The other day I opened my fridge hoping to make a decent meal. I haven’t been to the grocery store in weeks, so there wasn’t much to work with — no cheese, no bread, no green vegetables. The only fresh items were two eggs, 1/4 of an onion, and two small potatoes that looked like they were about to rot. What could I possibly make with these three humble ingredients? One dish immediately came to mind: tortilla española, or Spanish tortilla.
Spain’s most ubiquitous tapa, found everywhere from gas stations to high end restaurants, is an uncomplicated combination of onion, potato, and egg. The key to a good tortilla is to slow cook everything. First the onions must be caramelized, then the potatoes are added and shallow-fried over low heat. Oh, and you have to use a decent amount of olive oil. Finally, the egg mixture is slowly cooked until everything is set and heated throughout. I guess you could say patience is a necessary ingredient to tortilla española, too.
I learned the proper technique for the Spanish omelet from Enrique, a friend’s ex-Spanish boyfriend, who knows nothing about cooking, but can make a mean tortilla. It’s also important to use a nonstick pan that’s not too heavy. You should be able to pick it up and flip it. The resulting dish is filling and delicious with an amazing caramelized onion and olive oil flavor.
If you make it correctly, the potatoes will melt in your mouth. Of course, you could add all sorts of ingredients to it, like cheese or chorizo or mushrooms, but then I think it becomes more of a frittata than a tortilla española. The thing that makes tortilla so special is its basic simplicity, it’s lack of frills and excitement; a good Spanish tortilla is peasant’s food at its best.
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more if needed
1/4 quarter of a large yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 small potatoes, peeled, halved lengthwise, and thinly sliced into half moon pieces
1/4 cup milk*
Freshly ground black pepper
- In a medium sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion and season with salt. Cook slowly, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes.
- When the onion starts to brown, add the potatoes and a little more oil if necessary. There should be a shallow, 1/4-inch layer of oil on the bottom of the pan. You want to slowly shallow pan-fry the potatoes. Season the onions and potatoes with salt.
- Cook the potatoes, stirring occasionally, for 25-30 minutes until the potatoes are completely cooked through and soft, but still maintain their shape. You do not want mashed potatoes!
- Meanwhile crack the eggs into a medium bowl, add the milk, and season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Whisk until frothy, for a minute or 2, to incorporate air into the eggs.
- Drain the oil from the potato and onion mixture into a small bowl.
- Add the onions and potatoes to the bowl with the eggs and stir gently to combine the ingredients.
- In a small, oven-safe sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the leftover oil over medium-low heat. Discard the rest of the oil.
- Pour the egg-and-potato mixture into the pan, evenly spreading everything out. Cook for 10 minutes, until the bottom is completely set.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375°F.
- When the tortilla is cooked through on the bottom and beginning to cook through on the top, place it in the oven for 4 minutes. I like to do this so the top is set completely when you perform the flip.
- Remove the tortilla from the oven with a pot holder. The top should be set, with no runny egg remaining, but not browned. Place a large plate over the top of the pan, completely covering the tortilla and pan. Carefully invert the pan upside down and flip the tortilla onto the plate. Remove the pan and turn back upright. Slide the tortilla back into the pan. The top side should be golden brown and completely cooked.
- Place the pan back over medium-low heat and cook slowly for another 4-5 minutes to brown the bottom. Slide onto a serving plate and slice into wedges. Enjoy immediately or later, at room temperature.
*Milk is not a traditional ingredient in tortilla española. I added it because my egg mixture needed to be a little more liquidy.