What is a tortilla?
The Spanish tortilla (pronounced ‘tor-TIE-dja’) is one of the most famous Spanish dishes on the planet. This humble potato omelette might be modest in shape and ingredients used, but it’s also easy to serve and incredibly versatile. In a culinary context, it’s an Iberian icon, providing that good food doesn’t need frills to score big on flavour.
The ingredients for the basic recipe are affordable and readily available, which undoubtedly has helped the steer the success and drive popularity of the dish. Potatoes, onions, eggs and oil are the four core ingredients for the dish, but are also synonymous with Spanish cuisine in general.
Now and then, you’ll encounter something new. Sometimes you’ll see a little chorizo used in your recipe or find peas aplenty where you didn’t expect them to be. A successful twist on the classic lies in the finer details, however. Potato varieties have been brought into heated discussion before, as has the choice of whole or split eggs, and the conversation continues to rage…
Tortilla literally means ‘cake’ and is also the collective term for various omelettes. Spaniards call the dish tortilla española to distinguish it from French omelette dishes. According to the history books, the tortilla first appeared in the eighteenth century, with traditional omelettes bulked up with potato slices when eggs were scarce.
Did you know...
Catalan star chef Ferran Adrià, owner of the El Bulli restaurant, has taken tortilla to culinary highs with his daring experimentation with the dish. One such variant originated in this celebrated restaurant uses chips instead of potatoes.
How to make tortilla
Making an authentic Spanish tortilla can prove tricky right from the off. Onions are cut into thin rings, then slowly fried over a low heat in plenty of olive oil. The onion can be left uncoloured or darkened, depending on the chef and recipe. Some don’t include onions in their tortilla recipe at all.
Thin slices of potato are rinsed, dried and fried in the oil until they are cooked and almost falling apart. The oil is then poured off. The potato and onion are then added to eggs that have been beaten in a separate bowl.
The tortilla mixture is then fried in olive oil until the bottom two thirds have solidified and the underside has browned. The tortilla is then carefully turned over and baked brown on the other side.
How to eat
Tortilla can be eaten as a snack or as a main meal. You can enjoy it warm or cold. In Spain, tortilla is enjoyed in a bocadillo or sandwich.
A classic combination worth trying is tortilla with pimientos fritos (baked green padron peppers) with bread.
Love this dish? Try the Italian equivalent, the frittata.