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Doug Frost MS/MW http://dougfrost.com

Tradition Meets Modernity: New Ideas for Old Tapas (Part II: Tortilla Española)

In Part I (Gazpacho), we began our journey in the heat of the south of Spain but now head to one of the country’s northern-most regions, Bilbao (as rumor/tradition has it) to modify another of Spain’s great signature dishes – tortilla española. Known by a few names – tortilla española, tortilla a la española, and tortilla de patatas – make no mistake this dish is one of Spain’s most popular and, actually, easiest to prepare. One note here: you can alter this dish in any way number of ways, but it can only be called “tortilla española” when it is cooked in the traditional method with eggs, potatoes, and onions. Anything else is just “tortilla de patatas” –not that this is a bad thing!

Historically, “tortilla” came into existence during (Basque) Carlist Tomás Zumalacárregui’s siege of Bilbao during the early 19th century. One rumor is that he created this dish as a fast, easy, and healthy dish to satisfy his hungering army. Whether true or not, it appears that the dish did spread during this time period. It could also be that an anonymous housewife created it when the general stopped by demanding something to eat, and the only available items in her kitchen were eggs, potatoes, and onions. Another story similarly states that he happened upon a farmhouse where he insisted upon a meal for himself and his troops; the unsuspecting housewife, under pressure from the general, created a dish for the troops from her only rations – eggs, potatoes, and onions (of course). He took the idea and left with it. Regardless of which story you subscribe to the result is that we now have one of the greatest tapas of all time to enjoy.

I am a huge fan of tortilla Española and almost always cook this when I have company to my home. It is satisfying, filling, and something most people do not normally have the opportunity to enjoy. A number of recipes exist even for traditional tortilla but mine originates from my dear friend, Alicia, at Catacurian in Spain (with very few modifications):

Traditional Tortilla Española

(To make a 4 person tortilla, you will need two frying pans, one 12″ diameter which is used to fry the ingredients, and the other an 8″ diameter to make the actual tortilla. It is highly recommended that you use a non-stick pan, so as not to burn the tortilla.) Video demonstration.

Ingredients (4 extremely generous servings)

4 medium potatoes (red potatoes work best) cut into irregular pieces approximately 3/
4″ in size (you can also use a mandolin to cut the potatoes)
1 medium onion (white) cut like the potatoes
3 large eggs
Salt
Olive oil (extra virgin, of course)

Directions

  1. Place the larger frying with some olive oil on medium heat, and when it is hot, add the potatoes and the onions. Fry until they are golden in color. Place them in a colander to drain the oil.
  2. Beat the eggs in a bowl and add salt to taste.
  3. Put the potatoes and onion into the egg and add more salt, if necessary.
  4. Place the smaller frying pan on high heat and add a tablespoon of olive oil. When it is hot, pour the egg, potato, and onion mixture into the pan a spread evenly using a wooden spoon. Cook on medium heat for a few minutes making sure to separate the mixture from the side of the pan.
  5. Lower the heat (medium-low), place a plate the size of the pan upside down over the pan and, with both hands, flip the whole thing over so that the plate is now underneath the pan.
  6. Place the empty pan back on the flame and slide the tortilla into the pan.
  7. Allow to cook a little while, and then repeat the flipping process. Keep flipping the tortilla until it takes on a golden color, and is firm when pushed with the spoon (or finger).

(Note: The tortilla may be eaten immediately; however it is much better if allowed to cool down for at least an hour. It is even better the next day.)

I have found that there are many ways to enjoy this dish – by itself, on a crostini, or in a bocadillo (sandwich). What about those not satisfied with the status quo? What else could I create from this simple, yet incredibly delectable, dish? The answer lies below. You can add almost anything to the traditional tortilla to create your own take on this dish – but remember that it can only be called “tortilla de patatas.” Not a problem as long as it is delicious! Below are two of my variations: 1) Spicy Tortilla with Chorizo and Piquillo Peppers; and 2) Sweet Potato Tortilla with Pancetta (Jamón Serrano).

Spicy Tortilla w/Chorizo and Piquillo Peppers

4 medium potatoes (red potatoes work best) cut into irregular pieces approximately 3/
4″ in size
1 medium onion (white) cut like the potatoes
3 large eggs
Salt
Olive oil (extra virgin, of course)
8 oz chorizo (sliced and quartered)
2 tbls Pimentón (spicy)
Small jar (approximately 6 oz.) Piquillo peppers (sliced in strips)

Directions

  1. Cook the chorizo in the olive oil. Remove the chorizo and set aside (save the oil).
  2. Complete Step 1 in the recipe above using the same olive oil.
  3. Complete Step 2 and when adding the potatoes and onions to the egg mixture (Step 3) add the chorizo, paprika, and piquillo peppers. Mix thoroughly.
  4. Complete the remaining steps.

Sweet Potato Tortilla w/ Pancetta (or Jamón Serrano)

1/3 lb cubed pancetta (you can also use smoky bacon or Jamón Serrano)
2 large sweet potatoes (yams) cut into irregular pieces approximately 3/4″ in size
1 medium onion (white) cut like the potatoes
3 large eggs
Salt

Olive oil (extra virgin, of course)
1 tbl Brown sugar (optional)

Directions

  1. Cook the pancetta (or substitute) in the olive oil. Remove and set aside (save the oil).
  2. Complete Step 1 in the recipe above using the same olive oil.
  3. Complete Step 2 and when adding the potatoes and onions to the egg mixture (Step 3) add the pancetta and, if using, the brown sugar. Mix thoroughly.
  4. Complete the remaining steps.

Whether you stay true to the original tortilla or venture off into a more exotic elaboration of the original I am certain that you and your friends will enjoy it (if there is any left for them). I dare say that the general would also have approved and enjoyed either of these variations. If you have a variation leave it below in the comments and let us know what you like best!

¡Buen Provecho!

Rick Fisher

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  • http://twitter.com/RomanoMarko Marco Romano

    WI Great things here! I let the potatoes and onions sit in the beaten eggs for 15 minutes (Via Penelope Casas)

  • http://twitter.com/bodegawine Rick Fisher

    Thinking of making a tortilla with padrón peppers and mushrooms this weekend. Can’t wait. Yum!

  • http://www.searchofficespace.com Search Office Space

    Yum Yum Yum Looks to so tasty !!! Thank you for the receipt, I’m going to try it myself :)))
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    Office Space