelette can range from an authentic and carefully-made seasoned preparation made from raw potatoes of a variety carefully selected for best results, eggs and good olive oil, and nothing else, through dishes with onions and many additional ingredients, to an improvised dish with leftover boiled or chipped (French-fried) potatoes, various vegetables, sausages, etc. that happen to be at hand, cooked in vegetable oil or other fat.
Some of the many additions to the base ingredients for what is still called a Spanish omelette include green peppers, chorizo, zucchini (courgette), eggplant (aubergine), mushrooms, and diced ham. The tortilla paisana includes red pepper and peas. The texture and thickness of tortillas vary according to region and taste. In Spain, a tortilla is almost always accompanied by bread and sometimes with fried green pepper, or different sauces like mayonnaise or tomato sauce. In most bars and canteens, it is served in a bocadillo (a sandwich made with crusty bread).
History of the Spanish Omelette
The first reference to the tortilla in Spanish is found in a Navarrese document. It is an anonymous “Mousehole’s memorial” addressed to Navarra’s Court in 1817. It explains the sparse conditions of the farmers in contrast with Pamplona’s and the Ribera’s inhabitants. After listing the sparse food eaten by highlanders, the next quote follows: “…two to three eggs in tortilla for 5 or 6 [people] as our women do know how to make it big and thick with less eggs, mixing potatoes, breadcrumbs or whatever.”
According to legend, during the siege of Bilbao, Carlist general Tomás de Zumalacárregui created the “tortilla de patatas” as an easy, fast and nutritious dish to satisfy the scarcities of the Carlist army. Although it remains unknown whether this is true, it appears the tortilla started to spread during the early Carlist wars.
Another tale is that during the war, Zumalacárregui was in the field and happened upon a farmhouse and demanded a meal from the farmwife. All she had were a few eggs, a potato and an onion, so she combined all three, making an omelette. Surprisingly, Zumalacárregui was pleased and took the idea with him.