The Tortilla de Patatas is probably one of the best known and universally liked Spanish dishes. It is simply sliced potatoes and chopped onions fried in olive oil, then mixed with beaten egg and cooked to form a solid omelet, similar to what the Italians call a Frittata. According to the book Culinaria Spain, published by Konemann, the tortilla de patatas has been around at least since the late 1500’s when it was mentioned in a notebook belonging to the head chef for Kings Philip III and Philip IV of Spain. Now, it is simply known as Tortilla Espanola or “Spanish Omelet.”
Although the tortilla espanola is eaten everywhere in Spain as a tapa, and as a main course at Spanish dinner tables, there are many varieties of tortilla, eaten in all sorts of ways. For example, in one region of Spain, several whole tortillas of different varieties are stacked on each other, then a tomato sauce is poured over the top before they are served, while in another region, the tortilla is slathered with mayonnaise.
Tortillas have come a long way from the basic eggs, potatoes and onions, which was a mainstay in the Spanish diet. The typical Spanish family may not have been able to afford to put meat on the table very often. Today, almost anything can be mixed into a tortilla. When you visit an old fashioned meson or tapa bar, you may be see a large menu on the wall, listing the varieties prepared at the establishment, including the following:
- Bacalao - Salt Cod
- Pimientos – Peppers
- Atun – Tuna
- Gambas – Shrimp
- Chorizo – Chorizo Sausage
- Jamon – Ham
- Gambas y setas – Shrimp and Mushrooms
- Setas or champiñones - Mushrooms
- Espárragos trigueros – Wild Asparagus
- Angulas – Baby Eels
Regional Tortilla Varieties
Regional styles of tortillas exist as well. Sometimes tortillas have a mixture of rice or left-overs, or bacalao (dried salt cod) as in the Community of Valencia. While in Andalucía, lamb brains and lamb or bull testicles might be included in the mixture.
Tortillas are a great “traveling” food. Cut into large wedges, they can be placed on top of a piece of bread and eaten while driving. Another common way to eat tortilla is to place it inside a bocadillo or baguette sandwich. Simply cut a length of baguette, slice in half lengthwise and insert a piece of tortilla. If you travel by train or bus, you’ll probably see a few bocadillos with tortilla de chorizo pulled out of travel bags or purses during the ride. Our family never lets us leave on our trip to Barajas airport in Madrid without preparing a bocadillo de tortilla and chorizo and slices of cheese. After all, the trip is 2 ½ hours – we might go hungry without one!
Tortillas Take Practice
Tortillas are an inexpensive dish and relatively easy to make, which is good because turning or flipping a tortilla espanola takes some practice. Gauging if a tortilla is done also takes a few tries. So, don’t be discouraged if you don’t turn out a picture-perfect tortilla the first time. We’ve found that even if the tortilla doesn’t look perfect, it still tastes good!