This is a standby recipe for me. So when I realized I had brought home 2 1/2 lbs of beautiful potatoes (grown without irrigation, I learned!), some onions, and some garlic, along with some Green Gate eggs (which I didn’t drop on the floor this week) this was an obvious choice. With an arugula salad.
One summer back in the ’90s, the boyfriend of a roommate of mine lived with us for a couple of months. He was that roommate who spends all day smoking pot and eating your food while you are slaving away at your first full-time job after college, buttering his toast by clutching the stick of butter in his hand and rubbing it on the bread, then putting it back in the fridge covered in fingerprints and crumbs, and telling you you’re a sucker for buying renters’ insurance and that you must just “believe in disaster.” (Oh wait, you’ve never lived with that guy?) I’m sure he’s a fine young man now. Lots of people are jerks at 21, right? (Right…?)
Anyway, so that roommate’s boyfriend’s mother happens to be a journalist and award-winning cookbook author—an expert in Spanish cooking, Janet Mendel. I learned how to make this first by watching the boyfriend, then by watching my roommate (his then girlfriend), and then by following Janet Mendel’s recipe in Traditional Spanish Cooking. This is my own version. It’s not perfectly traditional, by any stretch, but you’ll recognize it if you’ve eaten the dish in a tapas place in Spain.
Spanish Potato Omelette aka Tortilla de Patatas aka Tortilla Española
- 2 1/3 lb. potatoes, chopped into 1 inch dice
- 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium or 2 small onions, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced or put through a press
- 7-9 eggs (7 if they’re large, 8 if they’re medium-sized, 9 if they’re small)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
You’ll need two nonstick skillets (cast iron works as long as it’s super well seasoned, but if you’re a nonstick user, this is the day). In one, heat 1/4 cup olive oil; in the other, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil.
In the 1 tablespoon oil, fry the chopped onion with the three cloves minced garlic over medium heat until translucent (not brown, although a little brown tastes delicious, just not traditional).
In the 1/4 cup oil, fry the potatoes on medium heat until fork-tender. More cooked is better than less, but don’t let these get brown or crisp like french fries, you want them to remain pale. Don’t stir too much or they get starchy, but also don’t let the bottom ones burn. It’s tricky. This usually takes about 20 minutes—at the end, throw the cooked onions and garlic into the potatoes, stir, and cook together for a couple minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat 8-9 eggs until uniform in color, add a teaspoon and a half of salt, and lots of black pepper (to taste—I like a lot). Add the potato/onion mixture to the bowl with the eggs and stir to coat. Add a little more oil to the bottom of the deeper of your two skillets if it’s gotten dry (or spray with oil if you’re into that), heat it back up to medium, and then add the whole egg/potato/kitten-kaboodle to the skillet. Even out the top with a rubber spatula. Keep the heat on medium, unless it starts to smell like the eggs are browning too much on the bottom, in which case reduce a little.
Basically, this is where the tough get going. Once the eggs start to set, you want to pretty much constantly shake the skillet so the tortilla kinda revolves around in the pan and nothing sticks. At the same time, you want to use a rubber spatula to start pulling the eggs away from the sides of the pan and shaping the top edge like a frisbee, nice and rounded. So you’re shaking and you’re rounding, and the eggs are setting. Then it gets really exciting. Don’t be scared:
When the center is still undercooked but not sloshy, sort of a custardy consistency, I like to put on two oven mitts. Get out a plate that’s big enough to comfortably cover the pan, and turn it upside down over the pan. Then deftly flip the thing over so the tortilla is on the plate with the skillet covering it. Put the skillet back on the burner, and then ever-so-gently s-l-i-d-e the tortilla back into the pan, pushing any mushy undercooked parts into the pan as well as you can.
This takes practice. You may want a spotter who will push the thing into the pan while you hold the plate or vice versa. I do the flipping bit over the sink out of habit, although I have never had a real casualty. Sometimes if the inside is a little less done, you’ll leave some egg/potato on the plate, but that’s ok.
Then you cook it for about 5-10 more minutes over low heat to cook the other side (you may want to test that it’s cooked all the way through), and it’s done! And it’s beautiful and delicious and perfect, and an extremely impressive thing to, say, make for brunch for your in-laws, if you’re me. You could even halve this recipe if you have a smaller sized skillet.