The year was 2010. I was living in Florence, Italy with one of my best friends for a college semester abroad. When we weren’t devouring all that bella Firenze had to offer, we were traveling. We had just arrived in Barcelona, Spain for a long weekend with friends who were passing through. One of our first days was spent admiring the mark Gaudí left on the city with La Sagrada Família and the whimsical Park Güell. By late afternoon we had worked up quite an appetite, which meant it was time for my favorite thing to do in Europe – eat. Luckily, we had a tour guide. One of our good friends previously lived in Barcelona and knew exactly where to take us. I don’t remember the name of the bar, but I do remember it was a little whole in the wall kind of spot. This is where I first encountered tapas and where I first tasted a delectable tortilla española. A moment I will never forget.
One of my Favorite Tapas
First and foremost, can we talk about tapas for a minute? GENIUS. This has to be in my top three favorite culinary traditions that I have experienced in my worldly travels. You go to the bar, buy some drinks, and they give you free food! All sorts of little delectable bites and dishes that ensure the drinks keep flowing. Patatas bravas, croquettes, jamón, meatballs, octopus salad, and so much more. Spain puts on the happiest of happy hours, hands down. If you want to have your own tapas experience at home, then check out these three easy tapas inspired recipes.
So, we sit on the patio outside this tiny whole in the wall bar. We order up some pitchers of sangria and Jenna, our tour guide/best friend, selects all of our tapas. The sangria starts flowing and then the tapas arrive. The waiter sets down a plate with a pie-shaped slice of a billowy egg and potato creation. I asked Jenna, “What’s that?” To which she replied, “It’s a tortilla española. Mostly eggs, potato, maybe some onion. It’s really good. Trust me, just try it.”
She didn’t have to tell me twice. Usually when someone ends a statement about food with trust me, just try it, the dish is bound to be divine. And I will try anything once. But, this tortilla española, basically a scrumptious egg and potato omelette, was one of the best things I have ever eaten in my life.
Tortilla española is one of Spain’s most treasured national dishes and rightfully so. The most astounding aspect of tortilla española is how simple ingredients like eggs, potatoes, onions, and olive oil can be turned into such a profoundly delicious dish. Even if you can’t make it to Spain for tapas (though I highly recommend it), you can easily create this dish at home while keeping in mind a few tips for success.
Tips for a Successful Tortilla Española
Some of the best cuisines in the world develop mind-blowing dishes with just a few simple, high quality ingredients. However, extra attention must be paid to technique when using simple ingredients.
First of all, let’s talk ingredients. While you can use a high quality olive oil (I love Di Giovanna Sicilian organic olive oil), the heat from cooking will neutralize the nuances of the oil. So, you can opt for a less expensive olive oil if you wish. Secondly, buy farm fresh eggs if you have access to them. Whether it’s from a friendly neighbor with chickens or your local farmers’ market, fresh eggs just taste better. Lastly, be sure to use Yukon Gold potatoes. They are the best for frying and come out with the creamiest, most luxurious texture.
As far as technique goes, there are a few steps to be mindful of when preparing tortilla española. Be sure to thinly slice your potatoes so that they cook through. When you are finished shallow frying your potatoes (and possibly onions), carefully drain off all of the oil using a mesh strainer set over a bowl. Then, wipe out your pan using a paper towel. Don’t get lazy and think you can just pour out most of the oil and leave a little in the pan for when you add the eggs. I’ve done this and the result is an oily tortilla española. Not bad, but definitely too oily. Lastly, beat your eggs very vigorously to re-froth them right before adding them to the pan. This will ensure a pillowy tortilla española rather than a dense one.
The Wine Pairing
In my opinion, if there are fried potatoes or fried anything really, then there should be bubbly. And if you’re going bubbly with a Spanish dish, then you’re drinking Spanish bubbles. What grows together goes together, as they say.
Spanish Cava is a fantastic pairing for tortilla española. Cava is a sparkling wine made in the traditional method, most commonly from three Spanish varieties: Macabeu, Parellada, and Xarel-lo. Though by law there are a number of Spanish varieties permitted in Cava production. Cava is aged for a minimum of nine months on the lees. The Reserva designation ages a minimum fifteen months on the lees while Gran Reserva matures for a minimum of 30 months on the lees.
Since tortilla española is a flavorful yet simple dish with not a lot of spices or fat, I recommend reaching for a Cava or Cava Reserva. The Gran Reserva is usually more ideal for pairing with bolder dishes because the wine is more complex and structured. Also, pay attention to the sweetness level. You’ll want to stay on the lower range of the sweetness spectrum because tortilla española is not a sweet dish. Stick with Brut Nature, Extra Brut, or Brut. The higher acidity will be very refreshing to compliment the savory tortilla española.
For suggestions on producers and more information on the history and production of Cava, check out this post on Spanish sparkling wine.
Whenever I make tortilla española, I am immediately transported back to the streets of Barcelona. I will never forget the lively buzz of Barcelona and I will always remember my first bite of a delectable tortilla española. Personally, I don’t add onions and opt to add a bit of Parmigiano-Reggiano for added richness. If you want to add onions, I’d reach for a milder yellow onion. Shallots would be delicious as well.
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and tag me on Instagram or let me know how it goes in the comments below. Cheers!
This is a super simple recipe for tortilla española, one of Spain's most delectable national dishes.
- 3 Yukon Gold potatoes peeled, thinly sliced crosswise
- 9 eggs
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil enough olive oil to cover the potatoes in the pan (1 additional cup if using onion)
- 1 tbsp milk optional
In a large bowl, vigorously beat the eggs with a large pinch of salt and a splash of milk until frothy. Stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano and a pinch of pepper. Set aside.
In a 1-inch non-stick pan or a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat until just starting to simmer. Carefully add the thinly sliced potatoes, they should just gently bubble in the oil. Stir or flip the potatoes using tongs as needed. About 15 minutes. When they're golden brown and tender, they are done. Pay attention not to let them get past golden brown so they are not crispy.
Once the potatoes are done cooking, set a large mesh strainer over a heatproof bowl and carefully drain the potatoes of excess oil. Set the oil aside. Use a paper towel to wipe out any remaining oil from the pan. Place the potatoes in a heatproof bowl and season generously with salt.
Beat the egg mixture vigorously and then carefully add the potatoes to the egg mixture. Heat 3 tablespoons of the reserved oil in the pan over medium heat. Scrape the egg and potato mixture into the pan. Swirl and shake the eggs rapidly as they cook until the bottom and sides begin to set, about 3 minutes. Use a heatproof rubber spatula to push the edges in to start to form the tortilla's round shape. Continue to cook and lower the heat as needed so the tortilla doesn't burn. You can also place a lid over the pan for the eggs to cook more thoroughly.
Working over the sink, place a large overturned flat plate on top of the tortilla in the pan and in one swift motion, invert the tortilla onto the plate. Add 1 tablespoon of reserved oil to the pan and return to heat. Carefully slide the tortilla back into the pan and use the rubber spatula to press the sides in, forming the tortilla into a round shape. Continue to cook the tortilla until lightly browned on the second side, about 2 minutes.
Slide the tortilla out of the pan onto a dish. Let stand for five minutes and then serve, ideally alongside some Cava. Leftover tortilla española can remain in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Remaining frying oil can be reused for other dishes.