Tortilla de papa is usually known as “Spanish omelette” in English, and is a staple of Cuban and Cuban-American breakfasts, sandwiches, and more. Understanding what I just wrote there requires a little etymology lesson.
“Tortilla” is based on an archaic Spanish word that translates as “little cake.” Its base, torta, is still used for “cake” in some dialects (mine prefers pastel), and the same archaic diminutive suffix is seen in cigarro (cigar) versus cigarillo (cigarette). Modern Spanish dialects use –ito/a rather than –illo/a as the most common diminutive, but retain many words previously generated with the old suffix. Tortilla is a fairly general term, used for a variety of disparate foodstuffs that have in common a disc shape and preparation in a pan or griddle. In most of North America, the food people think of on hearing “tortilla” is the Mesoamerican wheat- or corn-based flatbread referred to as tlaxcalli in its native Nahuatl. Where I am from, the only tortilla is the tortilla de papa, and I had to learn to just sort of deal with how virtually everyone I know thinks of the bread rather than the omelette when they hear the word.
The Spanish omelette is a celebrated dish in Europe, particularly favored by British foodies. Accounts of its invention assign its origin to several different parts of Spain, and most parts of Spain have their own variations. Commercial recipes usually highlight a number of possible adaptations alongside a “purist” version that refuses additional ingredients, insists on sliced potatoes, etc. What I describe here is the version I grew up with, modified for how I’ve been making it on my own. Consider this, then, the tortilla cubana, or perhaps, tortilla de Alyssa.
My recipe is meant to make four portions, suited for serving alongside rice and a salad or as the focal point of a bocadito (sandwich).
You will need a stovetop or other source of bottom-up heat; paper towels; a mixing bowl; a mixing tool (a fork will do); a plate; and a spatula, preferably rubber.
It is traditional to make tortillas in small pans, but my compulsion to do things once means I usually use a 30-cm frying pan. I do not recommend attempting to make a tortilla larger than this without specialized equipment.
You will also need your preferred tools for chopping and peeling the ingredients (see below).
- Large eggs, five
- Potato, one
- Scallions / green onions, approximately 18 cm (one bunch)
- Spinach, one handful
- Onion flakes, 2 tablespoons. Substitute red onion if desired.
- Red bell pepper, ¼ cup (half of a typical pepper)
- Chorizo, summer sausage, prosciutto, pancetta, Serrano ham, or similar cured meat of choice, ¼ cup
- Olive oil to grease pan. Other oils will do, as available, but olive oil is traditional.
- Salt, pepper, garlic, and/or other spices, to taste. Chef’s preference is Sazón Tropical with annatto and coriander, always Badía. Note that this spice mix contains salt.
Common Food Restrictions
- Gluten-Free: This recipe is as gluten-free as the cured meat used with it.
- Ketogenic / Low-Carb: Reduce or eliminate potato and onion and use a cured meat with few or no fillers.
- Low-FODMAP: The use of onion is risky, but this dish otherwise avoids most problem foods. This recipe is as gluten-free as the cured meat used with it.
- Vegetarian/Vegan: Leave out cured meat or substitute with alternative for a vegetarian version.
- Peel the potato and chop it into pieces no more than a centimeter on a side. Set aside.
- Finely chop the scallion greens, spinach, onion, red bell pepper, and meat. Keep each pile separate and set aside. For each of these, the pieces should be smaller than the potato pieces. The amounts above are suggestions; the goal is to have enough that they are scattered evenly and in pleasant density around the entire omelette. Feel free to vary proportions in deference to one’s flavor preferences
- Begin heating the oil.
- The bell pepper should be fried until softened, the onion until clear (fresh only), and the potato until golden brown on most sides. I usually start with the potato, and when it is about half done, add the bell pepper and onion. Once the potatoes are finished, remove all three vegetables and place them on paper towels to drain. Retain or replace the frying oil.
- Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl and add spices.
- Beat the egg until it is a largely uniform consistency and the spices are well mixed.
- Mix the potatoes, scallion greens, spinach, onion, red bell pepper, and meat into the egg.
- Re-heat the oil to egg-frying temperature.
- Pour the omelette mixture into the pan. If the oil is hot enough and the pan is not too large, the omelet should naturally settle into a size that makes it about as thick as the potato chunks, which is ideal.
- Shake the pan continuously to keep the omelette from sticking to the pan. Continue heating until the bottom of the omelette is no longer liquid and has structural integrity. Some recipes recommend lowering the heat, but I do not mind the slightly burnt quality that results from leaving the heat high. Depending on the size of the omelette relative to the size of the pan, you may wish to help the edges form by pressing on them with a rubber spatula.
- Once the bottom of the omelet has firmly set, it is time to flip it. Remove the pan from heat and use a spatula to lift one edge. Slide the omelette onto the plate. Invert the pan over the plate, and then quickly invert both to drop the omelette, uncooked side down, into the pan. If this process is intimidating, you can try to do something similar with a large spatula or heat from the bottom for longer. Heating longer on the bottom results in a harder, more burnt bottom.
- Cook for another five minutes or until you can confirm that the omelette is fully cooked.
Garnish with pimento-stuffed Manzanilla olives for extra authenticity, and look forward to more recipes.