How to: Make Spanish Tortilla de Patatas

Dear Tom,

Like you saw with paella and sangria, we are not here to actually give you a recipe (you can find those all over the web), but to help you understand what tortilla de patatas is and the importance it has in Spain. Also known as a tortilla española or tortilla de papas in Spanish and a Spanish omelette in English, this dish can be found in almost any bar or restaurant in Spain. Along with many Spaniards, you might even consider that the tortilla española is the official dish of Spain. In fact, one time, when hosting an international dinner, seven of the fifteen-odd people invited brought along a Spanish omelette. We laughed a lot, but since then I tend to specify that it should be a last option so that we have some variety when we eat.

A classic Spanish tortilla de patatas. Photo source Pixabay hurdiantonia0

Note: Not to be confused with a Mexican tortilla, in Spanish tortilla means omelette. A basic egg omelette is a French one (tortilla francesa) and one that includes potatoes is a Spanish one.

The History:

The exact origin of the Spanish omelette isn’t known, although many stories exist about how it was discovered. What we do know is that potatoes arrived in Spain in the early 1500s and about halfway through the century were determined safe for human consumption. This timeline allows for plenty of margin between arrival in Spain and the stories about the first tortilla de patatas around the end of the 1700’s/beginning of the 1800’s.

In addition, there is relative agreement that the development of the dish was due to the need for poor country folk to have access to easy, nutritious meals. Due to the fact that eggs seem to multiply when cooked with potatoes, it is a logical solution for farmers and military alike.

The Ingredients:

A basic Spanish omelette requires just the simplest ingredients: eggs, potatoes, seasonings, and oil (extra virgin olive oil if you’re trying to be true to its roots, although I do know Spaniards who use sunflower oil). An addition ingredient is either considered as necessary or (almost) sacrilegious—onion. Those who love onion in their tortillas will always add it and those who don’t like it will spurn the tortillas that include it. Personally, I am happy to eat it both ways!

Some people say that the hardest part of making the tortilla is peeling and cutting the potatoes. While I don’t necessarily believe this (the flipping bit is difficult as well), the prep work is pretty straight forward. Potatoes and onions—if you decide you are an onion person—should be sliced or chopped and then slowly fried in the oil. They are then added in to the beaten eggs and either poured back into the frying pan used for the potatoes without the oil directly or after resting in the eggs for an indeterminate amount of time (depending on the recipe).

I personally think that the next step is the hardest. Once the underside of the tortilla is cooked, you have to flip it onto a plate or another pan to be able to cook the top—doing this correctly is especially important because unlike an Italian frittata, a Spanish omelette should still be soft (if not a little bit runny on the inside). Once both sides are cooked evenly, you are ready to cut and serve warm or let the tortilla rest and serve cold.

Tortilla as part of a meal. Photo source Pixabay Bdellovibrium

The Tools:

You can probably make a tortilla de patatas with the tools you already have in your house (or even if you are traveling and at a hostel). Nothing fancy is needed, just a way to peel and cut the potatoes, a bowl for the eggs—that the potatoes fit into as well—, a pan to cook the potatoes and tortilla in, and a plate or another pan to flip the tortilla. What you might need is a little bit of practice to be able to flip the omelette like a pro. And, if you don’t want to mess about with this part of the process, you can buy pans called “double pans” made specifically for flipping your tortilla de patatas, such as this one here.

Part of a meal or a Bocadillo

The great thing about the Spanish omelette is that it can be used for almost all meals or snacks throughout your day (although, I wouldn’t recommend only eating tortillas all day, everyday…). I will happily eat a slice for breakfast—between the eggs and potatoes, it will fill you up—, tortilla with salmorejo is a classic lunch or light dinner option, and between two slices of bread you have a sandwich that is perfect for your afternoon snack.

The tortilla de patata easily be dressed up or down. It is not uncommon to find it in the bar next to the train station (where you know that it will be greasy but still decent) or in fancy restaurants. It oftentimes plays a role in tapas or pintxos and can be made with additional ingredients such as red or green peppers, chorizo, mushrooms, etc.

Have you tried a Spanish omelette? Are you an onion or no onion eater?? Let us know your tortilla de patata preferences down below!