There's no doubt about it, the tortilla española or Spanish omelet is the most commonly served dish in Spain. In a country filled with regional food, some might call it the national dish. In Spain, it's usually called tortilla de patata or potato omelet. Bars and cafés throughout the country serve it as a tapa or appetizer, but it is often served as a light dinner in Spanish homes. Because it is easy to transport, the Spanish make bocadillos or sandwiches by placing a piece between two pieces of a baguette. Others enjoy a thick slice around noon for their mid-morning snack, served alongside a steaming cup of café con leche.
There are a lot of variations of tortillas or omelets and a few are listed at the bottom of this recipe. This tortilla espanola or tortilla de patata makes 8-10 servings as an appetizer or 6 servings as a main course.
- 6 to 7 medium potatoes, peeled
- 1 whole yellow onion
- 5 to 6 large eggs (the better the eggs, the better the tortilla)
- 2 to 3 cups of olive oil for pan frying
- Salt to taste
- Cut the peeled potatoes in half lengthwise. Then, with the flat side on the cutting surface, slice the potato into pieces approximately 1/8" thick. If you slice them thick, don’t worry – it will simply take a little longer for them to cook.
- Peel and chop the onion into 1/4" pieces. Put potatoes and onions into a bowl and mix them together. Salt the mixture.
- In a large, heavy, non-stick frying pan, heat the olive oil on medium-high heat. Carefully place the potato and onion mixture into the frying pan, spreading it evenly over the surface. The oil should almost cover the potatoes. You may need to turn down the heat slightly, so the potatoes do not burn. You want them to slowly fry, not becoming crisp like french fries, but rather tender and creamy. It is important to use good olive oil, as the potatoes will absorb quite a bit of the oil.
- Leave the mixture in the pan until the potatoes are cooked. If you can poke a piece of potato with a spatula and it easily breaks in two, your potatoes are done. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon or spatula that allows the oil to drain and let cool.
- Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl and beat by hand with a whisk or fork. Pour in the cooled potato onion mixture. Mix together with a large spoon. Let sit for about five minutes.
- Pour 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a small, non-stick frying pan (approximately 9-10” in diameter) and heat on medium heat. Be careful not to get the pan too hot because the oil will burn - or the tortilla will! When hot, stir the potato onion mixture once more and “pour” into the pan and spread out evenly. Allow the egg to cook around the edges. Then you can carefully lift up one side of the omelet to check if the egg has slightly “browned.” The inside of the mixture should not be completely cooked and the egg will still be runny.
- When the mixture has browned on the bottom, you are ready to turn it over to cook the other side. Take the frying pan to a sink. Place a large dinner plate (12”) upside down over the frying pan. With one hand on the frying pan handle and the other on top of the plate to hold it steady, quickly turn the frying pan over and the omelet will “fall” onto the plate. Place the frying pan back on the range and put just enough oil to cover the bottom and sides of the pan. Let the pan warm for 30 seconds or so. Now slide the omelet into the frying pan. Use the spatula to shape the sides of the omelet. Let the omelet cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Turn the heat off and let the tortilla sit in the pan for 2 minutes.
- Slide the omelet onto a plate to serve. If eating as a main course, cut the omelet into 6 to 8 pieces like a pie. Serve sliced French bread on the side.
- If you are serving as an appetizer, slice a baguette into pieces about 1/2" thick. Cut the tortilla into 1.5” squares and place a piece on top of each slice of bread.
If you've never prepared a Spanish omelet, learn how with these illustrated step-by-step tutorial: How to Make Tortilla Espanola
- It is not necessary to slice the potatoes paper thin, and it is best not to use a food processor because most will slice the potatoes too thin, and then they stick together.
- How do you know when the oil is hot enough to fry the potatoes and onions? Drop a single piece of potato or a bit of bread into the oil. It should sizzle.
- Remember to watch the heat while frying. If the oil is too hot, the potatoes will brown rapidly on the outside but will be raw on the inside.
- After frying potatoes, place the potato and onion mixture in a colander for a few minutes to allow more oil to drain. If you do this, place a plate underneath to catch the olive oil and you can use it again.
- If you aren't sure how to flip the omelet, read How to Flip a Spanish Tortilla. It's easy.
The following are a few of the most popular variations to the classic Tortilla Espanola.
- Ham and Mint - A twist on the classic, this Spanish tortilla recipe includes fresh mint and cured ham, which is added to the egg mixture before cooking.
- Green Pepper - Add 1 green or red bell pepper (chopped) to the potatoes and onions and fry.
- Chorizo Sausage - Slice a Spanish chorizo sausage and add to the potato and onion mixture after frying. Or, simply slice Spanish chorizo and combine with beaten eggs in the frying pan.
- Ham - Using a couple thick slices (1/4") of Serrano ham, finely chop them. Then add the pieces to the potato and onion mixture after frying. Canadian bacon or smoked ham that you buy in a deli work well for this variation. Be careful to adjust the salt accordingly, since ham may be salty!