Ball Dont Lie Food Don't Lie

Tortilla Española (Spanish Tortilla)

Four ingredients and freaking awesome.

Tortilla Española (Spanish Tortilla)

Resources for this post

This is one of my favorite meals to cook

My introduction to tortilla española was at an East Village wine/tapas bar called Pata Negra. Superficially I’m kind of useless at a wine bar; my asian glow is intense and accompanied by a pounding headache and a debilitating fatigue so I don’t have much utility to a sommelier. But I will eat thinly sliced cured meats until the cows (or pigs) come home, so what I lack in alcohol consumption I make up for in tapas.

We ordered pretty typical stuff: cured meats on really good (and homemade!) bread, olives and pickled vegetables, some grilled octopus. Consider this an endorsement for Pata Negra because everything was really good. But something else on the menu caught my eye that evening: spanish tortilla? What the heck is a spanish tortilla? Some sort of quesadilla with chorizo? So we ordered it.

Out came this large slice of… quiche (?) with a small dollop of mayo. To my surprise it was my favorite thing we ordered that night. They look like this (photo from yelp): thin slices of potatoes piled high inside an omelette, soft without being cheesy or creamy, and unexpectedly sweet. Man, it was so freaking good. Like a sweet, potato frittata.

Naturally, I wrote “spanish tortilla” into my phone. I was intrigued.

Spanish tortilla ingredients: two potatoes, a sweet onion, three eggs Spanish tortilla ingredients: two potatoes, a sweet onion, and three eggs.

I went through my typical triage of various recipe sources: google, Serious Eats, YouTube, etc. Recipes vary in complexity, and some involve an oven while others involve a plate flip, but my favorite recipe was that from Omar Allibhoy on YouTube. I love Omar’s emphasis on the simplicity of his recipe: cut some potatoes and onions thinly, fry them in olive oil for 15 minutes, combine with eggs, cook one side in a pan, flip with a plate, cook the other side, done. Literally four ingredients: potato, onion, egg, olive oil. Strain the olive oil and re-use it for another tortilla tomorrow, just like his family has always done.

This is one of my favorite meals to cook because it feels like a return to basics. No sous vide machine, no complicated scientific concepts, no reliance on salient spices to add flavor. Just an appreciation of the fundamental qualities of basic ingredients. How often do you actually notice and appreciate the sweetness of an onion or the texture of a potato? There’s something rustic and old school about cooking this way that I really appreciate.

Plus flipping the tortilla on the plate is super fun.

Cutting board with bowl, two potatoes, sweet onion and knife. You probably want to use a waxier potato (red), but I’m using yukon golds here. Slice up a sweet onion.

Close up of sliced potatoes Slice both the potatoes and the onion to an equal thickness (to promote even cooking).

Image of ingredients: potatoes, olive oil in pan, three eggs, onion slices. Potatoes, olive oil, three eggs, onions (CW from top left)

Frying the potatoes and onions in olive oil Frying the potatoes and onions in olive oil.

Three eggs cracked into a bowl. Meanwhile, crack three eggs into a bowl.

Potato and onion slices caramelizing in oil After 20min, the potatoes and onions caramelize and begin to form into a soft, solid mass.

Lifting out potato and onion pieces with a slotted spoon It should feel softer and clumpier.

Bowl with eggs and potato/onion mixture. Use a slotted spoon to move potatoes and onions to the bowl with the eggs. Season with salt and pepper.

Mixed eggs, potatoes and onions Use a spatula to lightly fold the eggs into the mixture.

Bowl covered with alumnium foil Cover and rest for 15min.

Potato, onion and egg mixture on the stove in a pan In a 6” non-stick pan, heat the mixture on high for 90 seconds, cooking the bottom and sides.

Potato, onion and egg mixture on the stove in a pan Use a spatula to tuck in the edges of the tortilla, and make sure the sides release from the edges of the pan. Drop heat to medium and cook for 2-3min.

Large plate on top of pan Taking the pan off the heat, cover the pan with a large plate.

Flipped tortilla on plate Holding the plate down with one hand, flip the pan over to invert the tortilla onto the plate.

Sliding tortilla back into pan Slide the uncooked side of the tortilla back into the pan, and cook again on high for 1min.

Other side of tortilla cooking inside pan After 1min on high, drop heat to medium. Check the tortilla for your desired consistency, which is soft but firm. You don’t want it well done.

Overhead view of cooked tortilla Invert the finished tortilla over a plate.

Profile of tortilla slice Yes.

Another profile of tortilla slice Weirdly the only indication of onions in the final dish is the sweetness. It feels like you only bite into potato, and the onions seem to melt into the background.

Slice of spanish tortilla with a dollop of mayo I like how the tartness of a dollop of mayo complements the sweetness of the tortilla.

Funnel over mason jar, filled with cheesecloth If you want, you can filter your used oil for later use.

Filtered oil in a mason jar For the next tortilla española.


Here’s the recipe as I understand it from Omar’s video (scaled to two people)

Ingredients: two potatoes, one sweet onion, three eggs, olive oil, salt and pepper.

  1. Peel two waxy potatoes (red work well) and slice thinly. Slice a sweet onion to the same thickness.
  2. Put enough oil to cover the potatoes/onions in a pot and heat on high. I don’t have a precise amount here; I used maybe two cups?
  3. I don’t have a target temperature for the oil either, but you can tell when the oil’s hot enough because it begins to bubble. Another trick is to put a small piece of potato in the oil and see if it begins to float/fry. I looked at the temperature of the oil with a thermometer and I think it was around ~250F, but YMMV.
  4. Place the onion into the oil first. Cook for ~3 min.
  5. After 3 min, add the potatoes.
  6. Fry the potato and onion mixture for at least 15min. I actually went closer to 20min. You’re looking for carmelization on both the potato and the onion, and as they fry they seem to combine into a singular, soft surface that you can break with a spoon. That’s a sign that it’s done.
  7. Crack three eggs into a bowl. Don’t beat them.
  8. Transfer the cooked potato/onion to the bowl with the eggs. You’ll want to drain the potatoes/onions lightly but you don’t need to worry about being strict about it.
  9. Season the potatoes/onions while they’re hot – salt and pepper.
  10. Break the yolks of the eggs and fold the egg mixture over the potato mixture. Omar says you don’t want the eggs scrambled but simply folded.
  11. Cover for 15min.
  12. After 15 min, heat a tbsp of the frying oil in a non-stick 6” pan on high. Place the mixture into the pan and cook for 90 seconds.
  13. The goal here is to cook the bottom and the sides. Use a spatula to fold the mixture down/release the edges from the sides of the pan.
  14. After 90 seconds on high, lower the heat to medium and continue cooking for 2-3min. You want the middle to be soft but not completely runny.
  15. Get a plate that’s larger than the circumference of the pan. Take the pan off the heat and place the plate on top. With a firm grip, flip the contents of the pan onto the plate, meaning the now-cooked bottom of the tortilla is facing up and the non-cooked side is facing down.
  16. Slide the tortilla back into the pan, once again on high, and cook for 1min.
  17. Drop heat and cook on medium until it feels right. That’s not a scientific term, but again, you don’t want it to be fully cooked through and hard. You want it a little soft.
  18. Take the tortilla off the heat an invert it once again on a plate.
  19. Boom. I like Pata Negra’s move of serving with a small dollop of mayo, because the tartness of the mayo complements the sweetness of the tortilla really well.
  20. Because you used so much oil you can filter it with cheesecloth and use it again.