Spanish Tortilla

Spanish TortillaWhere do I even begin with tortilla? It’s something that I grew up with and first learned to make from my dad years and years ago. It’s amazing to me that a combination of such humble ingredients – potato, onion, egg, and olive oil – can taste so spectacular.

Everyone who makes Spanish tortilla probably has their own method. I usually make it exactly how my dad taught me, but I did a slight variation this time. More on that later. First, the very basic method, broken down into five steps:


  1. Peel and cut the potatoes and onion
  2. Cook the potatoes and onion in olive oil
  3. Drain the potatoes and onion
  4. Mix in the eggs
  5. Fry the mixture in more olive oil

Now, onto the variation. My mom has a woman from Spain, Marilin, staying with her for a few weeks for some student/teacher exchange kind of thing. On Sunday afternoon, my mom stopped by for a drink and brought a couple of slices of the tortilla that Marilin had made. It was one of the best tortillas I had ever had. The biggest difference, my mom said, was how she cut the potatoes: instead of slicing, she “broke” them into small chunks. The theory is that the starch gets more broken down when the potatoes are, well, broken.

I tried her method this time, and I think I’d like to try it another time before deciding which I like better. I didn’t notice a huge difference. Maybe I just need to learn more tricks from her! In the meantime, I have attempted to put both methods into one (hopefully) coherent recipe.

Spanish Tortilla

Olive oil
3 large potatoes (I always use a low starch potato, like yellow or boiling potatoes)
1 medium onion
5-7 large eggs

1. Peel and cut the potatoes and onion


My method: Slice the potatoes in 1/8 inch slices. Cut the onion into slightly thicker slices (about 1/4 inch).

Marilin’s method: Break the potatoes into small chunks. To do this, first make a cut into the potato with a paring knife, and then pull the knife towards you, breaking off a chunk. Roughly chop the onion.
2. Cook the potatoes and onion in olive oil

Potatoes Cooking

My method: In a nonstick skillet, pour olive oil over the potatoes and onion until they are covered. Salt*. Bring the oil up to a simmer and cook the potatoes until they are soft, but not browned. The potatoes will look like they’re basically boiling in the oil. I don’t know the reasoning behind not browning the potatoes in this step – it’s what my dad always told me, so that’s what I do!

Marilin’s method: In a nonstick skillet, pour olive oil over just the potatoes until they are just barely covered. Salt*. About ten minutes into cooking, add the onion. Cook until the potatoes are cooked through.

*Salting aggressively is key here. You can add more later, but you want a good base.
3. Drain the potatoes and onion

Cooked Potatoes

Drain the potatoes, reserving the olive oil. I also like to let them cool down a bit so the eggs don’t totally scramble when you add them. Taste them for salt and add more if necessary. They should be pretty salty at this point since you’re about to mix in a whole lot of unseasoned egg.
4. Mix in the eggs

Potato Mixture

Lightly beat five eggs in a large bowl. Add the potatoes and onion. I let this mixture sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes (again, because my dad always said to do this). He also always added a drop of water…so, I do too.

Some of the egg mixture will get absorbed by the potatoes when you let it sit, so you might need to add more egg depending on the egg:potato ratio you’re going for. Both Marilin and I both like a tortilla that’s heavy on the egg and a little soft in the middle. I generally start with five, but add one or two more.
5. Fry the mixture in more olive oil

Tortilla Cooking

Pour a little bit of the reserved olive oil back into the nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. You won’t use even close to the amount of oil that you reserved, but you can strain it and keep it in the refrigerator for another use. Pour in the potato/egg mixture.

There’s no exact science to cooking a proper tortilla; it really just takes practice. One trick is to very carefully use a rubber spatula to sneak a peek at the bottom to see if it has browned yet. Once it has lightly browned and about halfway set, it’s time to flip.

The flip can get a little scary. I have gotten better over the years, but I have certainly had my fair share of disasters. The basic method is to put a plate over the skillet, firmly hold the skillet handle, and flip onto the plate. Then, slide the tortilla back onto the skillet.

In an ideal world, you would have a plate on hand that is just slightly smaller than the widest part of the skillet but fits the entire tortilla. Then you can kind of tuck the plate into the skillet over the tortilla, making it fairly foolproof. Unfortunately, all of my plates are either too large or too small. With a large plate, you just have to be extra careful that the plate doesn’t slide mid-flip.

Tortilla in Pan

After the flip, cook until the other side is lightly browned. I like to test its doneness by touching the center, which I like to be a little soft.

Finished Tortilla

When it’s cooked, simply slide it on to the serving plate. Cut into wedges, serve on its own, put in a sandwich (that is actually really good), OR serve with my spicy paprika tomato sauce…

Paprika Tomato Sauce

I basically use the same tomato sauce recipe that I use for my Eggs in Purgatory, omitting the herbs and pepper flakes and adding extra garlic and spicy, smoked paprika. I would normally make a garlicky allioli to serve with the tortilla, but someone in the household is one of those mayo-haters (ahemm, Matt). It’s okay, though. I’ll always love allioli, but this is a much lighter alternative. Also, leftovers are good on just about anything.

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