I’ve wanted to post a recipe for tortilla española, or tortilla de patatas since 2015, when I got back after walking the camino de santiago. an older couple I met on the camino sent me a picture a week after we’d all gotten home and even then, though so few days had passed, it invoked a wave of nostalgia.
one of the things I’d heard before heading off to spain was that the food was dirt cheap, but you also eat the same meals day in and day out. breakfast every day consisted of two options: energy-rich tortilla de patatas (essentially, potatoes, eggs, and oil) or sugar-filled chocolate napolitanas (spanish croissants). I caved eventually and went for the short-lived joy of chocolate-fueled sugar rushes, but one of the guys I walked with, b, loved tortillas so much, he ate them every day for breakfast. he even started keeping a rubric of which places had the best ones – his favorite was one whose texture was so soft, it was almost pudding-like, and which was served plain without any of the additions (bell peppers, red pepper sauces) that some places used to try to spice things up. in santiago de compostela, at the end of the camino, I asked him if he was sick of tortillas yet, and he responded “never”. he actually went on to say he would miss them! (though a moment later, he admitted that he was ready to eat something else for a bit.)
a friend who walked part of the camino with me recently texted me that she’s thinking of walking another branch of the camino after she graduates grad school. we both commented on how much we missed it – the simplicity of life lived out of a backpack, the certainty that every day will end with forward motion and a destination, and hours filled with good conversation with people who become lifelong friends, and the moments where the only sound is the wind in the grass and the thud of your feet and finally, one can truly be alone with their thoughts.
so I gave the tortilla española another go. over the years, I had tested out other recipes before, none that quite captured what I remembered. this time, I finally found one that takes me back to spain, to those early mornings spent walking in the crisp air, gazing down in the mist-filled valleys, to sunsets enjoyed on the side of mountain roads, to one of the best summers of my life. I wish I could join my friend, and I do hope one day to walk on the camino again, but in the meanwhile, I’ll continue to tackle culinary approximations of cherished memories.
note: read through the whole recipe beforehand – there’s some steps where things move very quickly!
makes one 10-inch tortilla
1 spanish onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup + 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
10 large eggs, room temperature
alexandra raij & eder montero. the basque book. new york: ten speed press, 2016.
2 in a large saucepan, combine potatoes and onion, canola oil, and 1/2 cup olive oil. add enough salt to season the vegetables, not the oil. place over low heat and cook for 30-40 minutes, until vegetables are tender.
3 remove from heat and drain vegetables in a fine-mesh strainer, reserving the oil. store oil in fridge for future use. set vegetables aside.
4 heat 2 tbsp olive oil in 9-10-in nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. while oil heats, beat together eggs with 1/2 tsp salt in a large bowl until just blended. add potatoes and onion (which should still be warm) to eggs and fold them gently with a rubber spatula to combine.
5 when the oil starts smoking, swirl it up onto the sides of the pan to prevent tortilla from sticking. pour egg mixture into pan and toss mixture aggressively about three times (I use the rubber spatula to assist), then let sit for a minute so the bottom starts to form a skin.
6 prod the mixture with spatula around the edges to start shaping the tortilla and prevent it from sticking to the pan. use the spatula to shape the sides, pushing the mixture gently from the sides of the pan and shaking the pan to make sure the mixture does not stick.
7 when egg is just set (~1 minute), turn down heat to medium-low and cook 1 more minute. invert large plate on top of pan (it must cover the entire tortilla). firmly grasp the pan handle, choking up on it with the help of a kitchen towel or oven mitts, then place free hand palm down over plate and flip the pan and plate over together, dropping tortilla onto plate.* place pan back on burner, wipe clean, and re-coat with remaining 1 tbsp oil. heat oil over medium-high heat until it begins to smoke, then quickly and deliberately slide tortilla off plate into pan. pat down tortilla with spatula and begin shaping its sides again. cook for 1 minute. repeat flip and return process turn heat to low, and cook for another 2 minutes. repeat flip and return one more time and cook for another 3 minutes over low heat. flip and return one final time to get the presentation side facing the bottom of the pan, then using a clean plate, flip tortilla out so that the pretty side is facing up.
8 let rest for an hour at room temperature before serving. cut into wedges to serve. tortilla española is also often served between two pieces of crusty bread with a drizzle of olive oil.
* I tried to explain this process as well as I could, but if you’re still not sure, youtube has a bunch of good videos that show you how the flipping should be done.