She was working in a tapas place/
And I stopped in for a beer/
I just kept looking at the side of her face/
In the spotlight so clear/
I have always imagined olives and sangria and little terra-cotta bowls of sautéed shrimp. You could say I was a bit sheltered as a child. The tapas imagery has been with me for so long now that, even knowing the true lyrics, when I hear the song I still imagine a sort of hybrid topless-tapas place, with half-naked Spanish waitresses serving up glasses of Rioja.
This winter a real live tapas bar, Tres Gatos, opened in our neighborhood. There are olives, Rioja, sangria, sautéed shrimp, and even some Dylan (the bar has a small book and record store in the back), but (sadly? fortunately?) the staff is fully clothed. We’ve eaten there many many many times since it opened. The food is absolutely delicious and the bar well stocked with Spanish wines and local beers. I love tapas style eating – small plates mean no commitment; you order for the table and nibble on a little of everything. This single restaurant has made me like my neighborhood more than ever.
One dish with which John and I have become surprisingly obsessed is the humble Tortilla Espanola. Surely the simplest tapas on the menu, this tortilla is unlike any I’ve had before. Previously I’ve thought of Spanish Tortilla as pretty much a potato frittata – something I might eat for brunch with a little ketchup. Tasty sure, but nothing special. This tortilla is something completely different; sweet fragrant with olive oil, and topped with homemade aioli, it melts pleasingly in your mouth – the potatoes and the eggs joined in creamy harmony.
Today I set out to make my first authentic Spanish Tortilla at home, and thanks to the magic of the internet, I quickly learned that the secret ingredient here is tons and tons and tons of olive oil. Silly me, I thought I was eating a relatively light snack of potatoes and eggs. But no, the flavor and silky texture here are all due to an abundance of olive oil (almost 1 cup per tortilla) used to first skillet fry your potatoes and then to fry your tortilla.
The ingredients are simple and likely ones you already have on hand: eggs, potatoes, olive oil, onion, and salt. The method however, requiring a heart-stopping, mid-cooking flip of the un-set tortilla, is a little daunting. I recommend making your tortilla before you start in on the sangria, and also wearing an apron.
Though not something you might want to eat everyday (damn), the tortilla is crazy versatile – serve it for brunch, for lunch or dinner with a big salad, or as we did, in small slices as a starter. Any way you go, in the spirit of tapas (and all that oil), just be sure to share! Makes one large tortilla, which can be cut into 12 small wedges and serves 4-6 depending on your appetite.
Barely Adapted from Mark Bittman
- 1 ½ pounds peeled and very thinly sliced potatoes (the easiest way to do this is with a mandolin)
- 1 medium white onion, peeled and very thinly sliced
- 1 cup olive oil
- 6 large eggs
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Paprika Aioli Sauce to serve (below)
- Chives to garnish
Rinse the sliced potatoes very well in cold water to wash off the starch. Pat dry using a clean dish towel. Meanwhile, add the olive oil to an 8 or 9 inch well-seasoned caste iron skillet or nonstick pan. Heat over medium-high heat until the oil is hot. Test the oil by placing one potato slice into the pan – it should sizzle and pop.
At this point, add the potatoes and onions to the oil and reduce the heat to medium. The vegetables should bubble continuously – adjust the heat to maintain the bubbling as needed. Cook 5-10 minutes, turning often, until the potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork but are not falling apart. Cooking times will vary depending on how thin your potatoes are sliced. Mine were super thin and took only 5 or 6 minutes.
While the vegetables cook, whisk the eggs with a generous pinch of salt and some fresh cracked pepper. Once cooked, drain the potatoes and onions, reserving the olive oil. Gently fold the drained vegetables into the eggs.
Wipe out your skillet and return it to medium-high heat. Add 2 to 3 tbsp of the reserved oil. Heat for 1 minute and then add the egg mixture to the pan. Cook 1 minute to set and then reduce the heat to medium and cook an additional 5 minutes.
Gently slide a spatula around and under the tortilla to loosen it. Now, and here comes the terrifying part, place a dinner plate over the skillet and, working quickly, invert the half-cooked tortilla onto the plate. Don’t worry if the tortilla is a little disfigured, you can push it back into shape later.
Add another 2 to 3 tbsp olive oil to the skillet and return it to medium heat. Allow the oil to heat for 1 minute. Gently slide the tortilla back into the pan so that what was once the top is now on the bottom. Press the tortilla back into shape as needed.
Cook an additional 5 minutes and then again gently loosed with a spatula and invert onto a serving plate. Cool at least 30 minutes before serving.
Serve warm or room temperature (don’t refrigerate!) garnished with chives, a little salt, a drizzle of the left-over olive oil, and lots of the paprika aioli sauce.
Paprika Aioli Sauce
- 3 large egg yolks
- ½ tsp peeled and chopped garlic
- ½ cup oil (I use a blend of canola and olive)
- Up to ¼ cup cold water*
- Lemon juice, paprika, and salt to taste
This recipe makes more than what you’ll need to serve with the tortilla. Leftovers are delicious on grilled vegetables, fish, or sandwiches.
*I intended just to make a basic aioli to serve with the tortilla, but I was distracted (dog barking, doorbell ringing) as I was adding the water to my aioli and ended up with more of a sauce than a spreadable mayonnaise. It was a happy accident though, and I liked the saucy consistency on the tortilla. If you want a thicker aioli here, you’ll want to add only about 2 tbsp water. For a sauce, go for the full ¼ cup.
Combine the egg yolks and garlic in a blender. With the blender running, add the oil in a steady slow stream. (Do this very very slowly to ensure you get an emulsified aioli.)
Once the oil is added, add the water in the same fashion – very slowly with the blender running.
Scrape the aioli into a small bowl and season with a little lemon juice, lots of paprika, and a good pinch of salt. Refrigerate until needed.