What is that ONE food that INSTANTLY transports you back to your childhood? For me, it is tortilla de patata. This staple of Spanish gastronomy is one of my absolute favourite traditional dishes. And, today, I’m going to walk you through how to make tortilla española, the classic Spanish potato omelet.
It has been nearly four decades since I lived in Spain. Now, with a family of my own, I am grateful to my father for keeping the tastes of his culinary heart beating in our home. Alongside regulars like gazpacho and paella, the tortilla de patata — a Spanish tapas staple — made a regular appearance in our home.
Tortilla de patata reigns as Spain’s favourite tapas menu item
This classic Spanish potato omelet, known as tortilla española, tortilla de patata, or, simply, tortilla, is arguably Spain’s most popular tapas menu item. The first tortilla originated about 200 years ago and has changed little since then. As with most traditional Spanish fare, meals were made with few, simple ingredients in an effort to feed a family inexpensively yet nutritiously.
These days, tortilla española has become so ingrained in Spanish culture that the only real argument is whether you prefer yours with onion or without. I challenge you to find a Spanish bar or restaurant that does not have tortilla front and centre on their tapas bar menu. To order, simply ask for, “Un pincho de tortilla, por favor. Con un vinillo.” Perfect, tapas-sized servings of Spanish potato omelet arrive with crusty Spanish bread (rivalling the best French baguettes) and a glass of wine. A Spanish red, preferably. It is not uncommon to make a night out of tapas-hopping from bar to bar, never actually sitting down to a full meal. But you can easily enjoy this famous dish from the comfort of home.
The tortilla de patata is a highly versatile food. Enjoy it hot or cold, firm or runny. It can be served in cubes on slices of Spanish bread, straight up, or as an epic sandwich. You can have it for breakfast, as a snack (or merienda), for lunch, or dinner. Easily portable, and ready to slice-and-serve, tortilla makes a terrific potluck contribution, an ideal countryside picnic companion, or a delicious appetizer.
The importance of carrying on traditional family recipes
Making tortilla immediately takes me back to the small, cramped kitchens in Spain. I picture my grandmother standing at the stove, artfully flipping the omelet. The aroma of the potatoes and onions softening in hot olive oil wafts through the apartment. The taste is reminiscent of childhood poolside “meriendas” with my cousins. Learning to recreate classic dishes from one’s culture undoubtedly reinforces traditional values; values which continue to be passed down from generation to generation.
After leaving Spain, my family settled in Fredericton, NB. It was not exactly a European-inspired food mecca back in the early 1980s. As far as we kids were concerned, we were happy to snack on bread and peanut butter. Nevertheless, it was important to my dad to provide a “taste of home” by cooking traditional favourites from his native country. Among these was the tortilla de patata.
Not only did we love these authentic Spanish dishes, but they would eventually become dinner party favourites of friends and neighbours. Just as I would watch my grandmother, I watched as my parents busied themselves in the kitchen, preparing for guests. Years later, I feel grateful to my papá for passing down his recipes via the ever-popular “I’ll make it while you watch and take notes,” method.
I love keeping the tradition alive with my own children by reproducing these dishes. Like my parents, I love sharing these meals with friends. After a bit of trial and error, I’ve perfected my version of how to make tortilla española . With a bit of prep, you, too, can enjoy this taste of Spain.
How to make tortilla española: the classic Spanish potato omelet
Tortilla Española: Classic Spanish Potato Omelet
Bring the taste of Spain right to your kitchen with this classic Spanish tapas favourite. Enjoyed hot or cold, and easily portable, tortilla is best served with fresh baguette and a hearty Rioja, no matter where you are.
- 1 lb waxy potatoes (peeled and sliced in thin, small wedges)
- 2 medium onions (or 1 large Spanish onion) (chopped or sliced into thin, half-rings)
- 4 large eggs
- 1 1/3 cup olive oil (extra virgin)
- 2/3 cup vegetable oil
- salt and pepper to taste
Peel and cut the potatoes into thin, uniform wedges or slices. You want them thick enough to retain their shape and not so thin they'll disintegrate after cooking. Pat dry with a paper towel.
Peel and either chop or slice the onion into half-rings. Combine with potatoes.
Heat the combined olive and vegetable oils in large, non-stick skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add potatoes and onions, then lower the heat and cook the potatoes and onions, stirring frequently so they do not stick together or brown. You want to cook them low and slow so they absorb the flavour of the oils, leaving them tender and firm, not crispy or so cooked they fall apart, about 20 minutes. (If you have crispy bits, remove them from the pan).
Meanwhile, while still keeping an eye on the stove, beat the eggs slightly in a medium bowl and season well with salt and pepper. Place a strainer over a large bowl.
Once the potatoes and onions are cooked, drain them into the strainer for about in order to catch the oil in the bowl. Once they are well drained, about 10 minutes, gently stir them into the beaten eggs.
Wipe the skillet clean with a paper towel. Heat 2-3 tablespoons of the reserved oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add the egg, potato, and onion mixture, pressing it down evenly and ensuring the potatoes are submerged in the egg. Reduce heat and cook for 3-5 minutes on one side, checking for doneness by lifting the side carefully with a rubber spatula.
To flip the tortilla, cover the skillet with a plate and, holding it firmly in place with one hand, grasp the handle of the skillet with the other and quickly turn the skillet upside down so the tortilla lands face-down on the plate. Drain off any remaining oil in the skillet, return the skillet to the heat, and add a little more of the reserved oil. Gently slide the tortilla, cooked side facing upwards, back into the skillet, working the sides down with a spatula. Cook for an additional 3-5 minutes or until set underneath. The tortilla is cooked when it is firm and crisp on the outside but still slightly runny in the centre. (Although I like mine a little firmer and more cooked all the way through).
Slide the tortilla onto a serving plate and let stand for about 15 mins or let cool, wrap tightly and store in the refrigerator overnight. Enjoy warm or cold, cut into small, tapas-sized squares, with crispy baguette, a bowl of Spanish olives, and a hearty Rioja.
Having grown up eating this Spanish food staple as a merienda (snack), sandwiched between two hulking chunks of crispy baguette or nibbling on it tapas-style in just about any Spanish bar or eatery, I enjoy tortilla de patata in its simplest, most traditional form. You can, however, customize this classic Spanish potato omelet by adding other ingredients such as ham, bacon, cheese, mushrooms, sliced olives, red or green bell peppers, and even asparagus. This recipe easily doubles so you’ll have plenty of leftovers.
I hope you feel inspired to even add your own flair to this classic. Want to make a Spanish fiesta out of it? Check out my recipe for traditional sangria!
Drop a comment below to let me know if you have ever tried traditional tortilla de patata. And if you make this recipe, please let me know how it turned out!
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