Feature Friday: Mamá’s Spanish Tortilla

The making of a tortilla was always a big deal in our home.  Usually, because it meant that we were having company over, but mostly it was because it was our favorite dish that mama would make.  This statement isn’t to be taken lightly because she is a phenomenal cook, but there was something about her tortilla that excited us.

The tortilla is thought to be a simple dish.  It is one of those recipes that is easy to make, but laborious to perfect.  At any step of the process the final outcome can be altered.  On top of being difficult to perfect, it is a messy process that requires frying and multiple dishes which means more work after you’ve made the tortilla!  So I now understand why it was only made as a special occasion treat in our home.

For mama’s reyes feast last week, she walked me through the process from beginning to end.  I was able to photo document each step as well as her tips and tricks for attaining the perfect tortilla española.

To start, you will need four small yellow potatoes.  She warns against using white potatoes because of the starchy taste it will give the tortilla.  In other words, look for yukon instead of russet potatoes when gathering the ingredients for this dish.  You will also need one large yellow onion for the first part of the process.  Peel both the onion and the potatoes and then thinly slice and sliver them into a bowl.

For the next step you will need to use a deep skillet (she prefers an iron skillet).  Mama also recommends using crisco oil or some similar type of vegetable oil for the frying of the onions and potatoes.  Olive oil (not extra virgin!) is obviously a tastier alternative, but it is a bit expensive to use for frying just to have to discard it after this step is complete.

She poured the oil into the skillet and set the heat to medium high to allow the oil to warm up.  At this point she turned to me and asked, “do you know how to tell the oil is ready?”  She then placed a wooden spoon into the oil and said, “when little bubbles begin to form around the spoon, you’ll know the oil is hot enough.”

(Side note:  have I mentioned how much fun this blogging thing has been?  I’ve been able to learn neat little tricks such as these!  I love it, I love it, I love it 🙂 )

Mama then carefully added the potatoes and onions into the oil.  She stirred them around until the onions were clear and the potatoes were becoming tender.

At this point, you want to add in the garlic.  The rationale behind adding it at this stage is that you don’t want the garlic to become bitter by leaving it in the oil for too long.

As you can see in the picture, mama added the garlic by slicing it directly into the oil.  You don’t want to mince it because you will lose the bold bits of it in the tortilla.  Once you have added it to the mix, stir for one more minute.

While the potatoes, onions, and garlic are finishing cooking, get out a large bowl and your eggs.

Beat the eggs in the bowl.  (I just wanted to add this cool action shot of the eggs being beaten).

With a slotted spoon, remove the mixture from the oil slowly.  Allow the mixture to drain a bit of the oil off before adding it into the bowl with the eggs.

During this step, you want to make sure the heat is off to avoid overcooking of the potatoes, onions, and garlic.  This will also allow you to strain as much of the oil as possible before adding it to the eggs.

As you can see, mama used both a slotted spoon and a frying spoon.  She lifted the mixture with the slotted spoon and placed it in the frying spoon to allow the oil to drip out.

Once you have added all of the potato mix to the eggs, sprinkle a bit of salt into the bowl.  Mama eye balled about an 1/8 tsp of salt into the bowl before giving it a gentle mix.

Next, a non-stick skillet was placed on the stove over medium heat.  She sprayed it with a bit of olive oil to ensure the tortilla would slide easily in the next step.

The contents of the bowl (eggs, potatoes, onions, and garlic) were all added to the skillet.  Once the tortilla began to cook, she took a small spatula and worked the sides, lifting them up gently.  She shook the skillet back and forth to keep the tortilla from sticking to the bottom of the pan.  She checked the bottom by lifting it just a bit to see if the bottom was cooked.  Once it reached the color she wanted, she got out a plate.  Avoid using a plate that has a marked edge for this step.  She pulled the skillet off of the stove and went over to the sink with the skillet and plate in hand.  She looked at me and said, “are you ready?  We only have one shot at this!”  I quickly switched my camera over to the filming feature and captured what is the most difficult part of making a spanish tortilla… THE FLIP!

