We’re both sick right now so we need a low-effort Spain Sunday so we can go back to loafing around and sleeping. There is nothing more low-effort than tortilla(s).
No not tortillas. Tortilla. Singular. Tortilla in Spain is something different than what you’re probably thinking. When North Americans think of tortillas they’re probably thinking of a paper thin disk made of corn or flour that you wrap around anything you want.
When Europeans think of tortilla they’re probably thinking of a “potato omelette.” Thinly sliced potatoes are fried in olive oil then eggs are added to make it a spongy omlette/frittata. Some people call it tortilla española or tortilla de patatas to differentiate the two.
They’re both round, they’re both fried/baked, and they both contain carbohydrates. The similarities end there as tortilla española is probably the same size as about 5-20 tortillas stacked up. Tortilla española also could never be wrapped around anything.
History of Tortillas (both)
Tortilla(s) (both) have similar origin stories:
During the Spanish Civil Wars (“Carlist Wars” 1833 to 1876 ) a Spanish general was hungry and begging for (er, demanding) food from a peasant. The peasant only had potatoes and eggs (maybe an onion, so the story goes) so she threw them together and served it to him.
Incidentally tortillas were also invented in a similar manner. The story goes that during they Mayan times a hungry king begged for (er, demanded) food from a peasant who used ground corn to shape a disk into a bread-y little, well, tortilla.
These are both stories. More likely the omlette tortillas have been around since King Phillip in the 1500s. But their popularity exploded during wartime conditions to stretch both eggs and potatoes. The military may have also taken a liking to them and brought them with them when they moved on.
It’s also worth noting there were already wrap-able tortillas in southern Spain. From the Arabic-Iberian culture sharing that was Andalucia. Moors used to make tortillas from chickpea flour. It’s still a thing here and it’s called “Tortilla arabe.” They would wrap spiced meat (cumin) inside of a tortilla. And if you’re thinking “hey that sounds a lot like a taco!” You’re correct. The Spaniards that went to the New World had Arabic heritage and brought these ideas (and the spices and meat) with them. A lot of Mexican foods (cheeses, tacos and skewered meat) came from Moorish Spaniards. Don’t worry though, Spain got like half it’s foods from the new world. Good trade, right there.
So now we have 3 different tortillas to keep track of. They’re all a little different but the cultures are mixing and we can safely say there are just two. When the two cultures met Hernando Cortes noted that everyone was eating corn bread disks called tlaxcalli. So we know they were eating their own tortillas. Spainiards took the concept and ran with it. They also named the tlaxcalli “tortilla” since they already had wrap-able tortillas from home.
Tortilla just means “little cake” so it actually describes all of them accurately.
What we’re getting from all of this is that not only are they both similar in backstories they were invented and named around the same time. The tortilla was given it’s name in the 1500s and the omelette tortilla first appeared in writing around the same time. (Although its popularity didn’t explode for another 300 years).
The original idea of wrapping something in a tortilla came from Mayan and Moorish cultures independently, continents apart. We can’t say who did that first.
So tortilla is just an omelette?
It’s an egg based whatever that can be filled with whatever. It’s as versatile as a wrap-able tortilla because they can both be eaten at any time of day. Tortilla is popular for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, drinking snack, late night snack. It’s most commonly a tapa – served with drinks at a bar.
Like a wrap-able tortilla you can put anything you want in it, salted cod, tuna, shrimp, lamb brain, testicles, baby eels, bacon, ham, chorizo (also different meanings to Spain vs Mexico), potatoes, onions, zucchini, peppers, mushrooms, egg plant, asparagus, even peas. Any vegetable and any meat can go inside.
If you’re not in the mood for eating “omlette” you can put it between bread as a sandwich.
So what we’re getting at is while it can’t be wrapped around things like its friend the tortilla, it’s almost as versatile.
This thing is meant to be as versitile as you want so writing out a recipe would be worthless. We can guide you on your journey to tortilla but we’re not going to outright tell you how to do it.
Gather your ingredients
Anything you have on hand (pig brain, baby eels, just potato) whatever. The one thing you do need is eggs. If you like fluffy eggs you’ll want some milk. If not, no milk. Whatever.
How many eggs? As many as however big it needs to be. About 4 for a tortilla the size of a frying pan/dinner plate. Another rule of thumb could be as many eggs as people you’re serving plus one. As in a tortilla for 2 people could have 3 eggs. 4 people would have 4-5 eggs.
Precook whatever needs to be cooked.
Officially you’re supposed to fry the potatoes in olive oil until soft. Because olive oil is expensive in the US (and also you probably don’t want to fry them for 20 minutes) you can boil the potatoes instead. Make sure everything is ready to be cooked because cooking the tortilla is just not enough time to get everything cooked. So precook hardcore things like raw meat or potatoes. Carmelizing onions is a good idea (if you’re adding them) since they’ll add a lot of sweetness to the dish.
Whip the egg mixture
If you want it fluffy add a bit of milk like you usually would for scrambled eggs. If not just whip your eggs up. Or do the “new age thing” and add chicken broth instead of milk. Make sure to add some salt.
Add everything together
You can either add hot potatoes slowly to acclimatize the eggs to the heat or let your potatoes/precooked things cool a bit. Purists say you have to let everything sit for 5 minutes for flavors to meld but that’s stupid. Put it in the pan with olive oil.
Cook one side
If you want it to fluff you’re going to want to put it at a low heat for 20 minutes.
If you really don’t care put it at a reasonable heat (whatever that means for you) and cook for about 5 minutes. The middle should be just a tad raw (because you’re going to cook the other side).
Just use a spatula or whatever pull the sides back and see how dark the bottom/sides are getting. When it’s a pretty golden brown-actual brown now it’s …
Time for the plate
Put a plate on top of your pan. At this point (its way too late if you’re cooking while you read) we hope you’re not using a huge wok or something. You want a plate the size of your pan.
Put the plate on top of your pan and flip the whole thing over so your tortilla is now on the plate. Then shimmy it off the plate back into the pan to cook the other side.
You now cook the other side for the same amount of time you cooked the first side.
Flip onto your serving plate. Purists swear you can and should wait for up to 24 hours for everything to collapse while other purists swear it should be fluffy and served immediately or after it’s cool. Whatever you want, it’s your tortilla.
Serve cold or hot.
Serve with beer or wine (or coffee if it’s the morning).
Slice into pie triangles or strips or cubes or just cut a Mickey Mouse face out of the middle. No one cares.
Serve with forks or tooth picks or just wrap a napkin around the bottom and eat like a granola bar. Again, no one cares.
Put it in the fridge for leftovers or just leave it on your countertop for up to 24 hours (families actually do this here because people will just nibble at it all day and it doesn’t have a chance to go bad).
Bottom line – it’s your tortilla. Put whatever you want into it. Cook it as long as you want. Eat it however you want.
If you’re desperate for a real recipe