Spanish Omelet (Patata Tortilla) by Marti Buckley
The Spanish omelet, or tortilla española, is Spain’s unofficial national dish. It is often the first cooking lesson handed down from mother to child. If a Spaniard knows how to cook only one thing, it is tortilla. If there is only one offering in a lonely corner bar, it’s a round plate of tortilla. The tortilla is much, much greater than the sum of its humble parts—potato, egg, and onion. Texture can vary, but generally a perfect tortilla has a firm outer layer that, when sliced, oozes ever so slightly out of shape (as opposed to releasing a bunch of uncooked egg or, worse, being a firm, cakelike lump).
While popular in all of Spain, the patata tortilla may, in fact, be traceable to Nafarroa. In the anonymously authored Memorial de Ratonera: El Comer, El Vestir, y La Vida de los Navarros de 1817, the shepherds of the region are described as eating “two or three eggs in an omelette for five or six, because our women know how to make it big and fat with just a few eggs, mixing potatoes, bread, and other things.”
It is appropriate to eat tortilla all day—for breakfast, lunch, snack, or dinner. Perhaps the most perfect time to eat tortilla is hamaiketako—the hallowed eleven a.m. snack break meant to tide you over until what is, by most of the world’s standards, quite a late lunch (around two p.m. on the Spanish side of Basque Country). Sweet Italian green pepper is a common addition. It can be thinly sliced and added to the pan with the potatoes.
3 large potatoes, preferably Monalisa, Kennebec, or Yukon Gold, peeled
3 tablespoons (45 mL) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
2 onions, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons kosher salt,
plus more as needed
1 cup (240 mL) sunflower or
10 large eggs
Halve the potatoes lengthwise and then cut each half lengthwise into quarters. Chop into pieces about ½ inch (1.5 cm) thick; you should have about 4 cups (see Notes). Put the potatoes in a bowl, add water to cover, and set aside.
In a small sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over high heat. Add the onions and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of the salt. Lower the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 40 minutes, until the onions are totally soft and have taken on a deep golden color. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a separate medium skillet, heat the sunflower oil over medium heat to about 250°F (120°C). Drain the potatoes and pat them dry. To test the oil, drop in a piece of potato; if it begins to bubble and sizzle, the oil is ready. Fry the potatoes for about 15 minutes, or until a knife inserted into a larger piece comes out easily. Use a slotted spoon to remove the potatoes from the oil. Sprinkle them with ½ teaspoon of the salt.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Add the onions and potatoes and stir to combine. Heat a perfectly clean 10-inch (25 cm) nonstick skillet (see Notes) over high heat. (The bigger the stove burner, the more evenly the tortilla will cook, so use your largest burner.) Coat the skillet with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the egg-potato mixture and immediately lower the heat to medium. Stir quickly a few times, scraping along the bottom with a silicone spatula, then leave the skillet untouched, allowing the egg to cook. Move the spatula around the sides of the pan, slipping it under the omelet and loosening any stubborn stuck parts very gingerly, in an attempt to ensure the omelet is not adhering to any part of the skillet’s surface. Cook for about 4 minutes, until the edges are fully cooked but the center is still a bit liquid.
Place a round plate with a diameter larger than the pan’s upside down on the top of the pan. With one hand on the plate and one hand holding the pan, quickly flip the pan and plate together in one motion so that the tortilla is on the plate. If the pan has any pieces stuck to it, quickly clean it and coat it with a bit more oil. Return the pan to the heat and slide the omelet back into the pan. Tuck the edges under with your spatula and cook for 3 minutes more.
Slide the omelet onto a clean, dry plate and let rest for 5 minutes before slicing into 8 wedges and serving.
Notes: the shape of the cut potato is a highly personal preference. Some people like an irregular shape; to get it, insert a knife about ½ inch (1.5 cm) into a peeled potato and then rotate and lift the knife, breaking off an irregularly shaped piece. Rotate the potato slightly and repeat. Others prefer thin, round slices. The choice of pan is key. It should be a 10-inch (25 cm) nonstick skillet, with its nonstick properties fully intact. In most Basque homes, there is one pan used always and sometimes exclusively for making tortilla.
From Basque Country by Marti Buckley (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2018. Photographs by Simon Bajada.