Time for Tortillas Paella and gazpacho may be the most familiar Spanish foods for most Americans, but it is the humble tortilla that can be found in every home and bar in Spain. Food writer Bryan Miller provides a how-to for this traditional tapa.
NPR logo Time for Tortillas

Time for Tortillas

Tortilla Espanola (Potato & Onion Omelet) from The Cuisines of Spain: Exploring Regional Home Cooking by Teresa Barrenechea. Basic Spanish Tortilla recipe below. Christopher Hirsheimer/Ten Speed Press hide caption

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Christopher Hirsheimer/Ten Speed Press

Along with paella and gazpacho, the Spanish tortilla is an icon of Iberian cooking. Called tortilla de patatas or tortilla espanola, it is ubiquitous in bars, restaurants and at home.

Spanish homes are never without tortillas. They are consumed for breakfast, lunch, dinner and as snacks and late-night nibbles (and in Spain, that means late).

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About the Author

Bryan Miller is the author of 10 books about food and wine and a former restaurant critic for The New York Times. He lives in New York City.

So quickly are they devoured that tortillas are often left out, unrefrigerated, on the dining room table, in the way French families store cheese in a cupboard or not at all.

And no self-respecting tapas bar is without tortillas. The humble egg and potato dish is sliced into cubes, skewered with toothpicks and set out on long wooden stand-up bars in all regions of the country. With a glass of bracing red wine, it's hard to beat.

Curiously, this easy-to-make potato and egg omelet has never caught on in the United States as have paella and gazpacho. With the tapas craze in New York and other cities a few years ago and the more recent fad for all foods Spanish, flashy young chefs turn out all sorts of authentic delicacies -- grilled octopus, spicy mussels, fresh sardines, croquetas (little fried ball holding a variety of ingredients -- yet few tortillas. Perhaps they're considered too plebian.

Not to me. To find a frame of reference before setting down my own recipe, I consulted two new commendable Spanish cookbooks: The Cuisines of Spain: Exploring Regional Home Cooking by Teresa Barrenechea (Ten Speed Press, $40), and The New Spanish Table by Anya von Bremzen (Workman $22.95).

The former is a big, color-saturated hardcover that is long on Spanish history and culture (more than 50 pages before you start cooking) and is replete with authentic regional dishes. The tortilla recipe is as simple as can be, with only four ingredients: olive oil, onion, potatoes and eggs.

The lively and upbeat New Spanish Table offers a recipe that is very similar except for the addition of chicken broth to the egg-potato mixture (I prefer it without). In my research, I came across tortillas in Italy and the United States that include cabbage, kale or parsley. I am sure that some of these are fine -- although, to my traditional sensibilities, it is like painting racing stripes on a Rolls Royce.

My recipe below is the classic one; my only embellishment is freshly ground black pepper.

Spanish Tortilla

Serves 4 to 6

1 cup olive oil

1 medium white onion, chopped

6 white or red boiling potatoes, about 2 pounds, peeled

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

4 eggs

1. Slice the potatoes crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick pieces and place in a large bowl. With a cotton cloth or paper towels, dry the slices well.

2. Pour the olive oil into a 9-inch, nonstick pan (preferably with slanted sides) and heat over high setting for two minutes, until almost smoking. Add the potatoes carefully (to minimize splattering oil) so they cover the bottom of the pan. Cook for 7 minutes over medium heat then add the onions, spreading them over the potatoes. Cook for 10 minutes, or until the potatoes turn golden (do not let the onions burn). Remove from heat and let cool for several minutes.

3. With a slotted spoon, transfer the potatoes and onions onto several layers of paper towels. Reserve the oil in a container.

4. In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Add the potato mixture and stir gently. Season liberally with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Let sit for 5 minutes.

5. Wipe out the pan and add 1 tablespoon of the reserved oil. Place the pan over high heat. When oil is extremely hot but not smoking, add the egg mixture. Cook for 30 seconds, gently shaking the pan to distribute the mixture. Reduce heat to medium and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the surface is nearly cooked but still runny.

6. Remove pan from heat and let sit for 2 minutes. Place a large plate over the pan. Holding the handle of the pan in one hand and the plate in the other, flip the omelet quickly and remove the pan. (If you are unsure of this, slip the omelet, semi-cooked side up, onto a plate, then cover with another plate and flip).

7. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan over high heat for 1 minute. Gently slide the tortilla, semi-cooked side down, into the pan. Cook for 1 minute. Slide the tortilla onto a warm platter.

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