Friday, April 12, 2013

Lunch At Madame Mere's...Tortilla Espanola

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The Spanish tortilla is the most common gastronomic specialty you can find all over Spain. There are hundreds of variations even in one specific region, but the most common is the one made with eggs, potatoes and onion.

The potatoes, ideally starchy rather than waxy ones, are cut into thin slices or in small dices. They are then fried in olive oil together with the sliced onions at a moderate temperature until they are soft, but not brown. Browning is often avoided by an excess of olive oil, which can later be strained and reused. The potatoes and onions are then removed, drained, and mixed with raw beaten and salted eggs. This mixture is then returned to the pan and slowly fried.

The tortilla is fried first on one side and then flipped over to fry on its other side. Flipping is accomplished with the help of a plate or a "vuelve tortillas" (a ceramic or wooden lid-like utensil made for this particular purpose). The plate or “vuelve tortillas” is placed on top of the pan and then, with one hand on top of the plate and the other holding the pan, both are inverted, leaving the tortilla upside-down on the plate. The tortilla is then slid carefully back into the pan.

The tortilla may be eaten hot or cold.  It is commonly served as a snack (tapa) or picnic dish throughout Spain. As a tapa, it may be cut into bite-size pieces and served on cocktail sticks, or cut into  triangle portions (pincho de tortilla).

Unlike the American or French omelette, in the Spanish tortilla the main ingredient, in this case the potatoes, take precedence over the eggs.

When my family lived in Brussels in the 1970's they had a Spanish maid named Valeriana who came to clean on a daily basis.  She was fabulous, as all Spanish domestics were in those days. Her lunch every day was a Spanish tortilla.  Every day, without fail. 

For an authentic recipe, I turned to Penelope Casa's book, The Foods and Wines of Spain, which is my mother's go to bible for Spanish food.  She never disappoints.

Make a big tortilla, more than you would eat in one seating,  and leave the rest covered at room temperature for snacks or cocktails.

This one was made with leftover potatoes au gratin

If you make potatoes au gratin, save the leftovers.  The next day cook the onions first and then add the potatoes.   Proceed with the recipe.


Tortilla Española

Recipe from Penelope Casas The Foods & Wines of Spain

1 cup olive oil
4 large potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/8 inch slices
Coarse salt
1 large onion, thinly sliced
4 large eggs

Heat the oil in an 8 or 9 inch skillet and add the potato slices one at a time to prevent sticking. Alternate potato layers with the onion slices and salt the layers lightly. Cook slowly, over a medium flame, lifting and turning the potatoes occasionally, until they are tender but not brown. (The potatoes will remain separated, not in a "cake.")

Meanwhile, in a large bowl beat the eggs with a fork until they are slightly foamy. Salt to taste. Remove the potatoes from the skillet and drain them in a colander, reserving about 3 tablespoons of the oil. (The potatoes give the oil a delicious flavor, so reserve the rest for future use.) Add the potatoes to the beaten eggs, pressing the potatoes down so that they are completely covered by the egg. Let the mixture sit 15 minutes.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the reserved oil in a large skillet until very hot (you may use the same skillet as long as absolutely nothing is stuck to the bottom). Add the potato and egg mixture, rapidly spreading it out in the skillet with the aid of a pancake turner. Lower the heat to medium-high and shake the pan often to prevent sticking. When the potatoes begin to brown underneath, invert a plate of the same size over the skillet. Flip the omelet onto the plate. Add about 1 tablespoon more of oil to the pan, then flip the omelet back into the skillet to brown on the other side. (If your skillet was not hot enough, some of the omelet may stick to the pan. If this happens, don't despair; scrape off the pieces and fit them into their places on the omelet. With subsequent flips, the pieces will mesh with the omelet.)

Lower the heat to medium. Flip the omelet 2 or 3 more times (this helps to give it a good shape) cooking briefly on each side. It should be slightly juicy within. Transfer to a platter and serve hot or at room temperature. I prefer it after it has been sitting for several hours.

The kitchen at Madame Mere's is perhaps the cleanest you will ever find anywhere.  There are two maids who take turns cleaning and taking care of her.  She sweeps after them.  Those are my Bottega Veneta shoes which I gave her when my feet went up a size.  Much to my chagrin, she loves to clean and garden in them.

All photos Lindaraxa


  1. How fabulous!
    And remember, good shoes make the task easier.

    1. They must...In spite of all the wear and tear these shoes still keep their form. Guess you get what you pay for. I should send them to the BV Hall of Fame.

  2. I'm with Valeriana. I could eat this for lunch everyday too. We make a similar one that included a bell pepper. I never have to worry about flipping it - my husband delights in doing it for me.

    You made me smile about the Bottega Veneta loafers. Hope you have a great weekend.

    1. Worst part is Mother knows how much this annoys me. Her answers is always "But they are old!"

  3. I make a tortilla about once a week myself. They are delicious! My mother was raised in Zamora, Spain. And I guess it is up to the cook, but our family does not like to brown the eggs at all.

    1. You are most should not be as brown as the one above. When I make a tortilla for lunch I like the crustiness but that is a personal thing. If however, you are making it for snack or cocktails it definitely should not be this brown.

      Thanks for your comment.

  4. I remember the first time I saw tortillas in Spain I was thinking they were like the ones we have here. It was a pleasant surprise. I haven't tried to make them in years. Yours looks terribly good and perfectly prepared. I think I need one of those vuelve tortillas for flipping now!

    1. This recipe works perfectly...guaranteed! and you really don't need the vuelve tortillas. It is scary at first but you'll get it.

  5. I just tried this and it came out great. The plate-turning trick worked perfectly. I can't wait to try this for company.

    I do have one question--the potatoes seemed to absorb almost all of the egg, so that there was not much visible egg at the end. Is this supposed to happen? Maybe I should just add an extra egg next time, or let me know if you have a suggestion.

  6. Parnassus,

    Look at all the photos and see if yours looked like this, before flipping and after. A Spanish tortilla is not like the ones in England or France or the US for that matter. That is why they can be sliced and served as tapas or cocktails. It is more potatoes and less eggs. Make sure though you use large eggs. If they are not available just add an extra regular egg.

    1. Hi again, You were right about the tortilla's snacking possibilities when cold. It sliced beautifully, and did look something like your pictures, perhaps not quite so beautiful. Next time I'll still try adding an egg and see what happens. Thanks.

    2. Keep practicing! Thanks for letting me know.

  7. I discovered your blog via Parnassus - I have just been eating Tortilla Española whilst travelling through the La Mancha area of Spain - enjoying a slice every morning at breakfast - they are delicious, and just as lovely cold. Thank you for the recipe, I shall make one tomorrow. I think it is probably quite important to have the right size of pan in order to get the depth required.

  8. I've been making this for years, without knowing of its origins. When my grandfather left Lebanon in
    the early 20th century, he came to the states via Mexico where he stayed awhile, learned the language and picked up several recipes that have been passed down through the generations. (He also spoke English with a curious
    hybrid accent of Spanish and Arabic--confusing the issue even further)


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