Learn how to make the ultimate Spanish comfort and party food, a potato omelette or frittata, with this authentic Spanish tortilla recipe.
As I was just getting ready to go on vacation and trying to use up some of the food I had left in the kitchen, I realized I had a lot of potatoes and eggs so I ended up making the ultimate Spanish comfort food, the Spanish tortilla (aka. tortilla de patatas).
In Spain, the word “tortilla” is used quite differently than it is in other Spanish speaking countries. While people in most parts of the world, when they hear the word, probably think of a corn or flour tortilla used to wrap a burrito or enchilada, a Spaniard normally thinks of an “omelette” or a “frittata.”
I’m not going to get into a debate as to whether the Spanish tortilla is an omelette or a frittata. Some people insist that frittatas are finished in the oven, something that isn’t normally done when making a Spanish tortilla. Others insist that an omelette is folded over the ingredients, something that doesn’t fit either. The Spanish tortilla is an egg and potato dish normally made in a frying pan over the stove, call it whatever you like and stop trying to label it. 😉
Here in Spain it is common to see “tortillas” in baguette bread Sandwiches (bocadillos) or on toast for breakfast. My son usually orders “tortilla francesa” atop his toast along with grated tomatoes. If you are wondering, tortilla francesa is just the local term for omelette style eggs. Most toast here is served with olive oil drizzled on top, often covered with grated tomatoes and other toppings like serrano ham. Not loving raw tomatoes myself, I have been surprised a few times by grated tomatoes being added automatically even when I didn’t order them.
The most popular tortilla in Spain, though, is the tortilla de patatas. More commonly known as the Spanish tortilla, it is an egg and potato dish often made with onions. The Spanish tortilla is quite versatile, and shows up in a number of settings. It’s unusual to go to a party here without the Spanish tortilla being served as a finger food. At parties it is usually cut into cubes and served with toothpicks. It is also a common dinner or side dish, normally sliced like a pizza or pie for home and restaurant serving.
Whether or not the tortilla is made with onions is just a matter of personal preference. More often than not one of each is served at get togethers, and in the supermarkets they now sell pre-made packaged Spanish tortillas either with or without onions.
Just as controversial is the way you cut the potatoes. I saw a famous chef show how he made his Spanish tortilla, saying that you should break the potatoes rather than cut them. Basically that consists in sticking the knife slightly into the potato and then leveraging it to break off small pieces at a time. On the other hand, I have seen others insist in that you should break the potatoes for stews and dishes where you want the potato to release its starches, but that for the Spanish tortilla they should be thinly sliced. Personally, I don’t like thinly slicing the potatoes, nor do I think it’s a common practice. Not only is it more difficult to fry the potatoes without them breaking up that way, but I made one once by slicing the potatoes thinly in a food processor to save time, and it just didn’t taste the same. I never tried that again. By the time I cleaned the food processor, I hadn’t really saved time anyway.
Trying to write out an authentic Spanish tortilla recipe in words is a bit tricky because nobody I know weighs or measures out anything as they make it. It is made more visually as you go, and the number of potatoes and eggs is really decided as it is being made; it is also a matter of taste. Some people prefer more eggs, other people prefer less. Most people prefer a well cooked tortilla, but others like the eggs slightly runny in the center.
With that said, my goal is to show you the technique for making your own Spanish tortilla, and I hope that you will tweak it as needed to have it suit your taste and needs.
Authentic Spanish Tortilla Recipe
- If you decide to use an onion in your tortilla, peel and slice it thinly.
- Peel and wash your potatoes and break them into small, somewhat evenly sized pieces. (Don't work too hard at it. This is only so that they will cook at a similar rate.)
- Fill your frying pan with enough extra virgin olive oil to cover the potatoes and begin to heat it over low to medium heat. When it has warmed up, add your potatoes and fry at medium heat, stirring them to keep them from burning and sticking to the bottom of the pan. This will be easier if you use more oil than is shown in the picture, which was taken during one of my experiments looking for the best way to make a tortilla. When fried at a relatively high temperature in a lot of oil, the potatoes will get crispy on the outside and will taste a lot better. They will also be less likely to stick to the pan or fall apart.
- After frying for a little while, add in the onions. Keep cooking and stirring until the potatoes begin to brown and get tender when you prick them with a fork.
- Drain the potatoes and onions from the oil, and add salt to taste. You can use a slotted spoon or a colander to help drain them. Many recipes recommend placing the potatoes and onions onto paper toweling to try to help absorb some of the oil, but I don't do that myself out of fear that it will all stick to the paper toweling. (Nor have I really seen it in practice here in Spain.) Feel free to give it a try if you like, though.
- In a medium to large sized bowl, beat the eggs with a pinch of salt and then add the drained potatoes and onions, gently stirring the mixture to fully cover all of the potatoes. You should have enough eggs to be able to comfortably cover all of the potatoes and onions, but not so many that they are drowning in eggs. (See the photo for an idea of how to get them at the right level.) Beat more eggs and add them in if you need more.
- Lightly grease a frying pan that is the size of what you think would hold all of your mixture to a height of an inch to an inch and a half, and warm it over medium heat. When the pan is warm, add in your potato, onion, and egg mixture and let it slowly cook, checking for the eggs to set around the edges of your tortilla. To help move the process of cooking the tortilla through, you can stir it gently in the pan for a minute before leaving it alone to start forming its shape.
- When you see the eggs starting to set, especially at the edges, try to help separate the tortilla from the pan by running a spatula around the edges and by swirling the pan a little to check to see if the tortilla has been released from the pan. You are now ready to flip the tortilla.
- To flip the tortilla, take a plate that is bigger than the size of your frying pan and place it upside down over the top of your pan. Firmly hold the plate over the pan as you carefully flip the pan over allowing the tortilla to fall onto the plate. (You can see that I had the heat a little bit too high and mine got a little too dark on that side... not to fear, that side will be facing down when we are finished!)
- Place your pan on the heat again, and carefully slide the tortilla into the pan, uncooked side down.
- Cook for a couple of minutes more, long enough to finish cooking through to the center of the tortilla. You have successfully made a Spanish tortilla, and can flip it once more, this time onto a serving plate.
- Cut the tortilla and serve it! Enjoy!
One of the nice things about making a Spanish tortilla for parties or snacks is that you can make it ahead of time and serve it either warm, cold, or at room temperature. When stored in the fridge, you should be able to keep it for several days , if you haven’t eaten it first!