We’ve been eating a lot of homemade tortillas lately. A lot. Because I’m trying to perfect mine for Belgian guests that will soon be visiting the East Williamsburg ranch (our home). Kinda’ big news about that but I’ll share when the time is right. We also recently painted two of the ranch walls a rich aquamarine color and G drove to New Jersey to pick up eight navy-style chairs for our dining room table — which he also built. What a prince, right?
The quest toward mastering tortilla and figuring out the best way(s) to prepare it, seemingly simple as it is, never ends. In his book, Grape, Olive, Pig, author and Iberian expert Matt Goulding captures to a T so many aspects of Spanish culture, including how Spaniards love to debate about anything, be it politics or a proper paella. By extension, any Spanish wannabe should embrace this arguing-as-pastime mentality.
Argue. About the serving size, the price, the direction of the country. Anything, really, but do it with fierce, half-drunken conviction. – Grape, Olive, Pig
This is more than bar etiquette — Spanish people feel strongly and voice their opinion about the most authentic way to prepare classic dishes, including the beloved potato omelette. Should it be dry or dippy on the inside? Should you slice the potatoes or chip them off with a knife, so they absorb more liquid? (I find it doesn’t make a difference but some Spanish grannies or grampies might argue with me.) Should they be made with onion or is that blasphemy? There are so many versions of tortilla, too many it seems to crown a winner. I’ve eaten standard potato and onion tortillas in tapas bars in the La Latina neighborhood of Madrid, where we spent many a lazy Sunday afternoon drinking tiny glasses of beer and wine, and soaking it up with plates of tapas. I’ve swiped small plates of tortilla from long bars of pintxos in San Sebastián, stacked with anchovies, roasted red peppers or vinegary guindillas. In Asturias, I drank cider poured from bottles stretched high overhead, with a side of tortilla filled with chunks of jamón. I’ve snacked on tortillas in Bilbao, classic ones with eggs wet on the inside – para mojar el pan — and with mix-ins like bacalao and morcilla, or topped with tiny eels aka angulas. I ate a first-course of tortilla at a Michelin-star restaurant in the Chamberí neighborhood of Madrid — the size of a quarter, adorned with a dot of herby aioli. I’ve had it at bus stations during trips across Spain — dry with mealy potatoes and sandwiched between two dry slices of baguette. They served their purpose, too, of holding me over until my destination. Every tortilla has its place and time.
[tortilla prep outtakes]
I’m all about adding meat and veg to a tortilla, to make it feel like a meal, but before you start improvising, you’ve got to master the basic recipe. And so, I’ve been doing my research. I found these techniques from Serious Eats to be very helpful. Also, I bought a 10-inch non-stick pan ($20 from Cuisinart) and it changed my life. Never again will I spend half an hour scraping charred tortilla from the bottom of a heavy cast iron pan, then angrily dig into a pile of potatoes with hunks of burnt egg.
Here are my top tips for improving your tortilla game:
- Buy a non-stick pan.
- Don’t be cheap with oil – fill a pan to at least your first pinky knuckle, ½ to ¾ inch, before heating and adding potatoes + onions.
- Low and slow – begin sautéing potatoes and onions at the same time, and cook them low and slow until the potatoes are done. To test, use a wooden spoon to press down on one – they should mash easily when cooked.
- Salt, salt and more salt – keep salting and tasting at every step. Salt the cooking potatoes and onions; salt the eggs after you beat them; salt the entire mixture once you add the potatoes and onions to the egg. If you try to salt once the tortilla is finished, it’s just not the same – the salt glides on the surface and will never quite incorporate into the flavor. This creates an imbalance that really peeves me.
- Don’t fear the flip – it’s not that big’a deal, guys. Just make sure you have a plate that’s larger than the pan and do it with confidence. If you starting freaking out you’re gonna half-ass it and end up with an armful of hot, drippy eggs. Take a deep breath and just do the thing.
After nailing the basic tortilla, if I do say so me self, I added some Swiss chard because SPRING! Next up, tortilla with morcilla, but for today, here’s the recipe for tortilla with Swiss chard.
Spanish Tortilla with Swiss Chard
5 large eggs
4 medium-size white potatoes, peeled
½ large white onion, sliced thin
2-3 leave of Swiss chard, bottoms removed, sliced widthwise (1 inch thick)
Copious amounts of olive oil
Herby aioli for serving (optional, but prolly shouldn’t be)
- Half potatoes lengthwise then cut into ¼ inch slides.
- Heat oil over medium-low in 10-inch non-stick pan. When oil is hot (bubbles with you add a drop of water), add potatoes and onions. The pan might seem crowded at first, but don’t worry, they’ll shrink down. Stir occasionally.
- While potatoes and onions cook, beat eggs in a large boil, add a few healthy pinches of salt, and beat again. Let rest (outside of fridge).
- Meanwhile, add an inch of water to a medium pot and place over medium heat. Fill a steam basket with Swiss chard, add to pot and cover with lid. When water begins to boil, steam for about 3 minutes. While water is boiling, create an ice bath. Remove steamed Swiss chard to ice bath. This will maintain the color and keep it from continuing to cook / getting soggy.
- When potatoes and onions are cooked (all are translucent-ish and any potato will easily mash when pressed – also, taste for salt) remove from heat. Drain oil into an a heat-safe container and add mixture to eggs. Stir and let rest for 10 minutes.
- Add couple tablespoons of oil to pan and heat over low-medium. Add mixture to pan and use a spatula to make sure mixture is evenly spread throughout pan. Add tortilla cooks, use spatula to gently round the edges – to ensure the classic tortilla shape.
- When you start smelling that the bottom of the tortilla is cooked and mixture is wet on the top but seems set beneath (give the pan a healthy shake to test), place a place over pan, hand on top of plate, and flip pan on top of plate. Place pan back on stove, and slide your tortilla back into pan, to finish cooking the other side. Cook at low for 3-5 minutes then turn off heat and let tortilla rest for at least 10 minutes.
- Slice and serve with aioli and crusty bread.
Get some BTS Back to Spain here.