The Spanish tortilla is, without a doubt, one of the greatest symbols of Spanish cuisine. The tortilla is a recipe with a long tradition. It’s a basic dish that can be served as a tapa or as the main course at dinner, made with elementary ingredients, and so simple in appearance.
Origin and history
Spanish tortilla, also known as Spanish omelette, tortilla española, tortilla de patatas, or tortilla de papas, is one of the most notorious and traditional Spanish dishes. It’s widely consumed in Spain particularly and internationally.
Tortilla means Omelette in European Spanish. The word comes from the diminutive form of torta that represents its shape and means “small pancake” in the Spanish language.
However, its origin is not very clear, since the first omelets were known around 1519, both by the Spanish and by the Aztecs, and the potato was not known in Europe until the first Spanish conquistadors brought it from America. It was brought by Pizarro in 1537 as food for animals as food that came from the land was considered as a poorly valued culinary, having to wait until 200 years to be considered suitable for human consumption to alleviate the terrible famines of the time.
There are various theories as to the exact moment in which these two ingredients were mixed, creating the recipe for the Spanish omelet. All of them lead to the 19th century.
Initially, the origin of the recipe was known to be in Navarra in 1835 when General Tomás de Zumalacárregui during the siege of Bilbao in the First Carlist War was looking for a nutritious and cheap food for his troops to fight against the hunger of the time.
However, a recent study (2008) by Javier López Linaje, in his book “La patata en España. History and Agroecology of the Andean Tuber ”, locates the origin of the Spanish omelet in the Extremaduran town of Villanueva de la Serena (Badajoz) in 1798. As main actors, it places two landowners, Joseph de Tena Godoy and Malfeyto and the Marquis of Robledo who were looking for cheap and nutritious food that would alleviate the numerous famines that ravaged Europe in the late eighteenth century. In this sense, they invented a kind of ‘pancakes’. The biggest novelty was that it went through the pan instead of baking.
Tips and notes
First, like we always say it. A perfect dish is made with best quality ingredients:
- Potatoes: ideally a medium starchy variety like Yukon Gold or red potatoes ;
- Eggs: use fresh medium-sized eggs ;
- Olive oil: in the case of potato omelet, use a less powerful flavor oil, such as virgin, so that it does not transfer an excessive flavor to the potato ;
- Onion: The tortilla is prepared with onions in Catalan style and only with potatoes in Madrid style. Since we prefer the Catalan style, we added onions to our recipe.
It is important to use a large dip non-stick pan to fry the potato and a smaller one to curdle and turn it.
The potatoes must be cut into discs of 1/8inches (15mm) thick and fried in abundant oil over medium-low heat so that it cooks well on the inside without burning the outside. It’s then, transferred to a strainer to remove the excess oil and allow it to warm before mixing with the beaten egg. After that, you can season the mixture and let it sit for 5-10 minutes.
For the thickness of the tortilla, it depends on your taste but in general, the perfect thickness is around 1 inch (two centimeters).
To cook a perfect tortilla you have to find the intermediate cooking point: don’t overcook or undercook the eggs. It must be a little juicy inside without the eggs being raw. When the oil starts to smoke, pour the mixture, wait about 20-30 seconds, and move the pan so that the tortilla does not stick. Then, lower the heat and, with the help of a slotted spoon, set the edges to make the tortilla more aesthetic. After 2-4 minutes turn and repeat the operation.
A tortilla can be served warm or cold, as tapas in little squares or as the main course at dinner.
It can be served with good bread, which is the ideal accompaniment. However, the omelet gives enough scope to accompany it with any dish: cheese, fish, salads, fresh juicy tomatoes…
- Tortillas baravas of Madrid ;
- Spanich Tortilla paisana ;
- Italian Frittata ;
- French omelet ;
- 750 g potatoes (medium starchy)
- 5 eggs
- 1 onion (medium)
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- olive oil
- Peel the potatoes and cut them into thin slices of ⅛in (15mm). Dry the potato slices with a clean tea towel.
- Peel and slice the onion.
- Put a large non-stick frying pan (30cm/12in) on low heat. Cook the potatoes slices on medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure they fry evenly. Then, add the onion slices and continue cooking for another 10 minutes.
- Once cooked, transfer to a stainer to drain the excess oil and let it sit for 5-10 minutes.
- Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl, season with salt and black pepper, then whisk together with a fork.
- Pour the eggs mixture into the potatoes and mix gently.
- To a small frying pan add 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil starts to smoke, pour the mixture, wait about 20-30 seconds and move the pan so that the tortilla does not stick. Then, lower the heat and, with the help of a slotted spoon, set the edges to make the tortilla more aesthetic. After 2-4 minutes turn and repeat the operation.
- Turn off the heat and turn out the tortilla onto a serving board, then cut into 4 parts, garnish with parsley and serve hot or cold.