The Tortilla Espanola suffers an identity crisis here in the United States. Call it simply a Tortilla, as they do in Spain, and it is mistaken for the flat flour or corn wrap used in Mexican cuisine. Serve it at a dinner party and invariably it will be referred to as a Frittata, an Italian omelette of similar shape that is stuffed with veggies, meats and cheeses. The English translation is commonly “Spanish Omelette”, but order one of those in a New Jersey diner and you get a regular omelette with peppers, onions and other such stuff.
To me, the Tortilla Espanola shames all comparisons with it’s casual elegance. There is a rarefied space in the world of cuisine where certain dishes can achieve such elegance with only a few ingredients. It is the sum of their parts that becomes transcendent.
If there were a national dish of Spain, I’d look to the Tortilla. It’s everywhere. Pull in to a gas station in Rioja and there’s one cooling, fresh from the oven. Every cafe in Madrid has a line of them. North, South, East, West – the Tortilla is ubiquitous. Even in Basque country, where they posses their own cuisine, the Tortilla shines amidst all of the magnificent Pintxos.
In my obsession to elevate simple foods by focusing on the ingredients, I’ve crossed the Tortilla’s path many times. Anyone can make the dish. Most will be pretty good. But, in my opinion, to do it right, you’ve got to start with the finest components. Here’s how it goes.
Eggs, onions, potatoes, oil, salt and pepper. That’s it. Easy right? Yes, actually. But break it down a bit. We’ve talked about pastured eggs before. Here is one of the perfect places to let those eggs shine. The deep yolk egginess goes perfectly with the potatoes and onions. The salt takes it higher.
For the potatoes, I’m spoiled. Our farmer’s market has a stall with the most insane varieties of deeply flavored, well-cared-for spuds of all shapes and sizes. I particularly like these banana fingerlings I picked up last week. But any flavorful potato will do. Avoid waxy or watery varieties. A good yellow would do the trick. Peel and cut them to about 1/4″ thick on a mandolin or in your food processor. Make sure the pieces aren’t bigger than 3/4″ in any direction. It helps with layering the final product.
Some nice sweet yellow onions are next, sliced thinly. I picked up Dirty Girl farms onions this week. This is my favorite farm. They can do no wrong. For salt, I’m partial to Maldon Sea Salt. Oil is mostly always Bariani in our house.
Sauté the onions and potatoes slowly in a non-stick fry pan with some olive oil. Use enough potatoes to fill the pan about half way. Cover them and toss them frequently to evenly cook. Do not let them brown. They’re done when the potatoes are fork tender, al dente and the onions are golden. You’ll get the feel.
I prefer to let the mixture cool down before combining with the eggs. Salt them to taste. Whisk up the eggs with a splash of milk until fully combined. Use enough eggs to envelope the potatoes and onions, but not so much that it is soupy. Think stew’y, like 40% egg 60% potato. Mas or meno. Salt again. You’ll get the feel.
Clean out the fry pan and re-oil. Make sure it is clean so the Tortilla doesn’t stick. Return the mixture and cook on low-medium heat until the sides start to form. Run a spatula around the edges to keep from sticking. Add more oil if necessary. When the circle starts to set about 1/4 distance from the edges, transfer the pan to a 350° oven until the eggs are fully set. Just before pulling it out, turn on the broiler for a minute to lightly brown the top.
Remove from the oven and run the spatula through again. Shake the pan to loosen the Tortilla. When you’re certain it is free, place a plate on top so you can flip it out. Let it cool down to room temperature or cooler before serving. This dish is definitely better at cooler temps. Too hot just doesn’t do it justice.
Not sure how I got to 700+ words on Tortilla Espanola already, but that speaks volumes about the dish. So, stop calling this a Frittata, place it in the pantheon of your best, most trusted dishes. Serve it once a month at a dinner party, with the cheeses as a starter. Pair it with a crisp white wine and live like a Spaniard! You’ll get the feel.