Talking Tortilla

In Mexico a tortilla is a thing to wrap around your meat or beans. In Spain it’s a meal all its own—an eggy omelet, generally made with potatoes and onions. It’s thick, like a frittata, and surprisingly delicious for something so simple.

But simple it is not.

As Ximena Maier, the Madrid-based author and illustrator behind the blog Lobstersquad, explains:

The difference with frittatas and omelettes is that tortillas require nerves of steel. Blood must be summoned, upper lip stiffened, oven mitts worn, and prayers said. Please understand that the Italian method of starting on the stove top and ending under the grill is strictly for little girls. Likewise the French sissified [the] folding thing. A true tortilla is round, and golden from contact with the well oiled pan on both sides—which can be tricky.

Tricky and time consuming. One would think that a dish with only three ingredients (plus oil, salt, and pepper) would be an open-and-shut case. Not so.

There are those who’ll tell you that a proper tortilla takes so little time anyway, that they can have one up and running in half an hour. Just know this: they lie in their teeth.

Sure, you can get some kind of tortilla in half an hour, but not one with dark caramelized onions, in which the potatoes have slowly poached their way to magnificent oily sogginess. Maybe the laws of physics don’t apply in other people’s kitchens, but in mine, all that takes a loooong while.

So what does a self-respecting Spaniard such as Ximena do when it comes to tortilla? She cheats.

In case you’re wondering, why don’t I make tortilla the real way? Because it’s a hassle, takes forever, and gets one no thanks. Not in Spain, anyway … going to all the trouble to make tortilla de patata, only to be told that everyone else’s grandmother makes the best tortilla, though yours ain’t so bad, no way.

Ximena’s shortcut tortilla actually comes from a Ferran Adrià recipe and uses—rather than the darkly caramelized onions and poached potatoes—a bag of chips.

I’m not claiming this is the best tortilla you’ll ever have, but it’s very good, much better than many I have eaten, and it really is quick; ten minutes, tops, most of it waiting time. You can make a batch for a party, or a picnic, in less time than it would take you to peel potatoes for one real one. With some good crusty bread, a bit of mayonnaise and a salad, it’s a perfect after work dinner. Next morning, cold, it makes the best possible breakfast, balanced on tomato bread.

Hang on a sec, I’m sure I have a bag of chips around here somewhere.

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