Notice how the uncooked side of the tortilla was slid back into the skillet?  This is difficult to do without spilling or breaking the tortilla.  Once it is back in the skillet, place it back on the stove and cook the other side.  Also, notice how in the video she runs the spatula around the edges of the tortilla?  This gives it the beautiful shape in the end.  She continued to shake the skillet back and forth to keep the tortilla from sticking to the bottom until she suspected it was done.  I say suspected, because you can’t check.  You can’t lift the edge without risking breaking the tortilla.  Here, again, is why this is an art.  You don’t want to serve an undercooked tortilla but then again, a dry and overcooked tortilla isn’t good.  You want it to cook just long enough for the bottom to be golden and the insides to be juicy.

Once the tortilla is done, slide it off of the skillet onto a plate that has two paper towels.  After a few minutes, flip the tortilla to allow the other side to sit on paper towels as well.  This will absorb any excess oil and give the tortilla a beautiful look (seriously… doesn’t that finished tortilla look awesome?).  You have the option of serving this hot or cold.  For the Epiphany feast mama put together, she served it at room temperature and cut up so that we could each pick at the dish.

This makes me hungry just looking at the picture!  And to top it all off, I have now watched my mama make a tortilla española from beginning to end.  I am armed and have been taught the tricks of the trade!  The pelirojo has been poking at me asking when I’ll attempt my own.  Very soon amor… very soon 🙂

Posted on January 14, 2011, in Vegetarian and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. I have been looking forward to this post since you teased us about it awhile ago:) WOW!!! I love Tortilla Espanola so much I could eat it everyday. I first tasted one in Paris and when I lived there I could buy them ready made from my local shop, how I miss this. I cannot wait to try your Mama’s recipe and tips. I’m nervous but really excited to try it. Thank you so much (and your Mama too) for sharing this with us:)

    • Apicius' Apprentice

      Please do let me know if you try it! It is a nerve wracking process but the end result is divine. Oh, and I would LOVE to live near a shop (especially in Paris, thank you) that sold tortillas. They’re a perfect compliment to so many things! Ai ai ai … ahora tengo ganas de comer mas tortilla espanola…

  2. Blogging is precious precisely for this reason. Learning the techniques, tricks and reasons why things are done the way they are from loved ones is invaluable.

    Yes, this tortilla looks awesome and I’d definitely eat it warm. I can only imagine how this Tortilla Espanola smells and tastes…it looks absolutely delicious! I didn’t know how to tell when the oil was ready by using that test with the bubbles. Thank you for sharing…I’d luv to try making it!

    • Apicius' Apprentice

      Hey Cristina! The tricks I pick up from you pros out there are so helpful too. This whole adventure has been exciting. I enjoy the tortilla warm, cold, hot, any way really. And the smells that come from your kitchen during the process are to die for! Of course as soon as you starting warming garlic and onions in olive oil, I’m sold 🙂

  3. Glad to be back on my computer and finally able to see this post! I looove tortilla and am so trying this!

  4. WOW – that recipe sounds/looks incredible!
    So easy, and so crowd-pleasing. I might just show this one to my Mom so she can use it on her next “house party”… I bet she’ll love it 🙂
    E muito obrigada pelo comentário, Rocío!
    You’re too sweet 😉

  5. Very cool! I loved your video – the music was very fitting. 🙂 That looks absolutely mouthwatering. I especially love the last shot of it all cut up into bite sized pieces. I sooo wish I was at that epiphany party; I would have never left the food table!

    • Apicius' Apprentice

      “O fortuna” felt appropriate for the gravity of the moment occurring in the video. You would not have left the table hungry if you had been there! The food was soooooo good!

  6. I loved the video! And the egg action shot… You know, this reminds me a good deal of a meal my grandmother generally refuses to make, but which she calls “the dish of our ancestors.” It’s a Swiss potato dish that’s fried and flipped in a similar way, but the potatoes and onions are shredded smaller. I’ve never been able to get the hang of it, but now I’m kind of inspired to try again….

  7. Oh my lordy!! This looks sooo good! I want you to move to Albuquerque so that you can make it for me! I’ll bring wine to share 🙂 Ah I’m drooling right now!!

    • Apicius' Apprentice

      There really isn’t a better combination that tortilla and wine. Mmmm. If only Albuquerque wasn’t so far away!

  8. So glad to have picked up that wooden spoon trick. I know that one is going to stay with me.

    • Apicius' Apprentice

      It’s brilliant, no?? I can’t take credit for it, but I’ll let my mom know folks are getting use out of the trick :p

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