Spanish tortilla

To the girls 

You might wonder why there are pictures of chicks next to omelettes. These were my sister Sara’s beautiful birds; Frieda, Amelia, Forest and Bubba. They all met a sad demise at the hands of a fox a few months ago. A few days before it happened, I received a delivery of 2 boxes of their lovely eggs from Sara. It was strange having this last surviving part of them sitting on my kitchen shelf. 

My sister hatched the chicks from eggs at the school she works at and raised them in London, teaching herself all about chickens as she went along (and becoming a master builder of chicken villas). Forest (as pictured bottom right) was born with twisted feet. Sara made her little cardboard sandals and she recovered, growing up to be a chicken with a great talent for leaping garden fences. 

We lived together in Clapton when the first two arrived. They were friendly, greedy, opportunistic and obsessed with cat food. Most of the day was spent trying to work out how to get in through the back door to access the cat bowls.  Our cats were scared shitless of them by the time they were grown and jumped from point to point to avoid being cornered at ground level. They were highly ungraceful.  Often when I think about the 2 elders, Frieda and Amelia; they are wrestling with a dead mouse beak to beak, enacting the exact opposite of that ‘Lady and the Tramp’ spaghetti scene. 

I thought about what to make with the last of the girls’ eggs and it had to be this Spanish tortilla. Their flavourful and golden eggs always made the tortilla very special and I wanted to taste it one last time.  It is moreish; the kind of thing you keep peeling thin slices from every time you walk through the kitchen until it is gone and you have to take a nap.

Recipes can be passed on in all sorts of ways; through families, friends,  random conversations with other cooking enthusiasts and sometimes from people you have never met. The recipe for this tortilla, was taught to  my boyfriend by an old girlfriend and he in turn taught it to me.

This particular tortilla uses an interesting technique to prepare the potatoes. You take the whole potato in your hand, cut in to it with a small knife and then almost make a rip like motion to tear the small piece of potato off, thumb against blade. This gives an array of shapes and texture to the pieces themselves and the tortilla as a whole, making it lighter and fluffier than the straight thin discs more commonly used. It is a style of preparation that comes from village Bolea, district Huesca-Aragon in Spain. I had never seen anyone cut a potato like this before and to me it seemed quite unique. 

So thank you girls for your wonderful eggs, your funny ways and your company. We all miss you. 

RIP Frieda, Amelia, Forest and Bubba – 18th October 2018 

The Recipe 

Ingredients 

  • 900g potatoes. See the tips below re types. 
  • 10 large or 12 medium free range / organic eggs. The freshest you can find.
  • Olive oil (approx 500 ml) 
  • 1 large white onion 
  • 2 unpeeled cloves of garlic with a few holes pricked in them. 
  • Natural sea salt 

Utensils 

  • High sided frying pan
  • Large bowl 
  • Flat plate, slightly larger than the pan 
  • Wooden spoon 
  • Plastic spatula
  • Sharp knife 

Tips 

  1. Use a deep, cast iron pan if you have one. It distributes the heat very well. 
  2. Do not skimp on the oil. You can drain off any excess to use again another time. 
  3. Waxy potatoes are the standard as they hold their shape. My personal preference is a combination potato, which has the fluffiness of a floury potato, without disintegrating during the cooking process. Look for desiree or rooster variety (they are both red skinned). If not go for a Charlotte potato. 
  4. Serving suggestion; a simple grated tomato salad; 4 juicy tomatoes grated (skins discarded) a generous swirl of extra virgin olive oil, 1 tsp of salt & 2 tsp of oregano and a grating of black pepper. 

Method 

  • Peel the potatoes. Take the whole potato in your hand, cut into it with a small knife and then carefully tear / rip a small piece of potato off, your thumb against the piece of potato. Continue cutting into the potato and ripping the pieces off until you have done so with all the potatoes (see the above photo for an idea of the potato sizes) 
  • Peel and cut the onion in half. Thinly slice each half horizontally and then give each half one vertical cut down the middle.  
  • Pour the oil into the pan (it should be at least a thumb and a half thickness high) warm the oil, tip in the onion and the 2 garlic cloves. Fry gently for approximately 5 minutes until translucent
  • Add more oil back to the thumb and a half level, warm to a medium temperature and fry the potatoes until they are golden; approximately 10 minutes. Keep the potatoes as even and flat in the pan as possible, moving them around the pan every few minutes to stop them from catching / sticking. 
  • Meanwhile crack the eggs into a large bowl and beat gently until bubbly. Add one pinch of salt for every egg plus 1 extra at the end.
  • Discard the garlic and add the potatoes to the egg. Use a slatted spoon or spatula and let the excess oil drip off the potatoes into the pan before you add them to the egg. Gently combine and let them rest together for a few minutes.
  • Remove most of the oil from the pan leaving just a thin layer. Heat the pan to a high heat, tip in the egg mixture and then turn the heat right down. 
  • Let the tortilla cook until you can smell a cooked egg smell (usually this is after approximately 3 – 4 minutes of cooking in a high sided pan).
  • Use a wooden spatula / spoon and push the edges of the tortilla in from the sides of the pan to keep the edges loose and move the egg around to help it set. The tortilla needs to be set enough for you to flip it on to the plate. Give the pan a shake to see how set the egg is to judge when it is ready. 
  • Once you are confident /ready, put the plate onto the top of the pan and invert (flip) the pan so that the base is facing upwards.  
  • Remove the pan, place back on the heat and then slide the tortilla back on to the pan and cook for a few minutes on the other side. If the tortilla has fallen apart a little, when it is back in the pan squash it back together. 
  • Finally place the plate back onto the open pan and invert it one more time. 

Leave the tortilla to cool and set for five minutes minimum so that you can slice it. 

Serve with the grated tomato salad described in the ‘tips’ and some crusty bread. 

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