• Spanish omelette (tortilla de patatas) (The Great Australian Cookbook)Source: The Great Australian Cookbook
The rustic, lusty tortilla Española is about as Spanish as the flamenco but in recent years, its central ingredient has been replaced by a controversial stand-in.
Mariam Digges

16 Feb 2021 - 11:22 PM  UPDATED 16 Feb 2021 - 11:22 PM

Name a dish that you can serve for breakfast, lunch, or dinner; in between bread or on its own. One loved equally by kids, adults, and celebrity chefs – hot or cold – and made with but a handful of ingredients.

Pizza comes close (though a slice at sunrise has long been the reserve of those waking with a bottle of wine stuck to their heads) but Spain’s tortilla Española, known by some as tortilla de patatas, is the wonderful dish in question.

On the surface, the Spanish frittata-like dish appears rustic and simple, certainly when compared with its French counterpart. But like many modest meals of its elk, ingredients and techniques must be bang-on; there’s nowhere to hide beyond that golden exterior and spongey, slightly gooey centre.

And when it comes to tortilla protocol, Spaniards stand at opposite ends of the bullring: caramelised onion, or no onion at all? Should you salt the eggs? Gooey or firm?

Time to tortilla
Spanish omelette (tortilla de patatas)

For the Spaniards, a tortilla isn't a flour wrap filled with meat and veggies but rather a deep dish potato bake. The goal is to have it lightly golden on the top yet soft and moist in the centre.

Sweet potato & rosemary tortilla (omelette)

The classic Spanish omelette, or tortilla Espanola, made from potato and eggs, is usually served for tapas but is great for breakfast, too.

New potato and chorizo tortilla

Many countries have their own version of an open omelette. The Italians have frittata, the Spanish tortilla. In France it is Spanish omelette. Traditionally it wouldn’t be new season potatoes used in this dish – it would be bigger main crop potatoes – but I wanted to celebrate the first of the early potatoes and they work surprisingly well.

Potato and broccoli tortilla

The classic Spanish tortilla is packed with potato, but I like the addition of broccoli because it lightens it a little and adds another vegetable to the picnic.

Potato tortilla (tortilla de patatas)

Spain’s omelette-style tortilla is the dish by which tapas bars are judged. The potatoes should be firm, the onion golden and the egg cooked just enough to hold it all together. 

Despite the urban kitchen legend that pre-salting eggs toughens them or turns them runny, a handful of chefs swear by it, like MoVida’s Frank Camorra. His recipe for potato and onion tortilla begins with the potatoes and onions being salted together before they’re cooked down slowly. Camorra isn’t a fan of browning the onion, but Melbourne’s Simply Spanish subscribe to the caramelising process.

“We use one onion per tortilla, and we like to caramelise it a bit to give the tortilla some sweetness,” head chef Stephanie Trujillo says.

The restaurant, which is the star of many stalls at Queen Vic and South Melbourne markets plus a standalone outlet at Bourke Street, is best known for representing Australia at Valencia’s international Paella competition (they recently took out the coveted title of Best Paella Outside Spain), but Trujillo says their Spanish tortilla is their most loved tapas plate.

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“Although it’s a typical, traditional dish from Spain, it has come into Latin America as well – for breakfast, a snack or tapas. It’s something that’s intercultural,” she says.

After cooking down the potatoes (Desiree or Royal Blue are Trujillo's picks of the bunch) until they’re almost falling apart but “not like mashed potatoes” and the onions are slightly caramelised, it’s time to heat the olive oil.

“We use half a cup of good quality extra virgin Spanish olive oil, warmed in a pan, otherwise the tortilla won’t be moist enough.”

Once hot, the oil is poured over the potato and onion mix and seasoned liberally (no pepper, just salt, Trujillo warns), and the frittata is left to cook slowly over low heat for roughly 20 minutes, or until the edges start to dry up.

“Then, we use a board or a flat plate to flip the tortilla, because the eggs are still runny on the top so you need a plain surface,” says Trujillo. "In Spain, they like the eggs runny but here, sometimes people are not so into it."

When the tortilla is firm but still has some jiggle (roughly 10 more minutes) remove it from heat, slice and serve.

Ferran Adria once famously sidestepped the spud by introducing packet potato crisps into the Spanish tortilla.

If that all sounds like too much work, there’s another trend that’s taken off around Spain, spearheaded by none other than Catalan food royalty Ferran Adrià: potato chips.

The former best chef in the world suggests eschewing the peeling, slicing and boiling process, swapping this instead with the packet stuff: 60g of good quality crisps broken roughly and allowed to sit with two beaten eggs for five minutes.

Sure, it sounds lazy, but who are we to argue with royalty?

It wasn’t long before others like Spanish-born DC chef José Andrés embraced his mentor's swap, writing in his Tapas cookbook, "This dish proves that a good tortilla is simply egg, potato and the right frame of mind."

Meanwhile, others turned it up a notch by introducing salt and vinegar chips into the tortilla.

As far as condiments go, aioli, bravas sauce (paprika-spiced tomato), and a grate of Manchego cheese have all been known to do the trick. But for the purists, leaving it bare is best, so as not to detract from the delicate, elemental magic created by three very ordinary ingredients. 

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Potato tortilla (tortilla de patatas)

Spain’s omelette-style tortilla is the dish by which tapas bars are judged. The potatoes should be firm, the onion golden and the egg cooked just enough to hold it all together.